There was a time, almost three decades ago, when David Kilmnick came out as gay—a momentous moment in his life. Yet there was always the sobering reminder that a future with another man, however loving, would essentially be meaningless under the law.
“The one thing I always said is: ‘I’ll never be able to get married,’ ” recalls Kilmnick, 48, CEO of Long Island LGBT Network.
That changed for Kilmnick and thousands of gay and lesbian New Yorkers when on June 24, 2011, New York became the largest state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, the sixth such state to do so at the time. Gay couples across Long Island mingled inside the Long Island GLBT Community Center in Bay Shore that summer evening, nervously peering at an elevated television screen as the New York State Senate argued whether to pass the Marriage Equality Act. At 10 p.m., the vote came down: 33-29 in favor of the bill. Cheers erupted. Tears flowed. A decades-long battle culminated in a resounding victory for the thousands of gay couples across the state who never lost faith, despite endless roadblocks and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Roughly five minutes before midnight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law. On July 11, less than a month after the historic vote, the law became official.
Much has changed since that hot summer evening. Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C. have since legalized same-sex marriage. On Friday morning, the United States Supreme Court in a landmark decision legalized same-sex marriage across the country, ruling 5-4 that state gay marriage bans are unconstitutional.
The ruling opens the doors to same-sex couples across the country to marry. It also means gay couples who previously married will have their marriages recognized in states where bans currently exist.
“Now,” Kilmnick says in a phone interview minutes after the historic decision came down, “when teens come out, they will say, ‘God, I can’t wait for someone to marry.’ ”
In writing the Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the institution of marriage has evolved greatly over time, once as an arrangement between the couple’s parents. By the time of the founding of the country, “It was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman.”
Yet, Kennedy wrote, “Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity.” Eventually women made gains in society and long-held beliefs that a man absorbed a women’s legal rights upon marriage were abandoned, he noted.
“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” Kennedy wrote. “This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.”
Support for same-sex marriage has steadily grown over time.
A poll released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center found that a large majority of Americans—57 percent—are in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, while 37 percent were opposed. It was the highest level of support in the two decades that Pew had been conducting surveys on the issue. The poll also found that 72 percent of both Democrats and Republicans viewed nationwide legalization as “inevitable.”
“This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts,” President Obama said shortly after the decision came down. “When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”
Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins
— President Obama (@POTUS) June 26, 2015
The court’s decision signaled a major victory for LGBT Americans and defenders of civil rights, Kilmnick explained.
“This is an incredible victory,” an overjoyed Kilmnick says. “This was decades in the making. To have the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirm that marriage equality is a constitutional right, you can’t get any bigger than this.”
“It means that our hard work paid off and that thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, are going to be able to protect their families and be able to have the rights that we always believed was a constitutional right,” Kilmnick continues. “This goes down in the history books along with other civil rights cases.”
There had been small victories up to this point—like last October, when the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal from five states whose gay marriage bans were overturned by a lower court. That decision, which many believed foreshadowed a positive Supreme Court verdict for gay couples, came one day before Kilmnick announced plans to build a LGBT-friendly senior living facility in Bay Shore, believed to be the first in the state.
On Friday night, Kilmnick’s LGBT Network will celebrate the ruling during its annual LGBT Youth Prom in Ronkonkoma–the precursor to the annual LBGT Pride March, which is expected to draw tens of thousands to Manhattan this weekend. The landmark decision also comes three days after New York City officially designated Stone Wall Inn–the birthplace of the global LBGT movement–a historic landmark.
The Supreme Court’s decision, however, presents Kilmnick with a slight complication. He’s going to have to book another room to accommodate the influx of guests.
“You’ll have one room of our young people growing up in a generation where this was expected or anticipated,” Kilmnick says. “And yet in another room a generation of people who never thought this would happen and always dreamed and hoped for it, and now that hope is here. The hope is more than here: it’s a reality.”