Joel Filmore believes that the Supreme Court's decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act are good news for more than just the couples affected.
He's an assistant professor of psychology and counseling at Northern State University and adviser for the school’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Allies student group.
Filmore said the Supreme Court decisions were good news not only for LGBT individuals “but for the children of LGBTQ individuals and their families as well.”
The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies same-sex married couples federal benefits. Separately, the court effectively undercut California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.
“We live in a country whereby we give lip service to this idea of equality and fair treatment,” Filmore said. “We say that it's covered by the Constitution, and yet historically as a country, we have invariably used power and position” to create strata within a hierarchy. Within that system, one group is considered less than another, he said.
Two state legislators don't think the decisions about marriage will lead to changes in South Dakota law anytime soon.
Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, said he doesn't expect follow-up developments in South Dakota, though he did say, “it's getting a lot of people pretty excited” and it's “kind of fun” to watch people get that excited about something.
“I don't see anything changing too much here in South Dakota yet,” he said. “Folks say that it's just a matter of time.” But it seems like in South Dakota, things won't change quickly. “And I guess I'm comfortable with that right now. I don't foresee anything,” said Frerichs, who is the Senate minority leader.
Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, pointed out that an amendment to the South Dakota Constitution makes marriage valid between only a man and a woman. That amendment was passed by voters in 2006.
“I can tell you I don't think there's going to be any move to repeal that on the part of the Legislature,” Greenfield said. “By and large, South Dakota's a state that supports traditional marriage, and in spite of an activist U.S. Supreme Court. I think we're going to keep what laws that protect the sanctity of marriage on the books that we can.”
Greenfield said Wednesday afternoon that “there's still some conjecture out there as to what exactly the ruling means.” But he thinks that “at least for now you won't see a sudden move to change anything that we have on our books.”
Greenfield criticized the judges who wrote the majority ruling.
“They don't have any regard for the other branches. They are trying to assert their own opinions. They don't interpret the laws as they're written. They interpret them as their personal preferences dictate. It's a sad day when judges become activists and change the law instead of just interpreting what is on the books.”
Greenfield said he tried to gather a lot of information about the decision.
“I've never heard such bizarre conjecture from any justice on any issue as what I've heard that was contained in the majority ruling,” he said.
Still, Filmore said, Wednesday's decision "really kind of flies in the face of some this strata that we've created and says, ‘No, despite religious or moralistic viewpoints we're a country that's founded on this true principal of equality.’ ” The decision is “kind of that first step forward that says we are going to actually live by the code” on which the country was established, “which of course is the Constitution,” Filmore said.
Filmore has lived in South Dakota for only a month, “But I did my research prior to coming,” he said.
Before he moved from Illinois, he had to think about what moving to South Dakota would mean for the civil union of which he's a part.
“In Illinois we have legal civil unions. I'm married. I've been with my partner nine years.”
He knew, “First of all, our relationship would not be recognized. But then second of all, what does that mean in terms of those what-if scenarios.
“What if I get sick? What if he gets sick? We're both 700-plus miles away from any of our biological family. So if one of us got sick and went to the hospital, would they prevent me from being there for him or prevent him from being there for me? It was a huge concern for me.”
While the laws in South Dakota haven't changed, Filmore thinks what the Supreme Court decision does “is it prepares a platform to say at the very least we have to open our eyes and our hearts to this idea that we are being discriminatory to certain groups of people.”
Despite an individual's religious or moralistic views about “the issue of the LGBTQ population, at the end of the day you have to say what is the humane thing, what is the human thing, to do in this situation? And I think the Supreme Court kind of set a precedence for that,” Filmore said.