How will the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act affect Minnesota's same-sex couples?

The United States Supreme Court released two important rulings on same-sex marriage this morning. It struck down the federal “Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)” that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. It also essentially struck down California’s “Proposition 8,” a voter referendum that revoked the freedom of same-sex couples to marry in that state. The Supreme Court ruling makes same-sex marriage legal again in California.

Interviewed days before today’s ruling, a leader of one of the groups that successfully lobbied for same-sex marriage in Minnesota says the ruling could have a large impact on same-sex couples in the state. Project 515 Executive Director Ann Kaner-Roth says there are 1138 federal laws relating to marriage and if the court were to rule DOMA unconstitutional, the rights and benefits from those federal laws would be available to same-sex couples in Minnesota.

Kaner-Roth says the ruling could have an impact on immigration cases where a same-sex spouse is from another country. For opposite-sex couples, marriage is a path to citizenship. But not so for same-sex couples.

Striking down DOMA would mean same-sex couples could claim married status on their federal tax forms. The case that triggered the court challenge was about estate taxes. “A married lesbian couple, who is legally married in New York, had the unfortunate experience of one of the spouses dying. And they were levied with a very expensive tax bill for the estate tax from their federal estate tax,” says Kaner-Roth. The surviving spouse had to pay a $360,000 estate tax. “This would have been a tax bill of zero for an opposite-sex married couple because the estate tax would not apply.”

The Proposition 8 case ruling will affect only California and not any other states. Meaning each state must decide to make same-sex marriage legal or not. Last month, Minnesota’s legislature voted to make same-sex marriage legal starting August 1.

Lambda, a legal organization working for full civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, has an analysis of the possible rulings the court might make.