‘It’s called equality’
For local same-sex couples, DOMA ruling about more than federal benefits
Today, Annie Paradis and Marcia Zutawtas of Turners Falls will wed in front of 80 friends and family. And when their vows are said and done, the couple will be eligible for more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits of marriage.
The timing couldn’t be better.
In a historic 5-4 decision Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married gay couples are eligible for the federal benefits as heterosexual couples, striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional under the equal protection clause.
The law, known as DOMA, defined marriage as between a man and a woman and denied married same-sex couples federal rights and benefits, including family medical leave, spousal Social Security benefits and spousal disability.
The decision, in effect, left the power of marriage up to the states.
Also, in a separate ruling on narrow legal grounds, the high court struck down a California’s 2008 Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in that state.
The decision is big news for Massachusetts and all of New England. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003, with Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine following. This year, Rhode Island approved gay marriage, which takes effect Aug. 1.
Across Franklin County, married same-sex couples celebrated the historic ruling.
“We’re excited,” said Paradis, who will marry Zutawtas after three years together. The two met while teaching at Amherst Regional High School.
“We knew the ruling would be within this week. It is perfect timing. We thought even if it didn’t happen today, it seems more people are in favor of gay marriage. We thought it was only a matter of time,” Paradis said.
To Jerry Marcanio, a Greenfield town hall employee, the ruling was a long time coming.
“It’s about time gay people are allowed to be treated equally along with the rest of the population,” Marcanio said.
Marcanio has been married to Rob Jalbert since 2007.
This year, the Royalston residents had an accountant calculate the amount of money they could have received back from federal income taxes if they could have filed as a couple — a few hundred dollars.
Yet, for many local residents, the ruling was about more than just money.
Michael Collins and Tony Palumbo of Colrain have been married for seven years.
Though the couple haven’t received the same federal benefits in their first seven years of marriage, Collins said “it’s water under the bridge. It’s not about money at this point.”
“It just makes everything better for everyone, not just gay people,” Collins continued. “I have pride in the country in the way things have changed. It’s like saying we accept you and your love.”
Collins and Palumbo have been together for almost 50 years. Looking back on some of the discrimination gay people have dealt with in the past, Collins said, “I never thought this would happen, ever. It seems so distant to think what it was like. It’s a miracle.”
Collins said the decision is a good step for young kids, who no longer have to fear revealing their sexuality.
“You have to leave a legacy to the younger people,” said Collins.
Karen Sims and Paula Sayword of Leyden married in Massachusetts as soon as they could in about 2004.
“For Paula and I, it is a huge thing,” said Sims. “If I die before Paula, she can now get my social security, whereas yesterday she couldn’t. That’s one huge difference ... and it’s also legitimizing our relationship after 30 years. It’s huge for us on an emotional level and then on a financial level.”
Sims said she now feels legitimized.
“It’s like passing civil rights. Finally, I feel like I can finally pledge the allegiance, which I would never do because of that last statement, ‘and justice for all,’ because it wasn’t justice for me, and now there is some justice. It’s called equality,” Sims said.
Though Sims is legally Sayword-Sims, she won’t go by her legal name until gay marriage is legal across the country.
Lucy Fagella of Greenfield plans to marry Terri Kerner of Greenfield in two years after eight years of being in a relationship.
“It’s celebratory,” Fagella said. “It’s absolutely about time. It’s a feeling of ‘wow it happened so quick,’ surprising and celebratory.”
Chris Curtis contributed to this report.
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