Tom Harris and Brian Mahieu have been engaged for nine years. Each wears a wedding ring. Each says they consider themselves married emotionally.
However, their opportunities to get legally married have been limited. Even though nearby Iowa has allowed same-sex marriage since 2009, Harris and Mahieu were afraid to drive north to get married.
"[We] realized pretty quick that that's nice, but when we come back to Missouri, nothing has changed," Harris said.
That’s because marriage in Missouri has been defined as between one man and one woman, when 71 percent of voters passed Amendment 2 in 2004. And states have no federal requirement to recognize marriages performed in other states. Even if a same-sex couple traveled to any of the 13 states state like Iowa which allow same sex marriage, none of the other states would have to recognize their union.
Neither would the federal government -- until this past June. In Windsor v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court declared section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, unconstitutional. That section federally defined a "spouse" as someone of the opposite sex to whom one was married. Its repeal meant that same gendered couples who were legally married would have their marriages recognized by the federal government.
For Harris and Mahieu, the Supreme Court's decision was a turning point in their lives.
"For me, when I heard [the decision], it felt like the Emancipation Proclamation," Mahieu said. "A fair-minded group of people decided that same-sex couples had been unfairly discriminated against, and that we deserve to have, basically, the respect of having our relationship and our family recognized. It was wonderful, finally, to have the Supreme Court make a ruling on that."
Following the decision, the couple decided to marry in Washington State, where they plan to retire. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Washington State since December 2012.
"For us," Mahieu said, "we're not willing to wait. I've heard, on the optimistic side, [it will take] three to five years [for marriage equality to come to Missouri]. But, I don't know if we're going to be willing to wait five years."
With the newly gained federal recognition, married same-sex couples will receive over 1,000 federal benefits that were formerly exclusively available to couples of opposite genders who were married. Some of those benefits include the ability to have one's spouse listed on health insurance policies, irrespective of the spouse's gender. This was an issue for Harris and Mahieu in the past. A medical emergency caused Mahieu to go into anaphylactic shock, and he was unable to seek emergency treatment because he lacked his own health insurance coverage. He was unable to be listed on Harris' because they were not a legally married couple.
"I knew I couldn't afford a trip to the E.R.," Mahieu said. "So, what you're telling me is that the person you love and have chosen to spend your life with has more value than the person I love and have chosen to spend my life with?"
Even though the repeal of section three of DOMA does not require states that outlaw same-sex marriage to recognize those that were performed where they are legal, the Supreme Court's decision is being hailed as a victory in the fight for marriage equality. But, Harris and Mahieu remain skeptical that Missouri will follow Iowa and the other states where same-gendered couples can marry.
"We make no secret that we're a couple, but ... we're in Missouri," Mahieu said. "Who knows what could happen? We still sort of feel a pressure every time we walk out the front door that, now, we kind of have to be --"
"Friends?" Harris said, laughing.
However, despite what attitudes in Missouri may be, the couple believes the country-at-large is at a turning point.
"This is the new civil rights movement, and it's very, very big," Harris said. "It's very, very powerful. There's no stopping it. I would say to our friends in the LGBTQ community to hang in there. It's turning. It'll be okay."
Harris and Mahieu wed in Washington State in late July; this interview was conducted before they were married. If you are in a same-sex or same-gender relationship, what does the repeal of section three of DOMA mean to you? KBIA is interested in hearing your story. E-mail us or tweet us @kbia.