ST. PAUL — Maria De La Cruz screamed with joy after her colleagues at OutFront Minnesota greeted her with the news Wednesday that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
She and her partner plan to marry next year, thanks to Minnesota’s new law allowing same-sex couples to marry. And soon they’ll also be able to file federal taxes jointly and be treated as a married couple by the federal government.
“The last two years have been monumental,” said De La Cruz, who lives in Hopkins and has 5-year-old twins. “My family can be recognized by our federal government.”
Winona State University professor Cindy Killion and her wife will be entitled to the same federal benefits as a heterosexual couple when she says her wedding vows in front of a Minnesota judge Aug. 1.
“It’s a wonderful morning,” Killion said Wednesday.
“From my perspective, as a lesbian who has been working on these issues, I’m totally elated today. To see how far we’ve come just in the last year — my head is spinning.”
Killion serves as the president of the 7 Rivers LGBT Resource Center in La Crosse and teaches mass communication at WSU. She lives with her partner in Fountain City. The two have been together for nearly two decades.
Soon, they will be legally married in Minnesota. But the ruling will have little impact on their home state of Wisconsin.
A different section of DOMA that the court did not address upholds that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and Wisconsin passed a Marriage Protection Amendment in 2006 that defines marriage as “one man, one woman.”
“It takes two election cycles to get the constitutional amendment eliminated,” Killion said. “That’s our next task.”
The cheers and hugs that followed the rulings were just the latest for Minnesota same-sex couples following a series of victories. In November, Minnesotans voted to reject a constitutional amendment that would have prevented same-sex marriage. Then, in May, Minnesota lawmakers passed a new law legalizing same-sex marriage ceremonies starting in August.
Besides being able to file taxes jointly, the court’s decision extends other benefits afforded to married heterosexual couples — everything from pension benefits to immigration rights.
Mankato couple Sophie Reynolds and Sophie Slater said they were relieved to know they will no longer have to worry about Slater’s expired visa. The couple married in Iowa last month, but it didn’t help Slater, who’s from the U.K., get a green card. She had planned to leave the country in August.
“I’d been looking for someone to sponsor me for a work visa, but it just wasn’t happening, so we were really worrying about what the future would hold,” Slater said. “This DOMA ruling by the Supreme Court has completely changed our lives. It means we can stay here together now and be a proper couple in the eyes of the law.”
Reynolds said the ruling also lets them start a family.
“We didn’t want to do that until we could get married and know that we could have a future for our kids with both moms and no fear of one of them having to leave,” she said.
State Sen. Scott Dibble, who sponsored Minnesota’s same-sex marriage law, said the ruling allows same-sex couples in Minnesota to enjoy full marriage rights.
“Once we’re able to get married in August, couples won’t have this strange existence where they have the rights, benefits and responsibilities under state law but can’t access the freedoms and opportunities in our federal Constitution and our federal laws,” said Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
Those who oppose same-sex marriage were disappointed in the rulings.
Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas who supported an attempt last year to constitutionally define marriage in Minnesota as only between one man and one woman, said the court’s decision on DOMA wasn’t surprising.
“I’m disappointed but I’m glad they didn’t constitutionalize the definition of marriage,” Collett said.
Organizers with Minnesota for Marriage, which also worked on the state’s defeated marriage amendment and urged lawmakers against passing a same-sex marriage law, agreed that the issue isn’t settled.
“I think generally the good news in both of these rulings is that the court did not find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, which means that citizens and states can still be involved in the marriage debate,” said Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for the group.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference, which also pushed for the state constitutional amendment, said the court rulings are no excuse for opponents of same-sex marriage to give up.
“The court got it wrong,” said Jason Adkins, the conference’s executive director. “If anything, we’re going to be strengthened in our resolve to continue to speak the truth about marriage well into the future.”
Allison Geyer of Lee Newspapers contributed to this story.