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S. Dakotans React To Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday morning that makes same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Now South Dakotans are reacting to the opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges that says states cannot ban same-sex marriage.

South Dakota’s Attorney General says the same-sex marriage decision from the US Supreme Court is immediate. Marty Jackley says that means gay and lesbian couples can apply for marriage licenses in South Dakota right away.

"We’re asking the local elected officials to treat it as immediately and to begin doing the necessary steps to implement this new rule of law, so hopefully that will come at a reasonable pace and ultimately it may depend on the particular county’s ability," Jackley says. "Obviously the larger counties may have to make more significant adjustments to their software than perhaps a more rural area."

Jackley says South Dakota has been following the law under a district court decision, but Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overrides that precedent. Jackley says he thinks citizens should be allowed to define marriage, but he says South Dakota will comply with the high court’s decision.

Jackley writes the following:

“In November 2006, South Dakota voters approved a Constitutional Amendment making marriage valid only between a man and a woman. South Dakota voters approved this amendment by a vote of 172,242 to 160,173. South Dakota Constitution Article XXI, Section 9 mandated that only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in South Dakota. In addition, SDCL 25-1-1 defines marriage as a personal relation between man and a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court has now held our Constitution and statutes violate U.S. Constitution.”

He says the court's ruling overrides those South Dakota provisions. Jackley says lawmakers can decide to remove them or leave the laws on the books knowing they aren't enforceable.

Spearfish resident Joe Saracco is among those celebrating the US Supreme Court ruling. Saracco says it wasn’t easy growing up gay in South Dakota. He says he wasn’t sure he’d see same sex marriage legalized in his lifetime.

"I only wish that brothers and sisters, LGBT members, who lived in a nation where a person could turn his back on the AIDS epidemic, lived to see this day." -Joe Saracco

“I am surprised how quickly America as far as the government and the social system has changed in my lifetime, definitely," Saracco says. "I only wish that brothers and sisters, LGBT members, who lived in a nation where a person could turn his back on the AIDS epidemic, lived to see this day. I wish gay and lesbian vets who died in the fields, I wish they could see this day. It’s pretty remarkable."

Saracco says while it’s a day to celebrate, the work to insure the civil rights of LGBT individuals is not over. He points out that in South Dakota there are few workplace protections for LGBT individuals. He says it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone simply for being LGBT.

"It's gonna be, 'In your face, Christians,' because this is now legal." -Mark Chase, SD Family Policy Council

The President of South Dakota’s Family Policy Council says members of that organization are very disappointed in the ruling to allow same-sex marriage across the US. Mark Chase says the Christian-based group will not take part in any attempt to overturn the ruling.  But Chase says he feels those who oppose gay marriage are now under increased pressure.

“We should not think that a gay activist, who has been pushing for this, and has been really vocal against Christians, that that’s now going to subside. On the contrary, it’s gonna get worse; it’s gonna be, 'In your face, Christians,' because this is now legal," Chase says. "And I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them try to go to those churches, knowing their pastor doesn’t perform gay marriages, and try to force their hand. Is that an extreme form of persecution? No—but it is a mild form of persecution.”

Chase says those in the Family Policy Council and Christians in the US only want their opinions heard—which he says is not hate or bigotry but the same right that those in favor of same-sex marriage have exercised through the years.

The women who challenged South Dakota’s prohibition of same-sex marriage in court say they are delighted with the Supreme Court ruling opening the door for LGBT marriage in all 50 states. 

For many same sex couples who wish to be married today is a victory.   That includes those who were married in other states and then came back to South Dakota.

“I am Nancy, and as of today my last name is now Rosenbrahn. Jennie and I finally legally use our married name,” Rosenbrahn says.

Nancy and Jennie Rosenbrahn challenged South Dakota’s prohibition of same-sex marriage in federal court. Their particular case wasn’t the one before the Supreme Court, but this ruling is still a win.

“Now it's no longer gay marriage. It's marriage” Rosenbrahn says.

For many like Rosenbrahn, this is a civil rights victory. She now has the same rights and privileges as all married couples.

“Jennie and I have been together for almost 28 years. We didn’t need a marriage ceremony to tell the world that we’re a couple. But what we were denied was all the practical or the business side of marriage,” Rosenbrahn says. “We didn’t get the tax breaks. We didn’t get get to be on the same insurance policy. We didn’t get Social Security survivor benefits, inheritance benefits. Even to make final end of life decisions for one another was denied us. Now, we don’t have to worry about that.”

Rosenbrahn adds that while this is a victory worth celebrating, there is still work to be done to end discrimination. Many point out there is little workplace or job protection in states like South Dakota for LGBT individuals.

In Rapid City a victory celebration is happening at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn starting at 5 p.m. Friday.  The event is free and open to the public. Rosenbrahn is also helping to organize a national marriage celebration at Mount Rushmore on September 6th. Couples are able to get married under the four faces in what’s being touted as an historic event.

On the US Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage across the nation, Governor Dennis Daugaard released the following statement:

“I would have preferred for this change to come through the democratic process, rather than the courts. We are a nation of laws, and the state will follow the law. I will be working with the Attorney General to ascertain what this ruling means for state and local governments.”