The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide resonated through Tacoma’s LGBT community Friday, beginning with Ryan Mello, who was standing and waiting outside the court building in Washington.
Mello, Tacoma’s first openly gay city councilman, was with hundreds of gay marriage supporters and watched many of them go dashing up the high court’s steps with joy.
“Capitol police couldn’t do anything about it,” Mello, who traveled to the nation’s capital to attend a national security conference, said by phone. “The sea of people rushed the steps. There was chanting. The Washington, D.C., gay men’s chorus was singing the national anthem. It was really quite amazing.”
That same glee arrived moments later via television in the Tacoma home of John McCluskey and Rudy Henry, who received Pierce County’s first same-sex marriage license after more than 50 years as a couple.
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“We were just sort of dancing around here,” said McCluskey, 78. He chuckled. “It’s nice to know that we’re legal.”
McCluskey said he had been nervous but hopeful that five justices would come down on the side of a nationwide recognition of their bond.
“I said to Rudy, ‘Now we can vacation anywhere in the United States,’ ” McCluskey said.
Friday’s decision produced an elation in Tacoma’s LGBT community as palpable as the rainbow streamers hanging from downtown streetlights in advance of July’s Pride Festival.
At the Rainbow Center in downtown Tacoma, activists and laughing celebrants gathered for an impromptu late-afternoon parade to the U.S. District Courthouse on Pacific Avenue. Sean Dill, 30, a graduate of Stadium High School, couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.
“It’s a good day,” he said. “I was actually quite surprised.”
Danny Connelly, 31, said he would walk to “celebrate the equality of people. The more and more that happens — and we still have a long way to go — I’ll celebrate.”
While others celebrated, the Rev. Arthur C. Banks of Tacoma’s Eastside Baptist Church said the court decision does nothing to change his position against same-sex marriages.
“That may be the legal definition of marriage, but it’s not a biblical one,” Banks said, “and I stand on the biblical principle of marriage as one man and one woman. Everyone has a right to choose what they want to do. Right or wrong, God always gives us the opportunity to choose.”
For activists for same-sex marriage equality, the ruling was a happy, and sudden, culmination to decades of work.
“For me coming up in the United States, I didn’t think I would see this in my lifetime,” said Michelle Douglas, executive director of the Rainbow Center. “I’m 44 years old, and I’m really proud.”
For state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, the news was so good that she forgot where she parked when she dropped her son off at Sea-Tac Airport.
“It rocked me in a good way,” said Jinkins, who married her partner of more than 25 years in 2013.
The moment was extra sweet when her 14-year-old son told her in the car that he needed to take a moment to remember where he was when he heard the news.
“This ruling, it wasn’t just a ruling about law,” Jinkins said. “On a lot of levels, what the Supreme Court is saying is, ‘We see you. We see lesbians and gays in the U.S., and we think you contribute as much as anybody. We think you should have the same rights as everybody.’ ”
Her family is planning a trip to visit relatives in Tennessee this summer, and Jinkins planned — before the court decision — to bring documents to prove the legality of their relationship.
“Tennessee would be a state where we wouldn’t have any recognition at all,” she said.
Gordon Naccarato, owner of the Pacific Grill restaurant, called Friday “an amazing day for the whole country.”
Life as a politically aware gay Tacoman had taken him from marching for gay rights along Constitution Boulevard in Washington, D.C., to handicapping the record of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote.
Naccarato said he was unsurprised the ruling came from a closely divided court.
“I think I would have been very upset waking up today if it had gone the other way,” said Naccarato, 61.
Rainbow Center board president John Cummings, 32, got a text message from his father in Montana, saying, “We won! We won!”
Then he turned to reading the court’s opinion, penned by Kennedy.
“I kind of cried the whole time,” Cummings said. “It was just wonderful. It’s a good step along the way.”
He and other LGBT activists in the city said the victory frees them to focus on other concerns such as youth homelessness and equal rights for transgender people.
“Marriage is certainly an important issue, and I am elated that we have won across 50 states,” said Seth Kirby, executive director of Tacoma’s Oasis Youth Center, “and there’s also a lot of work to do still.”
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