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Openly gay Hagerstown minister says Supreme Court decision 'is about justice and compassion'

June 28, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • The Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor was pleased with Wednesday's Supreme Court decision.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

The Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor traveled from Hagerstown to Washington, D.C., to be outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.

As 10 a.m. approached, those outside began checking their smartphones, trying to find out how the court had ruled on two important gay rights issues.

The rising crescendo of cheers told Apgar-Taylor, a pastor at Hagerstown’s Veritas United Church of Christ, that there was good news for gay rights supporters.

Apgar-Taylor, who is openly gay, quickly texted his husband, Rob Apgar, a police officer with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority: “We won. DOMA fail.”

The text referred to the court ruling that struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, guaranteeing federal benefits for same-sex couples.

Apgar-Taylor said that as he went to bed Wednesday night, he felt a sense of security.

“I knew that our life, our possessions, our decisions were now protected on a federal level they were never protected before. We now have all the protections that any other married couple has,” Apgar-Taylor said.

He said that in Maryland he would be able to file taxes jointly with his husband, and get Social Security death and survivor benefits.

Another important right is the ability to be the next-of-kin in the eyes of the federal government, he said.

Apgar-Taylor said the Defense of Marriage Act was dehumanizing, and the court decision Wednesday was about giving “common respect and decency that you give any other married couple.”

“It is about civil rights ... it is about justice and compassion,” he said.

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Some in the gay community feel that the court striking down of a part of the law was much more than a federal benefits issue.

“It is a clear signal to young gay people that they are equal in the eyes of the law. I think it is important to give people hope,” said John Lestitian, a Hagerstown resident.

Lestitian, who has been married to his husband, John Rohrer, since 2010, said that same-sex couples are worthy of dignity and respect.

The court decision was enough to make him emotional, Lestitian said.

“All of a sudden you are validated ... not only was it a good day for gay couples ... it was a good day for our country,” he said.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision was huge, it is only one step toward more rights for the gay community, he said.

“If I’m visiting a friend in Virginia, all of a sudden my marriage is not recognized any more. How equal is that?” said Lestitian, who works for the city of Hagerstown.

In Maryland, gay couples have been able to marry since January, while Virginia currently bans gay marriage.

After Lestitian’s previous domestic partner, James Bradley, died in 2003, he was not able to inherit the couple’s house and had to pay inheritance tax on half of their assets, according to The Herald-Mail archives.

Lestitian was among those who challenged Maryland’s law against same-sex marriage in the mid-2000s.

“We won in Circuit Court, but lost in the Court of Appeals,” he said.

Lestitian said that this week’s Supreme Court ruling would ensure that gay couples “receive the same treatment that our counterparts receive.”

Shannon Vitiritti, a Hagerstown resident, said she was excited because her wife, Angela Vitiritti, would now be eligible for “VA benefits.”

“That’s a big deal,” she said.

Shannon Vitiritti, who served in the U.S. Air Force previously, married her partner in March.

She remains concerned about traveling to other states where same-sex marriage is not recognized.

“It is a patchwork, you really do not know what rights you have,” Vitiritti said.

But she said the court ruling made her optimistic. With every passing year, people seem to become more accepting of same-sex couples, she said.

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