A divided court said the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposal 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, are unconstitutional.
Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.
Twin Lake resident Phillip Perry said he was overcome with joy when he heard the court’s decision.
“For us, it sanctifies that we’re not being told that we are substandard,” he said.
For Perry and his spouse of almost five years, Wednesday’s rulings are more than having a right to be married. Perry said it’s about having the same legal rights as their straight counterparts.
“For all intents and purposes, we function no different than any other couple," he said.
Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act states that, for providing federal benefits, marriage is “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and a spouse is only a “person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
The Government Accountability Office determined more than 1,100 areas in federal law where marriage matters, ranging from immigration and employment to tax and welfare benefits. For example, a same-sex couple is denied health insurance and disability benefits, and denied housing, among other things.
“(Now) we won’t be denied those rights,” Perry said.
Spring Lake resident Lynne Deur said the court’s decision turned out better than she had hoped. Although Deur said she expected the Proposition 8 outcome, she was nervous about the conservative court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.
Deur called the rulings a “historic event.”
“This is the right thing to happen,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Soon after the court’s decision, Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer released a statement calling it “a proud step forward” for the nation, and it affirms the belief that love and not politics should be the only factor when determining whether two Americans should choose to get married.
“I was proud to sponsor legislation to recognize same-sex marriages here in Michigan," she said. "And now, with today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, it’s clear that it’s time to move forward on that process to ensure that same-sex couples have the same rights, opportunities and protections as everyone else in our state."
Despite the Supreme Court's ruling, Michigan's ban on gay marriage remains intact.
"The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states, not the federal government, retain the constitutional authority to define marriage," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said.
However, it could help a Detroit-area couple in their lawsuit challenging the gay marriage ban approved by Michigan voters in 2004, said Devin Schindler, a constitutional law expert at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
"I would certainly consider this to be a victory for the opponents of the Michigan ban," Schindler said. "It does not end the dispute, but it does provide the opponents with additional ammunition to support their cause."
Despite Wednesday’s rulings, Deur said there’s a long way to go.
Perry remains optimistic that the decisions will push other states toward allowing same-sex marriages. The country might not have been ready for it in 2004, he said, but the world has changed in those nine years.
“The gay rights movement and stuff going on is the civil rights movement today,” he said.
The Associated Press and MCT wire service contributed to this report.