For the first openly gay senator, sitting across the street from the Supreme Court's "equal justice under law" inscription held new meaning on Wednesday as the justices that once denied rights to LGBT couples.
"The Court made a strong statement for equality and freedom, overturning discrimination against gay and lesbian American citizens simply because of who they love," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who was open about her sexual orientation when she ran for office in 2012. "This progress is defined by the ideal that more and more Americans want to leave to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less."
Though the Supreme Court avoided opinions about marriage itself, the justices in United States v. Windsor ruled 5-4 that a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, making it illegal to deny federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
Also in a 5-4 decision, in Hollingsworth v. Perry the Supreme Court opted against a constitutional ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, in favor of a deferring to a district court that previously outlawed the measure.
President Obama congratulated the plaintiffs from both cases, calling each from Air Force One where he learned about the decisions. En route to Africa, Mr. Obama was "obviously pleased" with the Supreme Court rulings that establish "we all are more free when all Americans are treated as equal," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on the flight.
"The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it," Mr. Obama said in a statement. "We are a people who declared that we are all created equal - and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
While same-sex marriage proponents said the Hollingsworth decision will allow same-sex marriage to resume in California, traditional marriage proponents insist the Supreme Court's ruling doesn't allow for these ceremonies to occur.
"There's a stench coming from these cases that has now stained the Supreme Court," National Organization of Marriage president Brian Brown said. "It's imperative that Congress continue to protect the right of states to not recognize faux marriages in their state."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also lamented the decisions, referencing the bipartisan coalition that originally voted for DOMA and a state's right to define marriage. House Republicans spent over $2 million defending DOMA in court, two GOP aides told CBS News, after the Obama administration declined to defend it.
"The House intervened in this case because the constitutionality of a law should be judged by the Court, not by the president unilaterally," Boehner said in a statement. "While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical that we protect our system of checks and balances. A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman."
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., echoed Boehner's disappointment, adding what she said was the core problem with the justices' decisions.
"The Supreme Court not only attacked our Constitution today, they attacked something they have no jurisdiction over whatsoever, the foundational unit of our society, which is marriage," Bachmann said. "That is something that God created. That is something that God will define. The Supreme Court, though they make think so, has not yet risen to that level."
One of the 14 senators who originally voted against DOMA, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., commended the Supreme Court for "reject[ing] two blatantly unconstitutional measures" in their opinions today. Boxer joins Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Ron Wyden, D-Oreg., as the three remaining senators in office who voted against DOMA before former President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996.
Mr. Clinton, who penned an op-ed against the law earlier this year, reiterated his reformed anti-DOMA position in a statement Wednesday. He didn't mention his involvement in DOMA's creation.
"The Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union," Clinton said in a joint statement with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "We applaud the hard work of the advocates who have fought so relentlessly for this day."
While LGBT rights advocates applauded the decisions as a step towards equality, each said the fight for a level playing field continues.
"This ruling will only make us work harder in the courts, in the state legislators, everywhere to ensure that all men and women in every part of our country are guaranteed equal rights no matter who they love," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. "This is an extraordinary day for American values."
Reaping monetary support from the occasion, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., sent an email asking for contributions to "keep fighting for full equality."