Janet Geller & Joanne Marquis
Jan and Jo are both retired New Hampshire teachers living on fixed incomes. Jan taught for 30 years at the high school and college level. Jo spent 43 years teaching middle and high school students.
“I just loved it. I always wanted to be a teacher,” says Jo, who spent most of her career in the Manchester public schools. “I never wanted to be anything else.”
The one thing Jan, 66, and Jo, 72, have loved more than teaching is each other. They’ve been together for 32 years, supporting each other through Jo’s bout with breast cancer and Lyme disease, Jan’s recovery from alcoholism, the deaths of parents, and job losses. On May 3, 2010 they exchanged vows in their Goffstown home, in a ceremony officiated by Cathy Ball, a former student of Jan’s who is now the Goffstown Town Clerk.
The new sense of security they felt from being legally married was more meaningful to them than they originally thought it would be. “In our minds we’ve always been married and we’ve always known it was going to be for a lifetime,” Jan explains. “There was no doubt in our brains. Where we did feel differently was—wow, finally the state of New Hampshire is validating who we are, and that we really are married.”
Because of DOMA Section 3, however, the marriage licensed by New Hampshire meant nothing when Jo tried to sign Jan up for a spousal medical benefit through her retirement plan. Because Jo paid into the New Hampshire Retirement System for more than 30 years, she receives a significant reduction on her monthly Medicare supplement; spouses are also eligible to receive this benefit. But this aspect of the New Hampshire Retirement System is governed by federal tax laws, including DOMA. Because of DOMA, Jan is denied this health insurance benefit, and pays an extra $375 in health insurance costs per month that she would not pay if their New Hampshire marriage were recognized for federal purposes as well. That’s a significant amount of money for two retired teachers trying to live within their means.
Equally significant was the shock Jan and Jo felt upon learning Jan would be denied the reduction from an apologetic benefits manager at the Manchester School District. They believed the longtime discrimination against their relationship finally ended when they said “I do.”
“We thought, we finally got marriage in New Hampshire and this is one of the benefits we’re going to have now that heterosexual couples do,” says Jan. “So at first we were shocked, then deeply disappointed, not only about the money, but about feeling once again like we don’t count.”
“Neither of us has ever sued anyone for anything because we just think a lot of those things are ridiculous,” says Jo. “But not this.”
In October 2011, Jan and Jo retired to Florida. Though their marriage isn’t legally recognized in their new home state – nor are they seeking such recognition through this lawsuit – they continue to fight DOMA’s impact on their New Hampshire Retirement System health insurance protections, which are otherwise available to all couples whose marriages are recognized in New Hampshire.”