GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A gay couple from Gulfport said a U.S. Supreme Court decision Wednesday is the first step toward legalizing same-sex marriage in Mississippi. They said it's an issue of equality by opening up federal benefits to gay couples. They also expressed excitement because the ruling came at a significant time in their marriage.
"I came home from Zumba. I walked in the front hall and he was standing there crying," said Barry Willbrandt.
His partner, John Folding, was brought to tears when he heard about the Supreme Court ruling extending federal benefits to same sex couples who are legally married.
"I was so excited," said Folding. "This is the next step for our relationship, and being recognized and solidifying who we are as Americans. I mean every straight person has something that we don't have and that is federal recognition, that our relationship is just as important."
For Folding and Willbrandt, the ruling gave them another reason to celebrate. It came on their first wedding anniversary.
"It's a gift. We couldn't think of anything better to get on our first anniversary," said Willbrandt.
"I think so, too," said Folding.
The couple exchanged vows in Victoria, Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal. They say the court ruling is a major milestone for gay couples across the country.
"The biggest significance is we've been accepted and embraced everywhere together as a couple, now it finally looks like we're going to be accepted by the federal government. And we realize this is the beginning of a domino effect," said Willbrandt.
Folding, however, calls the ruling "bittersweet", because he does not think it applies to gay couples in Mississippi.
"In Mississippi, we're not a legally recognized couple in any form. It's a little difficult and overwhelming on a day like today when it's fantastic for those people that are in those other states, but for us, it's not," said Folding.
As they gathered with family members to celebrate their anniversary, the couple talked about their hopes of seeing same-sex marriage become a reality in Mississippi.
"I think eventually it's going to be legal in Mississippi. It's going to become a civil rights issue, and that's going to be the next step," said Willbrandt.
Folding and Willbrandt say they want to encourage more people who are gay to come out, because they say that will raise awareness and boost support in their fight for gay rights.