Alejandra Gerardo was at work when the news broke. Her partner, Narda Rivera, was in her office when the Supreme Court announced its ruling in support of gay rights.

"I wanted to cry at first," said Gerardo, a legal assistant.

Rivera, who works in a behavioral health clinic, said she clapped and then joyfully hugged a co-worker.

"We were kind of looking forward to it," Rivera said.

Like millions of others, gay and straight, there was an outpouring of relief and happiness when the high court effectively overturned California's Prop. 8 ban on same-sex marriage and declared unconstitutional the federal law that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

The rulings were two huge steps toward achieving equal rights for millions of Americans.

But for Rivera and Gerardo, who have been in a relationship for three years, the steps are small. The majority of same-sex couples in Arizona, which does not allow same-sex marriage, will not experience the fruits of the Supreme Court rulings.

"These were two little steps towards a bigger goal," Gerardo said.

That goal, said Rivera, is to achieve equal status as heterosexual couples.

While Rivera's and Gerardo's realistic assessment dampened their initial enthusiasm for the rulings, there is much to cheer about in the majority 5-4 decision.

In the majority opinion striking down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, Chief Justice Anthony M. Kennedy frequently used the word "dignity."

He wrote that states that allowed same-sex marriages granted dignity and equal rights to same-sex couples and DOMA stripped away dignity and equal status, much to the detriment of the children of same-sex couples. DOMA, he added, made same-sex marriages "less worthy than the marriages of others."

That and much more is what same-sex couples for years have been saying: They are no less worthy than heterosexuals to legally marry and to receive the same benefits.

Gerardo, 32, and Rivera, 33, are working toward equal rights for same-sex couples here.

Gerardo is a board member of Wingspan, a Tucson-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization. And both participate with Puertas Abiertas -Spanish for Open Doors- a social and cultural outreach program sponsored by Wingspan.

Their effort to educate others starts close to home.

Rivera and Gerardo are co-parents to Rivera's biological 8-year-old son.

"He knows what our relationship is," said Rivera of her son who equally calls Rivera and Gerardo "mommy." Gerardo added she is a frequent visitor to her son's school where they are accepted as a family.

Gerardo and Rivera, who plan to get married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, are optimistic. They hope Arizona will one day reverse course and DOMA will be completely undone.

They see the changing tide of opinion that increasingly favors equal rights and dignity for same-sex couples.

They feel their love and commitment are accepted without question by an increasing number of people, including their own families on both sides of the border.

From Stonewall, home of the New York City gay riots in the 1960s, to the Supreme Court, the walls that deny same-sex couples equality and dignity - there's that word again - are coming down.

Said Rivera: "We're going to be together regardless, no matter what happens."

"These were two little steps towards a bigger goal."

Alejandra Gerardo

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at