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Martin (Al) Koski & Jim Fitzgerald

Al Koski and Jim Fitzgerald met in Boston in 1975. For more than 37 years, they have seen each other through thick and thin—through career changes, long-distance moves, health complications, and caring for and losing parents.

A native of Brockton, Al worked as a Social Security claims representative in Dorchester when he and Jim met. Then in 1979 Jim, who is originally from South Boston, moved with Al to Florida, where Al worked as a travel agent. Al’s father lived with them for 13 of their 16 years in Florida. They were at his side throughout his long battle with cancer, and were with him when he died in their home in 1994.

Al and Jim returned to Massachusetts—and Al back to his job with Social Security—the year after Al’s dad passed away. Ten years later, when Al retired in 2005, he and Jim moved to Cape Cod to enjoy a slower pace of life. Now 70, Al plays bridge on weekdays with friends near his home in Bourne. Jim, 61, has a longer way to go before retirement—he works at a treatment facility helping people with addictions turn their lives around. They also take time on a near-daily basis to visit with Jim’s 89-year-old mother, who moved to a nursing home close by in 2010.

Al completed his career as a federal employee so he and Jim would have a more secure retirement. But despite their planning, Al’s decades of service, and their legal marriage in Massachusetts in 2007, the federal government denies them that security.

“The bottom line for us is that because the government discriminates against our legal marriage, we don’t have access to the same protections as other married couples,” says Jim. “That has a real impact on our lives, especially as we get older.”

Because the federal government won’t let Jim on Al’s pension, it denies him the ability to be a survivor on Al’s annuity. It also denies him the lifetime health insurance coverage that federal employees’ spouses get automatically. Jim has chronic, severe asthma, so they end up spending hundreds of dollars each month on his insurance premium, medical co-pays, and medications. From 2007, the year Al and Jim married, through 2011,  they have paid over $12, 512 more in health care costs than they would have if Jim was covered under Al’s plan.

“We have really simple goals for retirement: to be healthy and as comfortable as we can be,” says Al. “But there are scary possibilities. What really keeps me up at night is the thought that if I pass away first, Jim won’t be able to keep our home without access to my pension.”