By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
In a pair of decisions propelling the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court has voted down a law curbing federal benefits to same-sex couples and, in abstaining to hear a case from California, granted Californian same-sex couples the right to marry.
"I screamed," said Gerald Skrocki, an openly gay man from Amsterdam. "I yelled when I heard it on the news that it went in a positive way. It's been long overdue. Basically, it's the federal government legally discriminating against a group of people, which really is unimaginable."
The court held, in a 5-4 decision, that proponents of California's Proposition 8 lacked the wherewithal to be defended in court. This decision will likely allow state officials to resume same-sex weddings in the state, which would increase the number of states who allow such unions to 13.
The closely split decision on the federal law saw Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. in the minority. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
The other was a decision that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, deeming it unconstitutional and in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The law, passed in a bipartisan fashion and signed by by former President Bill Clinton, denied same-sex couples the right to receive pension, tax and health benefits.
Skrocki, whose partner died 20 years ago, dealt with the impact of DOMA when his partner became sick.
"We had very much of what would be a marriage, but no legal paper," Skrocki said. "When he got ill, I had problems with the hospital, the visitation and his will and everything. It was just a big battle."
Though, being 56, Skrocki said it's too late in the game for him to get married, Dusty Swanger said he is happy that the new ruling will treat him and his partner, Evan Ladd, fairly.
"We're treated differently from state to federal right now and that's going to change," Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, said. "If something should happen to me, Evan should be qualified to receive my social security just like any other married couple that's a heterosexual couple."
Swanger has been in a relationship with Ladd for 22 years and got married two years ago.
The Rev. Jason McGuire, president of the New Yorker's Family Research Foundation, said the organization is deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision and loosely referred to the marriage of gay couples as "same-sex 'marriage'" in a statement.
"The public purpose of marriage is to bring men and women together to create stable, intact family structures in which each child can be raised by her own mother and father," McGuire said in a statement. "That purpose is hindered -- not furthered -- by same-sex 'marriage.'"
Pastor Clyde Clymer of the Step of Faith Church, who said he and his church have a "major, major concern with homosexual marriages," similarly insisted his religion does not tolerate two men or two women forming a union.
"I'm a strict Christian which means I adhere to the word of God," Clymer said. "From God's perspective, concerning scripture, marriage is between one man and one woman ... I heard one man today say, 'We have God's law and we have American laws,' but me, I'm extremely disappointed in the way this country is going."
Clymer, who said he is "not a homophobe" because he has gay people in his family, called this day an "abomination."
"I'm concerned with what is taking place in this country with the allowance and tolerance of that behavior," Clymer said. "God calls it an abomination. I agree with God 100 percent."
Skrocki said for the current generation, it's a "great time to be gay," Instead of an abomination, he said he thinks of this day as a historic event.
"The country is moving in the right direction," Skrocki said. "I'm really glad this happened and that the country is finally moving in a positive way. I'm hoping this will be an example to those who are still discriminated against and trying to fight this unwinnable battle."
Mayor Ann Thane said though she thinks of Amsterdam as an accepting community, everyone can work on respecting one another. New York being one of 12 states that has legalized same-sex marriage, Thane has performed numerous marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
"Be it gender related or ethnically related or age related, I think we all need to treat one another with respect and compassion," Thane said. "I think that we are a very warm community, but certainly all of us, myself included, can always work on being more open and accepting of other people."
The Rev. George Hopper, the assistant pastor of the Baptist Church in Northville and a resident of Broadalbin, said this instead casts a negative light on society, pushing it back overall.
"The floodgates are just opening up," Hopper said. "A lot of the foundations of society are just being ripped out from under us. It's bringing us into a big hole that, with difficulty, we'd have a really hard time getting out of."
Hopper said to combat this decision, he will pray and continue to encourage the word of God at church and hope people will listen.
"God says, in our own lives, the only examples we can give is from our own lives," Hopper said. "We can't live other people's lives. We have to live it for ourselves. At church, we just teach what the word of God teaches and people have to make up their minds for themselves what they're gong to do with it. That's all we can do."
Skrocki, who said it was tough for him growing up and facing discrimination, said he thinks people who are against gay marriage, often times, were raised that way.
"Even my father, when they were passing the same-sex marriage bill, never really came out and talked about me being gay," Skrocki said. "I asked him, 'How do you feel about this same-sex marriage bill being passed in New York?' and he said, 'I agree with it, but they shouldn't call it marriage.' That kind of hurt, you know?"
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said though the founding fathers may not have had this in mind, they had prepared America to continuously strive for a more perfect union, something, he said, society is achieving through this new ruling.
"Our Constitution, and our framework, has told us that we the people, in pursuit of a more perfect union, charges us with the ongoing work in progress of our documents," Tonko said. "We were given a framework by our founding parents. They put together, in great intrepidation, a document that would guide us ... but indicated, at that time, we should always be in search of more perfection."
Although, Tonko said, he doesn't think perfection will happen instantaneously.
"The fight for civil rights, for equal right voting rights, it didn't happen over a year or two," Tonko said. "It happened over a stretch of decades. The women's rights vote happened over a stretch of decades. Addressing prejudice based on race or religion or bias towards gender or sexual orientation all develop itself as an issue and people work through it."
In 20 years, Skrocki said he hopes there's nothing left to talk about.
"It would just be normal life," Skrocki said. "No stares, no remarks, no religions that aren't accepting people because they're gay or lesbian. That's what I'd like to see."