Gay rights activists in Minnesota exulted Wednesday that a U.S. Supreme Court decision means gay and lesbian couples here will have full marriage rights under state and federal laws — less than eight months after the state was on the verge of banning same-sex marriage.
"It's a great day for our country," said Richard Carlbom, who led efforts to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota. "The ruling tells thousands of couples in Minnesota that the federal government recognizes their relationship as just as valid as anyone else's."
As a result of the Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to strike down much of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, when same-sex marriages begin in Minnesota on Aug. 1, those unions will be recognized not only by the state, but by the federal government for such purposes as taxes, immigration, Social Security and benefits for federal workers, according to gay-marriage advocates. Marriages performed in states where it is already legal will also be recognized in Minnesota and federally.
Minnesota advocates of traditional marriage took heart that the high court's decision stopped short of finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and allows those states that prohibit it — and most still do — to continue to do so.
"It's a good day to believe in federalism," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, sponsor of the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. "States' rights stand."
But in Minnesota, gay rights is riding a winning streak.
The proposed amendment, which would have inserted a gay marriage ban into the state Constitution, was defeated in November by the voters, who also switched legislative control from the GOP to the DFL. In May, both bodies passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, signed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and taking effect Aug. 1. The court's ruling makes it a trifecta for gay marriage in Minnesota.
"I'm overjoyed at the decision," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsored the gay marriage bill this year. "It means we're not going to have this strange, bifurcated existence where we're full citizens for the purpose of state law, and nonexistent in federal law."
Dibble married Richard Leyva in Laguna Beach, Calif., in Aug. 2008, during a brief window when same-sex marriage was legal in that state. A second U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down on Wednesday, also a victory for gay-marriage supporters, is expected to restart same-sex marriages in California.
Dibble said it is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case that will have the greatest effect in Minnesota. "We will be able to enjoy the full freedoms and rights and responsibilities in federal law," he said.
Having their relationship exist outside state and federal law for so long was an "intangible" burden that was difficult to quantify, Dibble said.
"The inference is that you're a second-class citizen," he said. "This removes that sense that somehow your life, your family, is inferior."
Because Minnesota repealed its own Defense of Marriage Act this year and legalized same sex marriage, gay and lesbian couples here will benefit fully from the decision, said Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515.
The Minnesota advocacy group took its name from the number of legal marriage benefits that accrue to married couples only if they are heterosexual.
"We think it's only applicable to couples whose marriage is legally recognized in the state they live in," Kaner-Roth said. This point could be important to same-sex partners who are legally married in Minnesota but then move to a state where it is banned, such as Wisconsin.
State laws still stand
Supporters of traditional marriage pointed out that most states prohibit gay marriage by law or constitutional provision, and those rulings stand.
Carlbom, who led the effort to defeat the amendment and pass gay marriage in the Legislature, looks at the 37 states without gay marriage as the next challenge.
"The fact of the matter is, the effort to begin overturning those 37, bringing those 37 states into freedom, starts today," he said.