PHOENIX - For most Arizona gay couples, the two Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage offer few new benefits - even if they were legally married elsewhere.
Military couples and those dealing with immigration issues in Arizona will see their marital status recognized when it comes to federal matters. But the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security follow where someone lives, not where they were married.
And in Arizona, same-sex marriage is not legal.
In his opinion for the high-court majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained why, from the court's perspective, it is illegal for the federal government to deny benefits to those who are legally wed according to the laws of their states.
The Defense of Marriage Act denies some couples who are married under the laws of their states the same rights and responsibilities as other legally married couples, Kennedy wrote. He went on to say the federal government cannot ignore a state decision to allow same-sex marriages, denying those couples equal rights under federal law for anything from filing joint tax returns to bankruptcy protections to being buried together in a national cemetery.
But the ruling came with a caveat.
"This opinion and its holdings are confined to those lawful marriages," Kennedy wrote.
And that's where the rub comes for Arizona residents.
Bob Lind, who specializes in tax law, said gay couples who are legally married in another state now will be allowed to file joint returns there, and can probably go back and file amended returns, jointly, for the last three years.
But Lind said they will lose that privilege if they move to Arizona. And Arizonans who travel somewhere else to wed and return here also will gain no federal tax benefits. The key to Arizonans being locked out of most of the benefits of Wednesday's ruling is the 2008 voter-approved state constitutional amendment, said Lind, who is certified to represent taxpayers before the IRS.
"Arizona has a law that says two people of the same gender can't be married," he said. Regardless of what occurred legally elsewhere, their relationship remains illegal in Arizona, he said.
Lind pointed out the court dealt only with one provision of DOMA: the issue of federal benefits. He said the court did not address the section that says states are not required to honor same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Changing will require voter approval of an initiative being circulated to repeal the 2008 amendment. The initiative would redefine marriage as between any two persons.
Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona, said a few married gay couples could be helped. The key is whether what they are seeking is equal treatment for federal benefits.
For example, she said a couple could be legally married in New York. And then one of them, in the military, might be transferred to an Air Force base in Arizona.
Under Wednesday's ruling, she said, the partner of the military employee will be entitled to the same federal benefits as the spouse of any other person.
But Wininger, like Lind, said pretty much everything else remains off limits to Arizonans, even those who wed legally elsewhere.
"As far as the state of Arizona is concerned, there is no gay marriage," she said. "We're still second-class citizens."
Gov. Jan Brewer said as far as she's concerned, the law in Arizona should remain the way it is.
"I think because of my faith, that plays a role," she said. "I believe that the Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman."
More to the point, Brewer said that is the belief of the majority of Arizonans, as shown by that 2008 vote.
That's also the contention of Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which helped engineer the 2008 vote. But she acknowledged the Supreme Court rulings on both DOMA and California's Proposition 8 will have an impact.
"It means that the public debate on marriage will continue," she said. Herrod said that while she believes a majority of Arizonans still support the ban on same-sex nuptials, she recognizes the fight coming if backers of the initiative drive get the 259,213 valid signatures by July 2014 to put the issue on the general election ballot.
"Obviously, we're going to have a public debate in Arizona over why marriage matters and the definition of marriage," Herrod said.
The high court by its action - or inaction - may have left Arizonans who support gay rights with one small victory. The justices, in issuing their last rulings of the session, left undisturbed a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that says Arizona cannot refuse to provide benefits to the domestic partners of gay state and university employees.
Attorney General Tom Horne asked the high court to overturn that ruling but never got a chance to make his case. With the court set to issue a final set of orders today, the most that could happen is the justices could either put the issue off until next session or send the case back for further review by the appellate court.
On StarNet: Read the Supreme Court's rulings in a downloadable PDF at azstarnet.com/pdf
Supreme Court issues historic Gay-rights rulings
at a glance
Court undercuts California's Propositon 8, strikes down key part of Defense of Marriage Act.
A brief history
How Prop. 8 and DOMA galvanized gay-marriage supporters.
Rulings leave a lot to sort out.
More coverage Page A13