A law in the US state of Minnesota which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman does not deny same-sex partners the "benefits of marriage," including the right to inherit each other's assets.
The ruling, handed down last Wednesday, doesn't set a precedent because it upholds a lower court's ruling, but it could affect cases in other states with laws barring same-sex marriage, the Star Tribune reported.
The ruling means James Morrison, a Minneapolis man, is entitled to inherit about $250,000 from his former partner.
Chuck Darrell, a spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, said the ruling doesn't affect the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. He says there is nothing in the marriage amendment that would prevent same-sex couples from having inheritance rights.
The ruling said that Minnesota's law only bars contractual rights for same-sex couples, not statutory rights.
It said the 1997 bill initially included language prohibiting "the benefits of marriage" to same-sex couples, but the language was taken out before the law was passed. "Benefits of marriage" may include legal, economic and employment benefits, health care coverage, and the right to inherit.
"The phrase 'benefits of marriage' has legal significance," the ruling said. "So, too, does the deletion of the 'benefits of marriage' sentence. It appears to be an intentional legislative compromise that allowed the passage of this bill."
District Judge Jay Quam, who issued a written explanation about why he signed off on the ruling, admitted the case is "unlike any that has come before Minnesota's probate court." But he said the Legislature's rejection of broader language was not accidental.
Quam said that aside from the Defense of Marriage Act, Proehl and Morrison were like any committed, responsible heterosexual couple in Minnesota.
"What makes this couple different is that they were a married, same-sex couple in a state where that status is legally unwelcome," Quam wrote.
Morrison and his partner were married in California in 2008. There was no will, and although most assets were in both of their names, but the only name on a life insurance policy and assets from a house they sold in California, was that of his partner, Mr Thomas Proehl.
The marriage was not legally recognised in Minnesota and Morrison was blocked from inheriting assets. Under law, the assets were to go to Proehl's parents, but they agreed Morrison should be the beneficiary.
Morrison asked the Probate Court in February to name him the legal heir.
He told the Star Tribune on Wednesday that he was elated, for himself and for other same-sex couples. "I hope more than anything this will be beneficial for other families," he said.