Missouri's Married Same-Sex Couples Get New State, Federal Benefits

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Miranda Duschack and Mimo Davis complete the paperwork portion of their marriage ceremony. - COURTESY MAYOR SLAY'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy Mayor Slay's Office
  • Miranda Duschack and Mimo Davis complete the paperwork portion of their marriage ceremony.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, it was a major victory for same-sex marriage supporters.

There was dancing in the streets and rainbow flags were a-wavin' as the highest court in the land said it was unconstitutional for the federal government to deny benefits to married gay couples. Now, fifteen months later, that ruling is having an aftershock effect in Missouri where, for the first time, same-sex couples married in other states can access the federal benefits they've been denied for years.

Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs struck down part of Missouri's ten-year-old, voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage earlier this month, forcing the state to recognize marriages performed out of state. That means gay couples who hop across the river to Illinois to get hitched or wed in any of the other 31 states plus Washington, D.C., that allow gay marriage can have their marriages legally recognized in Missouri.

Same-sex couples are still forbidden from legally getting married in Missouri, though four couples broke the law last summer with some help from Mayor Francis Slay's office.

See also: Meet the First Four Gay Couples to Marry in St. Louis (PHOTOS)

Youngs said there was "no logical reason" to stop the state from recognizing marriages performed in other states in his ruling curtailing Missouri's gay-marriage ban.

"The undisputed facts before the court show that, to the extent these laws prohibit plaintiffs' legally contracted marriages from other states being recognized here, they are wholly irrational, do not rest upon any reasonable basis, and are purely arbitrary," Youngs wrote. "All they do is treat one segment of the population -- gay men and lesbians -- differently than their same-sex counterparts, for no logical reason."

Thanks to Young's ruling and the Supreme Court ruling last year, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs can extend to Missouri's married couples social security benefits and VA home loans for married couples as of this week.

For Arlene Zarembka and Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, who followed their 1985 commitment ceremony in St. Louis with a legal wedding in California in 2008, the court decisions mean Zarembka, 66, can finally receive Social Security benefits as the spouse of Tang-Martinez, 69.

The University City couple told the Associated Press that federal recognition of their marriage -- something they couldn't get before Saturday's ruling -- could boost their income and have a major impact on their daily lives.

But the ruling means more than that, Tang-Martinez said. "To me, it's a real validation by the judge of our relationship and our commitment to each other," Tang-Martinez told the AP.

On Monday, Missouri treasurer Clint Zweifel announced that the state's largest employee-retirement system, the Missouri State Employees Retirement System, will let all couples, including gay couples married in other states, apply for benefits.

"The tide of history and the march towards equality must not be ignored," Zweifel said after MOSERS decided to extend benefits to gay couples. "In order for Missouri to move forward, we must show the world we stand for inclusion and equality for everyone. To compete in a 21st century economy, we must ensure that we are attracting the best jobs and the best people. For Missouri to serve as a model for progress and growth, we must do what is right and just for all of our citizens."

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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