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LGBT Latinos Celebrate Historic Supreme Court Gay Marriage Ruling

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Maria C. Gonzalez knew about hiding. “Being gay was one of the worst things you could be,” she said. “I hid it, I remember being terrified of who I was. I literally had to leave the city to be who I was.”

“And I never, ever thought I would see something like marriage equality in my lifetime,” said Gonzalez, an Associate Professor at the University of Houston. “I never thought I would see this day. I could not have imagined it. And now it is here.”

Justice Kennedy: Marriage a ‘fundamental right’ for all couples 1:15

The Supreme Court announced Friday that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, a decision that has led to joy and celebration among the country’s Latino LGBT community.

David Martinez, vice-chair of Portland (Oregon) Latino Gay Pride, said that the ruling today was “not a complete surprise, but still overwhelming. I was very excited, it was emotional.”

The Supreme Court was ruling on several cases grouped together as Obergefell v. Hodges, and considering two issues. The first was whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution – which guarantees equal protection under the law – required states to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. The second was whether the 14th Amendment required states to recognize a same-sex marriage legally performed in another state. The Court ruled affirmatively on both questions.

Martinez believes that the decision will have a tremendous impact on LGBT youth, especially Latinos.

“For my generation, there was a hopelessness that parents used to feel when their children ‘came out.’ They would worry that their son or daughter would not have a family, or anyone to take care of them,” he said. “With the younger generation, now families will not have to go to that place of fear. This generation will grow up with marriage, it will be their norm, it will be accessible. For Latinos especially, this means that it will be easier for young people to speak with their parents and be more open about the man or woman in their life.”

National polls have shown that a majority of Latinos support same-sex marriage. A 2014 CBS News poll found that 50 percent of Latinos supported same-sex marriage. Among U.S.-born Latinos, support was higher, at 62 percent. In fact, recently there has been a significant increase in Hispanic support for same-sex marriage. In 2003, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 35 percent of Latinos supported same-sex marriage; by 2013, this figure had climbed to 53 percent.

These shifting poll numbers have generally followed the trajectory of polls for Americans overall. In addition, the increased visibility of Latino LGBT celebrities (like Ricky Martin) and awareness campaigns like “Familia Es Familia” seem to have led to more Latinos to support same-sex couples’ right to wed.

Martinez added that it was important to put the Supreme Court ruling in context for LGBT Latinos. “Today is joyous, but we also have other issues that we cannot slow down on; the fight for access to health care and education, transgender acceptance, immigration. Many Latinos are rightfully thrilled today, but the struggle continues for equity in our community.”

Saul Estrella, a Houston resident who has been with his partner for the past 21 years, are the parents of an 11-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy.

“Today, I will inform this to my children as soon as I go pick them up from summer camp," said Estrella. "We married in Washington D.C. three years ago and it was very difficult to explain to my daughter and son that we were legal over there but not here in Texas. They had questions and today, we have an answer for them...The biggest joy is that our children will experience what it feels like to be treated with equality by society."

For Estrella, there are also the more practical consequences.

“Now, when we travel we will be able to come back to our country filling only one immigration form as the family that we are," he said. "If other families could do it filling only one form, why were we forced to fill two?”

On Friday morning, prominent Latinos took to social media to spread the news. “SCOTUS (The Supreme Court) has just announced that love is equal across the nation!!!” Ricky Martin tweeted.

Actor Wilson Cruz tweeted, “Thank you Justice Kennedy and all of YOU, both LGBT and ALLIES, who worked toward this day.” Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) tweeted “SCOTUS just confirmed that #lovecantwait.”

“We have been fighting for this day for a long time,” said Sergio Lopez, Director of Latino Programming at Freedom to Marry. “This is fantastic news today; it is a huge victory for the LGBT community and all Americans. It is a very momentous day for America.”

“This is something that we have been waiting for, and fighting for, for along time,” said Oriol Guiterrez, Editor-in-Chief of Poz/Tu Salud. “It is affirmation that we are full human beings with the right to live with dignity, and to marry the person we love. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

The decision today, one of the most anticipated rulings of the Court’s term fell on the anniversary of two other gay rights cases, U.S. v. Windsor (2013), and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). All three landmark rulings now share the distinction of being announced on June 26. Today’s decision also comes just before Gay Pride Weekend in New York City and San Francisco.

About 1.4 million Hispanics identify as LGBT, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, and there are an estimated 146,000 Latinos living in same-sex households. One-third of Latino same-sex couples live in New Mexico, California, and Texas.

The country’s leading Latino advocacy groups have already come out in support of same-sex marriage. The League of United Latin American Citizens, National Council of La Raza, Hispanic Federation, and the Mexican American Legal and Educational Defense Fund are all in favor of marriage equality.

For many LGBT Latinos, today’s news was very personal.

“I remember a conversation I once had with my father,” said Maria Gonzalez. “He was puzzled, more than anything else. He said this (being gay), is something you were supposed to be ashamed of, and now you’re not?”

“But I told him, I thought that was a change for the better… and he agreed,” Gonzales said.

“Now life will be different for young people growing up,” she added. “I see it already, in my nephews and nieces who love me for who I am. They’ve accepted me in ways my parents had to learn. And someday, even in Texas, same-sex marriage is not going to be a big deal. It will just be.”

Additional reporting from NBC News contributor Claudia Deschamps.

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