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Pasadena same-sex couple is buoyed by high court's marriage ruling

Tracey Cooper-Harris is suing the VA over its denial of spousal benefits for Maggie Cooper-Harris. Their attorney is now confident of victory.

June 30, 2013|By Jason Wells

In the moments leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Maggie Cooper-Harris of Pasadena was nervously awaiting word online.

"And then, all of a sudden, it's real," she said. "I froze for a second. And then I instantly realized: 'Wow, my marriage is not just a California marriage. I now have a marriage that is recognized by the United States.'"

Her wife, Tracey Cooper-Harris, 40, is a military veteran who served in the Middle East training dogs for support in combat operations.

The couple married in Los Angeles in 2008 shortly before California voters banned same-sex marriage with the passage of Proposition 8, which the Supreme Court also struck down in its rulings Wednesday.

In the meantime, Tracey Cooper-Harris filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after it denied Maggie, 36, military spousal support benefits.

The arguments in that case have been made, and both sides are awaiting summary judgment, but the 5-4 decision Wednesday by the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA — adopted by Congress in 1996 — on the grounds that it denied same-sex couples equal protections puts the couple on a path to victory.

"We feel very, very confident after this decision that we'll prevail," said their attorney, David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the couple.

For Tracey Cooper-Harris — who collects disability compensation for a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis — it amounts to a huge sigh of relief.

"I just wanted to make sure Maggie had everything that should be available to her as my wife, should something happen to me," she said, noting that her spouse was ineligible for death benefits under DOMA. "It's a big relief to me that this has happened."

jason.wells@latimes.com

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