Update: Gay Minnesota couples to see federal benefits after court ruling

By Don Davis

Minnesota same-sex couples who can wed beginning in a little more than a month will receive the same benefits as other married couples after the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled unconstitutional a federal law that did not recognize gay marriage.

Among the most important of those benefits is allowing same-sex couples file joint income tax returns to receive a lower tax rate and Social Security to be collected based on a spouse’s income, Executive Director Chuck Samuelson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said.

Federal pensions, including those from the military, also will benefit gay spouses, he said.

Many of the benefits are in federal tax law, Samuelson added, benefits not allowed when the Defense of Marriage Act was on the books.

On a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled DOMA unconstitutional.

By striking down DOMA, the court cleared the way for legally married couples to claim more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.

The majority of justices decided that marriage is among issues that states alone may regulate.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote in close decisions, said the law imposed “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”

The ruling follows Minnesota’s decision this spring to allow same-sex couples to wed beginning in August.

Minnesota Democrats were thrilled with the decision, and Republicans said little.

“Our country is starting to understand that it’s not about what a family looks like: It’s about their love and commitment to one another,” said U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

“Great year for marriage equality in DC and MN, but there is still work to be done at the federal level,” U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., tweeted minutes after Wednesday’s high court ruling.

“There are seminal moments in our country’s history which have made this country great,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party tweeted. “Today’s … ruling is one of them. Equality for all!”

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who represents a district north and northwest of the Twin Cities, was the rare Republican to comment on the ruling.

“Marriage was created by the hand of God,” she said. “No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.”

Bachmann said governments have been undermining God’s will on the issue since 2000.

“What the court has done will undermine the best interest of children and the best interests of the United States,” Bachmann said.

The leader of Minnesota’s campaign to fight gay marriage, John Helmberger of Minnesota for Marriage, said the court “found no constitutional right to save-sex marriage.”

“The court’s rulings today affirm that the conversation about marriage can continue among citizens in the states,” he said.

Helmberger emphasized that the court ruling says states can decide about gay marriage. “The Supreme Court has affirmed that the people have the opportunity to reinstate gender-based marriage here in Minnesota and other similarly situated states.”

Minnesotans have been debating gay marriage for more than two years.

In May 2011, a Republican-controlled Legislature passed a measure that would have enshrined in the state Constitution a gay marriage ban. An 18-month campaign ended in November of last year with the country’s first voter defeat of such a plan.

This year, the two sides engaged in the campaign turned their attention to efforts to pass a bill to overturn existing law forbidding gay marriage. That legislative vote in May set the stage for allowing gays to marry beginning in August.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court’s landmark victory for gay rights was joined by one that paved the way for same-sex marriage in California.

Justice Kennedy, 76, appointed to the court by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1988, was the key vote and wrote the DOMA opinion, the third major gay rights ruling he has authored since 1996.

In a separate opinion, the court ducked a decision on Proposition 8 by finding that supporters of the California law did not have standing to appeal a federal district court ruling that struck it down. By doing so, the justices let stand the lower-court ruling that had found the ban unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the Proposition 8 opinion, ruling along procedural lines in a way that said nothing about how the court would rule on the merits.

By ruling this way on Proposition 8, the court effectively let states set their own policy on gay marriage.

President Barack Obama applauded the court’s DOMA decision and directed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review all relevant federal laws to ensure the ruling is implemented.

“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,” said Obama, the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage.

The court rulings come amid rapid progress for advocates of gay marriage in recent months and years in the United States and internationally. Opinion polls show a steady increase in U.S. public support for gay marriage.

Before Wednesday, 12 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia recognized gay marriage. Three of those — Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island — legalized gay marriage this year. California would become the 13th state to allow it.

About a third of the U.S. population now lives in areas where gay marriage is legal, if California is included.

Reuters news service contributed to this report.

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