The president of an Arkansas group that advocates for gay rights said Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is an important one, though it won't translate to changes in state policy in Arkansas.
Eric McDaniel, president of the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas, said the ruling — which enables federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples — is a "step towards the majority of opinion in the United States."
"That's a sign that times are changing, hearts are changing, people are becoming more progressive in thought," McDaniel said shortly after the court released its decision. "Basically I just feel like it follows the opinion — it is in line with the opinion of the majority of Americans. So it may take a while to catch up in Arkansas, but I'm very optimistic that it will."
But Jerry Cox, president of the Little Rock-based Family Council, called the high court's decisions a "mixed bag."
While it struck down part of DOMA, the court didn't rule on California's same-sex marriage ban, which had been ruled unconstitutional by a lower court. Cox said a ruling on the latter could have challenged Arkansas' voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which the Family Council worked to pass in 2004.
"We had hoped the court would totally uphold marriage as has always been the case in Arkansas and in most places around the country," Cox said. "They didn't. They chose to, at least for federal purposes, extend benefits to same-sex couples.
"I just think most people in Arkansas would rather not have the Supreme Court telling them what a marriage is or what a marriage isn't. I think they would rather decide that for themselves. Thankfully, the Supreme Court did leave that issue to the states, where I think it ought to be."
Cox said his group isn't planning any immediate action because of the decisions, but it would work to defend the marriage amendment if another group mounts an effort to change it.
McDaniel said the ruling was in line with his expectations, but seeing it come up while he followed live updates from SCOTUSblog online brought tears to his eyes. He married his husband in New York earlier this year.
"I can't tell you happy I was," McDaniel said, his voice breaking with emotion. "It was a relief."