Tears and jubilation mingled at the state Capitol this morning as openly gay members of California's LGBT legislative caucus lauded a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions solidifying the legal status of same-sex marriage.
"This is the first time in my life," Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said, "I've felt the law truly recognized me as equal to everyone else."
One of the Supreme Court's rulings invalidated key pieces of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples. In their other ruling, the justices decided that plaintiffs backing Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban that U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down in 2010, had no standing to challenge Walker's ruling.
Pérez praised the Supreme Court for "restoring marriage equality as the law of the land in California." He then turned to a more personal note, talking about sending early-morning text messages to two other lawmakers -- Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park -- who married their same-sex partners in the brief window between California legalizing gay marriage and then barring it via Proposition 8.
Saying she had been "pretty much on and off crying since 7 this morning," Atkins talked about "no longer feel[ing] like I'm lying when I check single" on her federal tax form, now that the section of the Defense of Marriage Act denying same-sex couples federal tax benefits has been struck down. And Gordon fought back tears as he recounted how he and his husband enjoyed a union that other California couples could not seek.
"For the last five years, my husband and I have been in a class that others cannot join," Gordon said unevenly, his voice wavering. "Today, all Californians, all same-sex Californians will be able to join a class that I have been in: a married class."
Other lawmakers who are veterans of the struggle for same-sex rights marveled at how the landscape has changed. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, remembered "uncertainty within our own LGBT legislative caucus" about the wisdom of pushing for marriage equality and went so far as to invoke Civil Rights-era segregation in suggesting that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed same-sex marriage bills in 2005 and 2007, could go down in history as "the George Wallace of California social history."
The Legislature should not need to do anything to enforce the Supreme Court's rulings, according to Pérez, who said "we do not envision any ambiguity" in implementing the decisions.
"We think the court's decision today is very clear," Pérez said.
The speaker also flatly denied any concerns about county clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses now that Gov. Jerry Brown has directed them to start doing so.
And if some clerks do refuse?
"They'll have hell to pay," Pérez replied.
VIDEO: Members of the LGBT Legislative Caucus address the media at the State Capitol in Sacramento on June 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.