The Republic: Same-sex-wedding planning fraught with hurt, complications

Story by Megan Finnerty

The headlines, Twitter updates and scrolling TV news tickers could give the impression that gay couples across America are buying his-and-his cake toppers and registering for hers-and-hers hand-towel sets.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last June,developments on the legalization of gay marriage have seemed near-constant.

Now that same-sex marriage is recognized by the federal government, and is legal in California, where wedding destinations like Palm Springs and San Diego are a few hours away, the question of whether to take a day off work to get married looms large for gay Arizona couples in a way it didn’t 10 months ago.

And now that two cases challenging Arizona’s 2008 ban on same-sex weddings have been filed since January, gay couples are debating whether to wait for this state to legalize their unions.

These new options and benefits mean that gay Arizonans face a particularly complex mix of choices and emotional repercussions.

Phoenix’s Aliya Leigh said she and her fiancee talk weekly about getting married in California to qualify for federal benefits.

“But I shouldn’t have to do that. I’m a United States citizen. I’m such a citizen that my people were here before it was the United States,” said Leigh, 37, who is Native American and Black. “Why should I spend extra money or extra time going out of my way to secure some of the benefits and protections that we would get if we were married as a (opposite-sex) couple?”

Since the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples is unconstitutional, eight states have legalized same-sex weddings, bringing that number of states to 17. In five other states, judges have ruled bans on same-sex weddings unconstitutional, although those states have not legalized such unions.

In February, Kentucky started recognizing same-sex weddings performed elsewhere, but such weddings are not legal there.

About 114,000 same-sex couples nationwide have been legally married between 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize such marriages, and the end of 2012, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law. That’s about 0.18 percent of the 60.3 million married couples in America currently, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Today, 54 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, according to a poll released in March by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. That’s up from only 35 percent in 2001.

But for gay couples living in the 33 states like Arizona, where same-sex marriages are not recognized as legal, life has only grown more fraught.