Santa Rosa resident Ramon Meraz and his partner, Terah Deason, left for a vacation to Mexico about a week ago having no idea they’d return to a drastically altered nation, one of expanded possibility for their fledgling relationship.

So when they turned on their television Friday morning, still groggy-eyed from their flight home the day before, and saw the news that same-sex marriage was now legal across the country, they could do little more than sit and stare in disbelief.

“At first we were just in shock,” said Meraz, 46, who works as a freelance concierge and sits on numerous community boards, including the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights. Reflecting on the ruling with Deason at a coffee shop on Friday evening, Meraz said when he was a teenager in Los Angeles decades ago and came out as gay, he never foresaw the day when he would have the right to marry. California granted him that right two years ago, but Friday’s ruling signaled what he called a national acceptance of same-sex love.

“Now any relationship that grows and matures has the potential to make the ultimate commitment and have the rights associated with it,” he said. “To know we have that, and for that love to be valued, is amazing.”

He said he was happiest for gay youths, like his niece, who may not have to experience the feelings of shame he had as a teenager discovering his sexual orientation.

“They won’t have to suffer,” he said. “They will be able to find a loved one, to have a union and to be accepted by society. It is such a privilege to see this in my life.”

He and Deason, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, have been together a little less than a year and have no immediate plans to marry. But Deason said that knowing he and millions of other LGBT people now have that right, no matter where they live in the United States, eliminates legal obstacle that once stood in the way of any romantic relationship.

He credited older gay couples who have lived together for decades and fought for equal marriage rights.

“To those of us in new relationships, it’s like they handed us a gift,” he said.

Up until Friday’s decision, Deason, 52, said he had feared the Supreme Court would rule against gay marriage.

“You experience so much rejection in life you just get used to it,” he said of his experience as a gay man. “When it started passing in different states, it was initially hard to fathom. I’m walking around, like, ‘Pinch me, is this real?’”

He said that, in his capacity as a nurse, the decision feels especially significant. It’s been heartbreaking to see gay couples denied the opportunity to make major life decisions for their loved ones, he said. Now couples around the country will have that power.

“So many people see us so differently than they did” even a few years ago,” he said. “Looking around, it feels like I’m living in a new world.”

You can reach Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or jamie.hansen@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @JamieHansen.