A trial court in Minnesota ruled on Wednesday that the state's Defense of Marriage Act [text] does not prohibit partners in same-sex couples from inheriting each other's assets. A judge for the Hennepin County District Court [official website] declared [Minneapolis Star Tribune report] that while the Defense of Marriage Act bars same-sex couples from marrying, it does not prevent same-sex couples from having the same inheritance rights as heterosexual couples. The plaintiff in the case, James Morrison, sought to inherit the assets of his recently deceased partner, Thomas Proehl whom he married in California in 2008. State authorities prevented Morrison from collecting Proehl's assets. In his decision on Wednesday, Hennepin County District Court Referee George Borer stated that because the state legislature purposely omitted language from the text of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied "the benefits of marriage" to same-sex couples, the Act was not intended to deny rights such as inheritance to same-sex couples. David Potter, the attorney for Morrison, predicted [AP report] that the ruling could have a nationwide effect as states examine their own marriage laws.
Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] has been a contentious issue in Minnesota recently. In July, proponents of a Minnesota ballot initiative [text] to ban same-sex marriage under the state constitution petitioned the state Supreme Court [JURIST report] to change the title of the ballot initiative from back to its original title "Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples" back to its original title "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman." Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie changed the title in June. In January, a Minnesota appeals court ordered a trial court to review a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The appeals court remanded the case because the trial court had not adequately addressed plaintiffs' equal protection rights under the constitution. The ballot initiative would add the ban to the constitution.