Citing a 40-year-old precedent, a Hennepin County judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to remove legal barriers to gay marriage in Minnesota.

In an order signed Monday, District Judge Mary Dufresne rejected an argument by the group Marry Me Minnesota that the state's 13-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates same-sex couples' rights to due process, equal protection, religious freedom and freedom of association.

"Unless and until" the state Supreme Court overrules a 1971 decision limiting marriage to a man or a woman or repeals DOMA, Dufresne wrote, "Same-sex marriage will not exist in this state."

Last May, three couples sued Hennepin County Registrar Jill Alverson and the State of Minnesota after Alverson's office denied them applications for marriage licenses, citing the Defense of Marriage Act.

Plaintiff Doug Benson, executive director of Marry Me Minnesota, a nonprofit founded by same-sex couples for the purpose of suing the state, said the group was disappointed and will appeal.

"When we started this effort, we didn't know what the judges would do when they got the case in front of them, and now we know," he said. He said the ruling gives "the back of the hand to thousands of gay and lesbian couples across the state who only want the same rights their neighbors have."

Chuck Darrell, communications director for the Minnesota Family Council, applauded the decision. His organization opposes gay marriage and tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the lawsuit. Darrell noted that since the Obama administration stopped defending the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Marry Me Minnesota has written letters urging Gov. Mark Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson and others to stop defending the state's law.

"This, coupled with several bills introduced in the Legislature last year to legalize same-sex marriage, is why we need to protect marriage with a marriage amendment," Darrell said.

The plaintiffs include Benson and his partner, Duane Gajewski of Robbinsdale; Tom Trisko and his partner, John Rittman of Minneapolis; and Jessica Dykhuis and her partner, Lindzi Campbell of Duluth, plus their year-old son, Sean Campbell.

Dufresne's ruling largely cited Baker vs. Nelson, a 1971 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that said limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples does not violate the U.S. constitution.

That case stemmed from the application for a marriage license by two male University of Minnesota students.

"This, of course, is binding precedent on this Court, and this Court is not free to ignore it." Dufresne wrote. She added that Marry Me Minnesota did not provide convincing evidence that she should ignore Baker vs. Nelson.

Dufresne also rejected the argument that the couples' religious freedoms are violated by the state's refusal to recognize their church-sanctioned unions.

The group's attorney, Peter Nickitas, said his clients, in vowing to appeal, are "working even more energetically so that the state recognizes marriage equality, as the U.S. government is preparing to do."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921