Lawrence gay couples ecstatic over U.S. Supreme Court ruling

David Bergeron, of Lawrence, let go with a peal of laughter on Friday when he was asked what he thought about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling just a few hours before that made it legal everywhere in America for same-sex couples to marry.

“In a word, it’s fabulous. Amazing. I never thought I would live to see this day,” said Bergeron, a retired Kansas University English professor, who married Geraldo Sousa on Nov. 17, 2014, at Plymouth Congregational Church, during a time of legal seesawing and uncertainty when marriages were permitted in Douglas County but not in other counties in Kansas.

On Friday the Lawrence Journal-World reached out to several same-sex couples for their reactions on the historic ruling.

All, of course, were ecstatic, but they all remained concerned about what Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s next steps would be. The state has fought hard to keep gay and lesbian residents from being able to marry.

Brownback slammed the Supreme Court on Friday for its ruling, saying in a statement, “Activist courts should not overrule the people of this state, who have clearly supported the Kansas Constitution’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”

Brownback promised to review the ruling to understand its impact on Kansans and determine whether there was anything the state could do.

With the court ruling, Kansas gay couples who work for the government now are wondering if their spouses will be eligible for benefits just as the spouses of straight couples are. All are wondering if they will be able to file joint state income taxes.

Linette McJunkin and Kay Maendele, of Lawrence, were married Nov. 13, 2014, but the ruling Friday still made them inordinately happy because of the impact it has on their friends and family.

“For all my friends and family who haven’t been given that luxury yet, they either live in a county in Kansas that has denied them that or they live in a state that just flat-out denied them that, to know that everyone has that right now is just amazing” McJunkin said.

And she said the ruling added a layer of stability to her own marriage.

“We always felt there was going to be some way Brownback was going to pull that back,” she said of her legal marriage in Douglas County. “We were kind of waiting for him to pull the rug out from under us.”

McJunkin and Maendele were married in her company office with her co-workers in attendance. Her company provides benefits to her wife.

But McJunkin acknowledged that many of her friends who work for the state aren’t as lucky because of state rules that deny benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages. They also are concerned that if some state employers find out they are gay, they may get fired.

“My friends who work for the state, I feel so terrible for them,” she said. “They are like living in hiding. They have to be very careful where they go, what they post on social media. They are literally being watched. If there is a chance you are going to lose your job and all your benefits and your retirement and everything, it is scary.”

Thomas Tuozzo and Rodd Hedlund, of Lawrence, were just married Tuesday before a justice of the peace in Lawrence.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Tuozzo said about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Friday. “We think it is great.”

Tuozzo, a KU professor of philosophy, said he hoped that the ruling would help push the state to allow employees of same-sex marriages to include their spouses in their benefit package and to also file joint tax returns.

“Hopefully it will expedite getting my partner on my benefits,” Tuozzo said. “The state employee system is still refusing as of yesterday to add same-sex spouses.”

Bergeron said he had read some of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion and found it “masterful.”

But he said the dissenting briefs, including that of Justice Samuel Alito Jr., were “just unbelievable.”

“Alito led the argument that we needed everyone to vote on it,” Bergeron said. “I grew up in the Deep South, and if we let everybody vote on it, we would still have segregation.”

It was a good decision and as time passes, people will adjust, he said.

“People can now decide whether they want to get married or not get married,” Bergeron said. “And if they get married, we’ll see that the sun still comes up the next day.”