Last Thursday, Cindy Killion and her partner, Beth Cherne, were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Winona County, ever. Killion was so nervous she forgot to sign the form, but she has plenty of time to do that before August 1, the date of her wedding and the first day that same-sex couples can be legally married in Minnesota. The historic change has both profound and pragmatic meaning for same-sex couples.
Killion and Cherne met over 17 years ago; now, "we're valid in the eyes of the law," Killion said.
"When they did it, we just looked at each other and went, 'Wow.' This is whole different way of thinking about our relationship," she added.
"Affirmation of my relationship in my native state," Winonan Bob Sebo called the new law. "When I was in high school, I never thought I'd be able to get married and have it be legal." Sebo married his partner in January of this year in Iowa. On August 1, the state of Minnesota will recognize their marriage as legally valid.
After the signing of the Freedom to Marry Act by Governor Mark Dayton on May 14, and the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Killion and Cherne and all Minnesota same-sex couples can receive the same legal benefits as heterosexual married couples—including income tax benefits, estate tax breaks, workers' compensation, medical power of attorney, federal benefits, family and civil court privileges, and more. Killion and Cherne live in Fountain City, Wis. where their marriage will not be recognized by the state. They intend to move to Minnesota as soon as possible to take advantage of their new legal status.
"When we retire we'll be able to access each other's Social Security benefits. If, God forbid, I was to die, I can pass my estate on to my husband tax-free," Sebo explained. "I can't imagine if I was in the hospital that anyone at Winona Health would give my husband a hard time if he wanted to visit me, but I suppose they could."
There are legal work-arounds for some of those issues, like medical power of attorney, but until August 1, most same-sex couples would have needed to pay a lawyer to help them acquire a portion of the legal rights that couples automatically share through a legal marriage.
When asked why she was nervous when she applied for a marriage license, Killion explained, "For one, we weren't sure how we were going to be treated. We weren't sure if they were going to be excited for us." None of those worries were realized, however. The people at Winona County Vital Statistics were very helpful, she said.
Vital Statistics Director Sue Hackbarth explained that the only thing that changes for her department is a few words on the marriage license application form. Instead of being declared "husband and wife" successful marriage license applicants will be "married to each other." Instead of "husband" and "wife," the form asks for the names of "applicant one" and "applicant two."
"Well, who gets to be applicant one?" Killion and Cherne joked as they took the form.
"In fact, I found it very strange; it's one little form you fill out," Killion added. "That's pretty easy. Is that all it takes to get married?"
When the Winona Post went to press last Friday, three same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses in Winona County.