Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County women Jan Cadotte and Suzanne Erickson hastily married in October 2008, anticipating that their rights as California citizens were fleeting.

"We kind of saw the writing on the wall," Cadotte recalled.

Although they managed to marry just before the passing of Proposition 8, which changed the state constitution to only recognize marriages between a man and a woman, their marriage was never acknowledged by the federal government.

Cadotte and Erickson were denied federal benefits granted to opposite-sex couples, namely, the ability to file joint federal tax returns. Cadotte said taxes have been a nightmare each year.

But one of Wednesday's historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings will change that, and another will resume same-sex marriages in California.

In the first of the 5-4 rulings, the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The law has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits available to opposite-sex couples since it was signed into law in September 1996 by then-president Bill Clinton.

The court also upheld a lower court ruling that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

"After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court has made same-sex marriage a reality in California," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.

Brown immediately directed county officials to issue same-sex marriage licenses as soon as a federal appeals court lifts its hold on the lower court ruling, which it said could take at least 25 days.

The state will issue another letter to county officials as soon as the hold is lifted, Brown said.

The ruling makes California, where gay marriage was briefly legal in 2008, the 13th state to allow same-sex marriage.

The 12 other states are Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Six of the states have adopted same-sex marriage in the past year alone.

Cadotte attributed the progress to younger adults becoming voters and politicians. She believes the younger generations are generally more open-minded than the ones before them. She also believes more people are realizing they have family members and friends who are gay.

Cadotte just hopes the legalization of gay marriage in California will "stick" this time.

Tuolumne residents David Ingram and Mike Strange also married in 2008.

"We were (two) of the lucky few people that got married when there was that window of opportunity before Prop 8," Ingram said.

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 22 violated the state constitution. The proposition, which restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples by adding a section to the state's Family Code, had been in place since 2000.

Gay couples were able to marry after the ruling until the voters passed Proposition 8 in November 2008.

Ingram said he wasn't surprised by Wednesday's rulings. He believes Proposition 8 passed because opponents instilled the idea in voters that gays would destroy the institution of marriage.

"I think the whole fear tactic just isn't proving to be true," he said.

Ingram, who celebrated his five-year anniversary with Strange earlier this month, said skeptics and opponents should open their eyes to the many successful gay marriages.

"We're living pretty ordinary lives, and I feel like we have a little bit more stability and commitment because we're married," he said.

While Ingram said there is still a long road ahead for gay couples, and Cadotte worries gay rights will continue to face opposition, both considered the rulings a victory.

"There were times when I didn't think I would ever see this in my lifetime," Cadotte said. "It's a good feeling."