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Northampton Celebrates Supreme Court Decision!

We at Maple and Main Realty are thrilled about the momentous Supreme Court decision that same sex marriage bans are unconstitutional! Local Northampton leaders participated in a lively celebration of the decision on the steps of the First Churches in downtown Northampton MA as depicted in the photo below. Though 11 years after the Massachusetts ruling in support of same sex marriage, it's wonderful that the whole country will now recognize marriage between any couple. A happy day!

Local leaders, gay rights advocates celebrate Supreme Court decision

  • DAN LITTLE<br/>Jacqui Wallace, front right, sings with the Amherst Area Gospel Choir as people gathered Friday in front of First Churches in Northampton to celebrate the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

    Jacqui Wallace, front right, sings with the Amherst Area Gospel Choir as people gathered Friday in front of First Churches in Northampton to celebrate the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states

  • NORTHAMPTON -- At 10 a.m. Friday, people all over the country -- and the world -- were refreshing web pages and checking their smartphones for news updates, knowing that there was a good chance the U.S. Supreme Court was going to announce its decision about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Lee Badgett, Director for the Center of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was camping in France and made sure she found a spot with cellphone service at 10 a.m. so she could check Twitter. J.M. Sorrell, a justice of the peace and organizer of Noho Pride, got a New York Times alert on her phone at 10:04 a.m. with the news. State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, the first openly gay Massachusetts Senate president, was riding in a car heading from Greenfield to Boston when he saw the news on social media.

Gina Nortonsmith was helping her son, Quinn, 15, who was cleaning the gutters. She and her wife, Heidi Nortonsmith, were among the seven couples in the 2004 case that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

"I was holding the ladder for him and at 10 o'clock I told him he had to hold on," Gina Nortonsmith said. She went inside to see whether there had been an announcement.

"I screamed and screamed and screamed. I thought the neighbors would come running," she said with a big smile while sitting on her back porch in Northampton on Friday afternoon.

Quinn gave her a hug, she said, and her older son, Avery, 18, was awakened by her shrieks. 

Meanwhile, Heidi Nortonsmith said, she was checking the SCOTUS blog online in her office at the Northampton Survival Center. Then she got a call from her wife.

"I noticed the first things we said to each other weren't words," she said with a laugh, before imitating some of the shrieks of joy that she heard on the phone.

In the years since the first time a state government ruled to legalize gay marriage, the Nortonsmiths have had some similar celebratory moments -- such as when the Supreme Court two years ago declared unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act, an amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

As with the 2013 DOMA decision, the Supreme Court ruled Friday in a 5-4 decision that gay-marriage bans violate the equal rights provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

And while the decision's impact on the Nortonsmiths mostly relates to their ability to have their marriage recognized in other states, they were thinking of people in the 14 states where the same sexes would have the right to marry for the first time.

Gina Nortonsmith said that in 2004, after the legalization in Massachusetts, they got a letter from a woman in Alabama congratulating them on the victory.

"She couldn't see that it would ever happen in Alabama. I keep thinking of her," Gina Nortonsmith said. "The clerks may not like it, but tough nuggies -- that woman and everyone in Alabama now has that right."

'It will take some time'

In western Massachusetts, as in the rest of the nation, advocates, activists and local leaders celebrated the landmark decision, while acknowledging that the country still has a long way to go before people will be treated equally -- everywhere -- no matter their sexual orientation. 

Gina Nortonsmith said the right to marry is important because of what it represents. "The push for marriage wasn't based on the idea that everyone should get married. It's that people should be respected as citizens of the United States to decide what we want to do with our own lives," she said. 

Rosenberg, who plans to marry his partner, Bryon Hefner, said he was not surprised by the decision because the U.S. Constitution was originally based on the Massachusetts Constitution -- which affords equal protection under the law to all citizens.

"I was excited because they came to the same conclusion our own Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court came to, which is that there is a fundamental right to choose who to love and marry," he said. "We all have equal protection under the law, meaning we all have to be treated the same when you make a law."

And he expects that in those 14 states affected by Friday's ruling -- as he saw after the 2004 decision in Massachusetts -- not all residents, leaders and politicians will immediately get on board. "It will take some time," he said. There were only a few state legislators who backed the ruling in 2004, Rosenberg said, and now 80 percent of Massachusetts residents support same-sex marriage.

Sorrell, who was in Washington, D.C., in April for the oral arguments on the issue before the Supreme Court's, said she rubbed shoulders there with many Massachusetts activists, including lawyer Mary L. Bonauto, the civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. She successfully argued for same-sex marriages in the Massachusetts case in 2004 -- Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health -- and in front of the Supreme Court in April.

Sorrell said she thought at the time, "Massachusetts spirits are here because we kind of started it." Now, she sees more signs of Massachusetts in the decision.

"It is reminiscent of the Goodridge decision -- it affirms the dignity and equality that should be part of what this democracy is about," she said.

Sorrell said she has been annoyed by a lot of the media coverage casting the same-sex marriage decision as a religious issue and featuring interviews with angry preachers. She said she has worked with synagogues and different churches as a justice of the peace, and found that there are supporters of gay rights in every denomination, including some rabbis and priests.

She called the dissenting justices' attempts to make it an issue of religious freedom "ugly."

"I don't know of any gay or lesbian running off to a church to tell them what to do," she said.

Sorrell became a justice of the peace in 2004 because she wanted to perform same-sex marriages, and many of her clients over the years have been out-of-staters who came to Massachusetts because they could not get married in their home states. Over the years, fewer couples have had to make the trip as more states legalized the unions, and now, no one will have to travel for a wedding if they don't want to, she said.

It's bad for her part-time business, she said, "but that's what I want."

The battle for equal rights isn't over, though, she said. For instance, the states where same-sex marriage is now legal do not have laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. A same-sex couple could get married in Michigan, Sorrell said, but if they put an announcement about it in the newspaper, it would be perfectly legal for their employers to fire them because of their sexual orientation.

Interview from France 

In a telephone interview from France, Badgett, who was vacationing with her wife, Elizabeth Silver, said only 20 states have laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and most do not protect transgender people from discrimination.

"The struggle is not over, clearly," Badgett said. "People will be celebrating this for a while and then I think they will have more time and energy to dedicate" to the next battle.

Badgett said the decision Friday, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, treats same-sex couples as humans, as opposed to "another kind of people."

"It seems like a really clear endorsement of the idea that same-sex couples not only have that right, but that it makes sense that they want that right," she said. It was similar to the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages. "Same-sex couples are really just like all those other people who wanted to get married and sought that right."

Mary Clare Higgins, the former Northampton mayor who now works at Community Action!, said Friday that she saluted Kennedy for splitting from the other more conservative "Reagan appointees" in his decision.

"It's great news, but it doesn't mean the fight is over," she said. "Some states are already trying to figure out ways around honoring this decision, and there are a lot of other things to fight for."

Gina Nortonsmith said that Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion enraged her. "It makes me mad that four justices don't see equality in the U.S. Constitution," she said.

Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith said they have never run into a problem in another state where their union was not recognized, but they will feel more secure now traveling around the country.

Even so, they will continue to carry their marriage license in and out of state in case someone questions that they are legally married. "The question is, when will it be that we don't feel like anyone will question us?" Heidi Nortonsmith said.

The couple had a commitment celebration in 1993, assuming that would be the only kind of wedding they would have. They were legally married in 2004, right around the time Heidi Nortonsmith became the Survival Center director.

She recalled the feeling of openness that came after the high-profile court case and their eventual marriage.

"I don't have to enter any situation, like a speaking engagement or with donors, without knowing if I can bring my full self to that engagement," Heidi Nortonsmith said. 

Now others all over the country can be closer to living with that kind of freedom. "That's huge, to think of each of these lives being able to be lived more fully and publicly," she said.

In eastern Massachusetts, officials also embraced the ruling, including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who was the only sitting governor among more than 300 prominent Republicans who signed a brief in support of the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case.

"For me, the issue of marriage equality is personal," said Baker, who has a brother who is gay and married.

Maura Healey, who became the nation's first openly gay attorney general when she was sworn in to office in January, led the filing with the Supreme Court of a brief in support of gay marriage on behalf of 16 states and the District of Columbia. Before doing so, she asked same-sex couples in Massachusetts and their families to tell their stories through social media. Hundreds did, she said.

"It works for our families. It works for our communities. It works for our state," Healey said. "The court's decision was correct ... and frankly it was about time."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at

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