The Webster University community speaks out on the US Supreme Court's hearings on same-sex marriage.
AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Webster Groves churches host vigil, support same-sex marriage
Photos by Sheren Khalel and Brittany Ruess
About 60 people wrapped in scarves and heavy coats huddled in a circle around the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves’ peace pole on Monday, March 25. A megaphone was passed from reverend to reverend as each read Bible Scripture and gave speeches about why they were there in support of equal marriage rights.
Two of those huddled were Rodger Bridgewater and Rev. Al Schon, who have been partners for 24 years. The two were married in California in 2008 after California legalized same-sex marriage and before Proposition 8 retracted those rights.
Proposition 8 was the state ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California. The proposition appeared on the Nov. 4, 2008 ballot and passed with 52 percent of the vote.
Proposition 8 added a new clause to California’s constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
On March 26-27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments from two cases that challenge the constitutionality of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The first case questions whether the state of California has the right to ban same-sex marriage. The second establishes whether the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is constitutional.
Schon from Peace United Church of Christ and Rev. David Denoon of the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves held the vigil on March 25 in support of same-sex marriage.
“There are about 1,000 benefits that are granted to married couples by the federal government, which we’re not allowed to have,” Schon said. “Even though we’re legally married in California.”
Schon referenced the case of Edith Windsor as an example of the challenges same-sex couples face because of DOMA. According to The New York Times, Windsor and Thea Spyer were engaged for 40 years before they got married in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was left with more than $600,000 in estate taxes.
Windsor challenged DOMA in court. The oral argument for her case will be held at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 27.
“If a married woman and man, if one of them dies, then the house that they own goes to the other person tax-free; there’s no inheritance tax,” Schon said. “If one of us dies, the other person has to pay the tax on the other half of the house even though we owned it together.”
Schon said same-sex couples have little to no rights in the case of their partner’s death or if their partner falls ill.
“If one of us were to die, our family could come in and decide to take the body, conduct the funeral and exclude the other person from attending the funeral if that’s what they wanted,” Schon said.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard the oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 on Tuesday, March 26.
According to CSPAN’s audio of the oral arguments, Charles Cooper, the lawyer for ProtectMarriage.com, argued same-sex marriage should not be recognized because same-sex marriage could not produce children. According to Cooper, the rearing of offspring is the main proponent of marriage.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan questioned that logic by pointing out the legal marriage of straight people over 55, who are unlikely to ever produce offspring. Denoon made a similar argument at Monday night’s vigil, and also added his own personal experience.
“My wife and I were not able to have children biologically,” Denoon said. “If the purpose of marriage is reproduction, then the United States in general is not in favor of marriage the way that we talk about it. Marriage is about two people loving each other. And if that’s the case, two people loving each other may be a man and a man or a woman and a woman.”
Cooper told the U.S. Supreme Court it was too early for anyone to know what the effects of legalizing same-sex marriage would be.
“I think it’s better for California to hit the pause button and await additional information from the jurisdictions where this experiment (legalizing same-sex marriage) is still maturing,” Cooper said.
Schon said he hopes the courts rule in favor of marriage equality. If the courts rule in favor of same-sex marriage, the ruling could create federal precedence and essentially legalize same-sex marriage throughout the United States.
“My hope is that they will, across the board, allow (same-sex marriage),” Schon said. “And that they will say that this sort of discrimination doesn’t have any place in American society.”