Members of the Rogue Valley's gay community say the months of waiting for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage will be filled with hope.
"It's going to be huge. We have so many people on pins and needles," says Gina DuQuenne, president and founder of Southern Oregon Pride. "We're very much holding onto hope."
In late March, the Supreme Court debated the merits of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, and a California measure prohibiting same-sex marriage. The court must decide the two cases by the end of its term in June.
"I feel it's time DOMA gets thrown out," says David Gray of Ashland, who is in a registered domestic partnership with James Frank. "It's totally unconstitutional, discriminatory and not based on any kinds of facts."
Both DuQuenne and Gray say they think the court will toss out the federal act but likely sidestep a decision on California's Proposition 8, which would send that measure back to that state, where courts previously ruled it invalid. The voter-approved initiative defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
"We've been denied constitutional rights since DOMA passed (in 1996)," says Frank. "I'm an Air Force veteran with an honorable discharge. Why should I be denied my rights? In the 21st century, marriage is a legal contract between consenting adults. Why should it get mixed up with religious dogma?"
Kristen Mosley, executive director for gender and sexual diversity at Southern Oregon University, said a decision to override the bans would allow her to enter a legal marriage with her partner.
"It would demonstrate that people in our country are more accepting of me and my community," says Mosley, a senior in psychology. "It would mean the world to me. It would change the way I walk around town."
Although the high court ruling deals only with same-sex marriage, local members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community say it would be a turning point in society's acceptance of homosexuality in general.
"It's a zeitgeist. It's all changing," says Julian Spalding, board president of Lotus Rising Project, a local non-profit that supports LGBT causes. "People are getting the message that we don't have horns. We're everyday people and we have something to contribute. They realize it's not controversial. Everyone wants to just live their lives and have rights and we're not any different."
A smiling Spalding points to last week's Time magazine cover, showing a gay couple kissing and carrying the headline, "Gay Marriage Already Won. The Supreme Court hasn't made up it's mind but America has."
"The changes just in my lifetime have been enormous," says Spalding, who is in a registered domestic partnership with Terry Brown, his partner of 26 years. "I'm excited. This is a huge step for our country."
Brown says if the courts rule against the federal act and allow the California court decision to stand, it will begin to right a wrong that in many cases was approved by a majority of voters.
"When human rights get voted on, you never win," he says.
"You shouldn't vote on human rights," adds Spalding. "That's why they're called rights."
Marriage equality also represents a quality-of-life issue for Spalding and Brown. Both now receive Social Security payments but are not eligible for survivor benefits, which allow a surviving member to continue collecting the benefits of the deceased spouse.
There are more than 100 other benefits gays would be entitled to if legal marriage were allowed, Spalding adds.
Gray says he's seeing a major shift in people's attitudes.
"We're seeing a lot of Republicans going in favor, saying 'We're going to vote the way we believe,' even though conservative teabaggers and evangelicals are opposed."
The change is reflected across the country. Pew Research Center polls show that Americans' views on same-sex marriage have shifted from widespread disapproval, 33 percent to 58 percent in 2003, to support, 49 percent to 41 percent this year.
The change of attitudes also is evident among elected officials. In the U.S. Senate, 50 members, including 46 Democrats, both independents and two Republicans, support the right of same-sex couples to marry legally.
"It's bigger than marriage equality," Mosley says. "It's a lot about our civil rights. It says right in the Constitution 'all men are created equal.' When there's discrimination, there's no equality."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.