Historic day for same-sex marriage celebrated on the steps of Sproul

Lavender Cal gathers on Sproul steps at noon to celebrate historic Supreme Court decisions supporting same sex marriage.

Members of LavenderCal — UC Berkeley LGBT employees and allies — gathered on the Sproul steps at noon Wednesday to celebrate the historic Supreme Court decisions supporting same-sex marriage. (NewsCenter photo by Jean Smith)

Rainbow flags and balloons festooned the steps of Sproul Hall at lunchtime Wednesday as UC Berkeley staffers celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decisions supporting same-sex marriage, handed down a few hours earlier.

“We’re celebrating — and we’re also protesting the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Voting Rights Act,” said Billy Curtis, executive director of the campus’s Multicultural, Sexuality and Gender Centers.

“But we’re mostly celebrating,” chimed in a grinning John Scroggs, a transition manager who works in Sproul.

The rulings represent major strides for proponents of same-sex marriage. One declared unconstitutional a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which withheld marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples who are married. The other knocked down California’s Proposition 8, which in 2008 rescinded same-sex marriage rights.

The changes in federal law brought about by the DOMA decision will have important, immediate effects on people’s lives, the celebrants, all members of the LavenderCal group, said.

“It will be a lot easier to file taxes next April,” said Caroline Boyden, an Information Services and Technology employee. She and her wife, who married in 2008, have had to do lengthy computations to manage differences in state and federal tax law and to fulfill community property-obligations. Now they won’t have to.

Curtis said gay and lesbian employees will no longer have to pay federal income tax on the value of health benefits for a spouse. “It’s so expensive,” he said, amounting to more than $2,000 a year.

Immigrants who are married to citizens will no longer be deported, either, Curtis said — a point borne out the same day in New York, where an immigration judge halted the deportation of a gay Colombian man married to a U.S. citizen.

The Prop. 8 ruling will open California marriage license bureaus to the thousands of couples who have been unable to tie the knot since 2008.

Curtis also called on the LGBT community to take action on behalf of people affected by yesterday’s court ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act, passed during the civil rights era to guarantee representative democracy in states where discriminatory laws prevailed.

“We must push for that, or today is an empty victory in 10 years,” he said.