When word broke last May that gay marriage would be legalized in Minnesota, Leah Buysse and partner Randii Waddell were thrilled.
“I was so proud of my home state,” Buysse said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
But the news was bittersweet, as Buysse and Waddell - who live together with their daughter near Madison, Wis. - realized they could not receive the same marriage benefits on their side of the border.
Then the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, in June, followed by a Treasury Department ruling Aug. 29 that says the government will recognize legally married same-sex couples for tax purposes - even if they live in a state that bans gay marriage.
Once again Buysee and Waddell were thrilled.
“The excitement was palpable,” Buysse said. “We literally stayed up all night talking about the possibilities.”
After nearly 15 years together, the couple drove to Buysse’s hometown of Red Wing to get married at a ceremony held Friday night in John Rich Park. The wedding fell on the same date they exchanged vows at a commitment ceremony 10 years prior.
“It was a heck of a vow renewal,” Buysee said.
Having their marriage recognized by the federal government is particularly important for Buysee, who quit her job seven years ago to be a stay-at-home mom. With little income and savings of her own, the added federal benefits and protections provide a safety net.
The ruling grants same-sex couples the same options offered to other married couples, including joint filing, dependency exemptions and claiming the earned-income and child tax credits, according to the Treasury Department.
“That will make it easier for our family,” Buysee said. “It’s a huge weight lifted off both of our shoulders.”
There are 1,138 federal provisions that use marriage as a determining factor for receiving rights and benefits, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.
However, beyond federal tax law, it remains unclear exactly how the provisions will be affected by the repealing of DOMA, especially for couples living in states without gay marriage.
Wisconsin voters adopted a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2006, but the state recognized domestic partnerships between same-sex couples beginning in 2009. They grant certain privileges exclusive to married couples, such as inheritance and hospital visitation rights under state law.
Married same-sex couples living in Wisconsin are still required to file state income taxes individually, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Buysee said she hopes their wedding will promote awareness for marriage rights in Wisconsin and other states.
“This is so much bigger than Randii and I,” she said. “It’s another step on the journey to equality.”
So far response to the marriage announcement has been great, Buysee added, including plenty of excitement and support from parents, siblings and friends.
“I just want them to be accepted and treated as any other married couple and human beings,” said Buysee’s mother, Kiki Gheen.
Buysee also said their daughter, Carli, was “ecstatic” to be able to take part in the wedding. “She decided she wanted to be the flower girl, ring bearer and photographer all in one.”
Buysee and Waddell are one of 14 same-sex couples who applied for marriage in Goodhue County since the practice became legal Aug. 1, according to the Recorder’s Office.
The ceremony drew a crowd of more than a couple dozen - mostly family and friends - as well as curious onlookers passing by.
The newlyweds said they want to thank their family and friends for supporting them over the years.
“It has meant so much to us,” Buysee said. “We are so blessed by everyone.”