Arizona same-sex couple: 'We're thrilled' with DOMA ruling

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Minutes after the Supreme Court ruled that legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, Angela Hughey and Sheri Owens, founders of an Arizona advocacy group for gay and lesbian couples, sat down with 3TV's Scott Pasmore and Yetta Gibson.

"We are thrilled that DOMA has been found unconstitutional," Hughey said.

She and Owens have been together for 20 years and were married in California in 2008.

"We got married because we love one another and are committed to one another. Today, the federal government said our marriage, our celebration of our love, is valid," Hughey said. "This is a big weight lifted off of all of us who believe in marriage equality."

DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act enacted in September 1996, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman and restricted federal marriage benefits to heterosexual couples.

"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion. "DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal."

Supporters of marriage equality say federal rights and benefits -- 1,138 of them -- are at the heart of the DOMA case.

"The rights are going to be granted to us," Owens said. "That's what's most important -- the rights. Property rights. State rights. Medical rights. Social Security benefits."

"This is federal protection," Hughey added.

While Wednesday's Supreme Court decision does not require that individual states allow same-sex marriage, it does say that the federal government will respect each state's definition of marriage.

"The decision on marriage, equal marriage, is going to be thrown back to the states," explained Warren Meyer of Equal Marriage Arizona.

Right now, Arizona law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Meyer hopes that will change with the 2014 election.

"It's time for Arizonans to make a choice on this," he said. "We expect to be on the ballot for 2014 to bring equal marriage to Arizona. ... Whatever definition we set in Arizona for marriage, the feds will respect that."

"The key message for Arizonans from the U.S. Supreme Court today is this: Your right to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman is preserved," said Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy in an email to media outlets. "It’s important to note that the Court did not find a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Neither did the Court declare same-sex marriage a civil right on the order of ethnicity or nationality."

"Though Center for Arizona Policy disagrees with aspects of the Court’s decision, we are grateful that the Court did not undermine the will of Arizona voters who strongly supported our state’s 2008 marriage amendment," she continued.

While Arizona's gay-marriage ban remains intact, lawyer Kory Langhofer said today's DOMA decision could provide support to a challenge down the road.

"Today's ruling probably signals that there could be trouble in the future for Arizona's gay marriage ban. This is the most aggressive support yet by the Supreme Court for gay marriage. It doesn't require Arizona's gay marriage ban to be invalidated, but it signals that in the future, a challenge to our gay marriage ban may be taken very seriously."

Hughey said there is still work to be done, but she believes the U.S. is on the road to being inclusive.

"This has been a constantly evolving conversation," she said. "We still live in a state where you can fire someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity. You can discriminate in housing and hospitality, not in out three largest cities. We have a ways to go, and I think there's a really good conversation going on right now, and we'll certainly get there."

Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on DOMA, it upheld a trial court ruling that California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, is unconstitutional. The decision clears the way for same-sex marriage in that state.

"We hope that the momentum continues," Hughey said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.