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But it’s still unclear if Virginia couples married in another state will get all federal benefits.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
Brian McGowan (left) and Kendall Woodward celebrate in Roanoke after the Supreme Court struck a provision denying benefits to legally married gays.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
The Supreme Court’s historic decision to overturn part of a federal law limiting gay-marriage rights had a simple meaning for Kendall Woodward and Brian McGowan.
“It means we have the same rights as everyone,” Woodward said.
Woodward, 35, and McGowan, 46, are a Roanoke couple who married in Washington, D.C., in September. The ceremony took place 30 days later than they’d planned because of the large numbers of same-sex couples seeking marriages at the time.
Woodward has worked for Equality Virginia, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of homosexual, bisexual and transgender people. Last weekend, he and McGowan participated in the group’s statewide CookOUT for Marriage Equality event.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. Although it is unclear what benefits might be available for all gay couples, those living in states that recognize same-sex unions immediately qualify for all federal benefits.
“This represents a sea change in the way gay couples are treated,” said Molly McClintock , a past Equality Virginia board member who lives in Christiansburg.
McClintock, 51, and Irene Peterson , 59, have been together for 29 years and have married twice — in Canada in 2005 and in New York in 2012.
Virginia, however, has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which was approved by 57 percent of voters in 2006. Gay couples in Virginia who married in another state might be eligible for some, but not all, federal benefits.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriages. McClintock said that gay couples might move to states where their marriages are recognized and where full medical, life, tax and other benefits are available.
“Do we want to continue living in Virginia, where we have received nothing but degradation and condemnation from our legislature?” said McClintock, who has lived in Virginia for 27 years.
Jean Elliott of Blacksburg agreed that the ruling’s impact could be blunted in Virginia.
“Until we change our home-state laws, I don’t know what it means practically,” Elliott said.
Elliott has been a co-chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus at Virginia Tech, where she is communications director of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She and her partner, Sharon Crane, are not married and they live in Blacksburg.
Despite the uncertainty about the ramifications for same-sex couples in Virginia, Elliott was still thrilled with the court’s decision.
“I don’t have the words,” Elliott said. “I have been living so long without any affirmation and have lived in a commonwealth where I have not been considered an equal to my colleagues when it comes to benefits. Today is really just stunning.”
She holds out hope that Virginia law might one day change to allow same-sex marriage.
“I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal,” Elliott said. “There’s always hope. It’s a great day.”
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