New Yorkers cheer the end of DOMA, but fear violent backlash

Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis came out to celebrate the end of the Defense of Marriage Act with Edie Windsor, the woman behind the lawsuit that brought down DOMA. They helped Windsor and her late wife, Thea Spyer, get to Canada to get married when Spyer was dying from multiple sclerosis. Credit: Bess Adler
Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis came out to celebrate the end of the Defense of Marriage Act with Edie Windsor, the woman behind the lawsuit that brought down DOMA. They helped Windsor and her late wife, Thea Spyer, get to Canada to get married when Spyer was dying from multiple sclerosis. Credit: Bess Adler

Just days after the two-year anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, the Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act that federally defines marriage as between one man and one woman only is unconstitutional.

New York City, which has several openly gay elected representatives, from the City Council to the State Senate, is already cheering.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running for mayor and, if elected, would be the first female and the first lesbian mayor, noted that the case “was not about abstract concepts, but real people.”

“People like Edie Windsor, who after suffering incredible loss, had the courage to stand up against great injustice,” she said.

At a celebration at the Gay and Lesbian Center of New York City in the West Village, Windsor, the woman behind the momentous lawsuit that brought the issue to the Supreme Court, spoke of her reaction to the victory, surrounded by her team of proud and protective lawyers.

She told the crowd of reporters and supporters that her first reaction was tears. When asked how she felt being compared to activists such as Rosa Parks and Harvey Milk, she paused, looking surprised.

After a moment, she said slowly, her voice choked with emotion, “It makes me feel incredibly proud, and humbled.”

Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes after the death of her long-time partner, Thea Spyer. She would not have had to pay anything had their marriage been recognized and bestowed the same rights and benefits as that of heterosexual spouses.

Windsor will now get that money back—with interest, her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, said.

When asked what she thought Spyer would say if she could see her now, Windsor broke into a wide smile.

“She’d say, ‘You did it, honey!’” she exclaimed.

Supporters were also present, bearing signs and big smiles.

Aliya Shain stood with her mothers, Jo-Ann Shain and Mary Jo Kennedy, who were part of one of the first marriage-equality lawsuits in New York, Hernandez v. Robles. Jo-Ann and Kennedy credited Aliya with getting them involved in the movement.

Aliya recalled her parents sitting her down at the kitchen table after Lambda Legal approached them about being part of the Hernandez suit. She said they were apprehensive about telling her.

“I don’t know why,” she said, “because I thought it was awesome and we should go for it.”

“They taught me to fight for myself and my rights,” she added, explaining her immediate desire to support her parents in this legal battle.

Another couple, Michael Sabatino and Robert J. Voorheis, were there to support Windsor. The pair were part of the group of friends who helped Windsor and Spyer get to Canada to get married, and said because of that connection with Windsor, the day was especially meaningful.

Sabatino said he didn’t cry, but his husband did.

“He’s the weeper,” he declared, pointing at Voorheis speaking with a reporter nearby. “I was just really excited.”

Sabatino and Voorheis were also part of a New York lawsuit, Godfrey v. Spano. That lawsuit challenged the recognition of out-of-state marriages like Edie’s. A Westchester County Supreme Court upheld the long-standing New York common law respecting such marriages.

Sabatino said he has been involved in the marriage equality movement for 15 years.

“We were involved when the gay community said, ‘you’re crazy, you’ll never get marriage,’” he said. “[They said] we can get civil unions, but not marriage.’”

Today, their tenacity, and the tenacity of a 5-foot-tall, 100-pound woman who just celebrated her 83rd birthday, has been rewarded.

But some New Yorkers are less enthused.

Photographer and film director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose documentary “The Out List” debuts on HBO tomorrow night, said that while the decision is a step, the 5-4 split is disheartening.

“A 9-0 decision would have meant something,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “A 9-0 decision would have really meant equality. This means we’ve scraped by.”

“I’ll take it,” he added, “but I’d rather see it loud and clear.”

Sabatino also saw a potentially dark consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision, especially in light of the uptick in anti-gay hate crimes last month, including the brutal murder of Mark Carson in the West Village. He said he can see how the decision will prompt a violent backlash from those opposed to it.

“It’s part of the process of getting equal rights,” Sabatino said. “I mean, this has happened with many populations, with many communities that have fought for equality.”

“I think people do it out of fear, or not understanding,” he continued. “You know, I hate to say it, but there probably will be more episodes [of anti-gay violence].”

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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