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The DOMA, Prop 8 Waiting Game Is On

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(Duration: 4:10)

Joe Robinson & Andrei Cimpian

Joe Robinson and Andrei Cimpian, married since December 2011, at their home in Champaign (Jeff Bossert/WILL)

A lot of people are waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on California’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.  Those include one couple in Champaign.

The act called DOMA for short bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and makes state recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages voluntary.

There's a full range of outcomes have some sort of impact on couples throughout the country, including Joe Robinson and Anrei Cimpian.

The Champaign couple admits they’re lucky.  They married in New York in late 2011, shortly after same-sex marriage became legal there.  And they say living in Illinois isn’t a big concern since the state, which permits same-sex civil unions, recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states as civil unions. 

But Illinois state law currently limits marriage to relationships between one man and one woman.

Joe admits there were times they weren’t sure if they’d be able to get married. Robinson said he and Andrei had been together four years, and were graduate students at Stanford University in California, when voters there approved Proposition 8, which repealed the state law permitting same-sex marriage.

“When it came to the point where it looked like that window was closing, we were talking about ‘maybe we should rush to get this done – because it wasn’t recognized at the federal level," he said.

Joe and Andrei both got their Ph.D’s at Stanford at the same time, and then both found faculty positions at the University of Illinois. 

Andrei teaches psychology, while Joe teaches educational psychology. With his doctorate, Andrei, who’s from Romania, earned his green card – and was able to beat out Americans for a position in the U of I's Psychology Department for his post.

"We were very lucky, because we know of people – gay or straight – who want to be in academia, but it’s very hard to find jobs at the same university," Cimpian said.  'And you end up in a long-distance situation which is not pleasant.”

Advocating for same-sex couples, Equality Illinois Executive Director Bernard Cherkasov says he’s optimistic about how Supreme Court Justices will rule on the two measures. 

He said at the minimum, Prop 8 will be struck down.  But Cherkasov said same-sex couples are anxious.

“Because these couples have been in relationships, some of them for decades," he said.  "They’ve built their lives together, they share every moment of happiness and every moment of sadness together.  And the last thing they want to worry about is having their fate in the hands of nine people who are in a Democratic institutional setting, but who are still deciding whether their love, whether their family, is valid or real or not.”

Meanwhile, opponents of same-sex marriage say by striking down DOMA, the true understanding of marriage is undermined.   Laurie Higgins with the Illinois Family Institute said there are no substantive and ethical reasons to legalize same-sex marriage.

“To know if they’re treated unequally, you have to know what marriage is," she said.  "If it’s just an institution of affirming love, then the government has no interest in it.  The government couldn’t care less who loves whom.  And then if it’s just about who loves whom, and it’s not inherently about procreation and child rearing, why can’t platonic friends get married?"

An expert on constitutional issues says the Supreme Court’s ruling may not be a simple yes or no.  Lisa McElroy, who teaches law at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said the high court could refuse to rule on Prop 8, on the grounds that those who brought the lawsuit didn’t do it properly.

As for DOMA, McElroy said its fate is harder to predict, but that it could be struck down on the grounds that the federal government has no authority in defining what marriage is.

“And that would actually be a problem in some places, " she said.  "Because it would be less up to the states to define marriage.  And for people who believe in marriage equality, that would mean some states say to gay people ‘you can’t marry your partner.”

Other than filing joint federal taxes, Andrei Cimpian and Joe Robinson don’t believe the range of outcomes in either Supreme Court Case would alter their lives greatly. 

But Andrei said they want to be seen as a normal couple who have the same rights as everyone else.

“Whenever I start thinking about it, you just get a little angry, right?," he said.  "I mean this is not something that I decided on being.  It’s not something that anyone really chooses to be, because it makes your life more difficult in many ways.  So to have that be a reason why I don’t have the same rights as anyone else – it makes your blood boil a little bit.”

All those tracking Prop 8 and DOMA seem to agree it will likely be late June before the Supreme Court issues decisions in the two cases.