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DOMA Stories:
Federal Marriage Discrimination Hurts Families

GLAD is in court challenging the federal government's discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. In Gill v OPM and Pedersen v OPM, we represent couples and widowers who are harmed in various ways by DOMA. But DOMA hurts many more people than we can represent in these lawsuits.

In these stories, loving couples, widows and widowers, from all walks of life, describe how DOMA hurts their families.

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A Supportive State Doesn’t Compensate for DOMA’s Discrimination

Photograph of Joel Howard & John Tracy Tucker

Joel Howard & John Tracy Tucker

Joel Howard and John Tracy Tucker met at a nightclub in their native Texas back in 1995. They exchanged phone numbers, and, though Joel wasn’t much interested in dating at the time, he called Tracy the next day just to be nice. Joel heard a commotion in the background when Tracy picked up; Tracy asked if he could call Joel later because he was giving his dog a bath. “As an animal lover, that did it for me,” says Joel. “We went out a couple of nights later.”

Fourteen years and two long-distance moves later, on Nov. 7, 2009, Joel and Tracy exchanged wedding vows in a small, simple ceremony at the Town Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut, where they now make their home with their two beloved cocker spaniels.

The road to marriage wasn’t without its bumps; the couple did a trial separation in 1999 as Joel struggled to deal with his mother’s terminal illness. But it wasn’t long before they found themselves back together, packing their bags for a major move from Dallas to Chicago because of Tracy’s job with Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

“This seemed a pivotal moment—moving where we would be without family and friends,” says Joel. “Looking back, it seems this was the time where an unspoken, deeper commitment came about.” That commitment later sustained them through yet another move when Chubb transferred Tracy to its New York City office.

The foundation of their relationship is the way in which they complement each other. “Where one is lacking the other fills the gap,” says Joel. “For instance, Tracy is more proactive and gets things done quickly. I tend to be methodical, calling on a level of patience he doesn’t have.”

And they keep their relationship strong by not acting in anger. “We substitute discussions for arguments,” Joel explains. “We are very direct with one another and speak our minds, but with low voices and calm deliberation.”

When Joel, 49, and Tracy, 48, first moved to the East Coast their primary residence was an apartment in New York, though they maintained a home in Norfolk. But after Connecticut began allowing same-sex couples to marry in 2008, Joel and Tracy changed their permanent residency to Connecticut because they wanted to get married and make their home in a marriage equality state.

Although the legal recognition of their love and commitment was clearly important to Joel and Tracy, one thing neither of them wanted was an extravagant ceremony with the expensive trimmings that are typical of many modern weddings.

“That’s not what marriage is, all that stuff,” says Tracy.

Marriage, Joel agrees, “is about the day after” the wedding. For this couple, that mostly means going about the business of day-to-day life together – they made their weekly trip to Costco after their nuptials – and giving back to their community in Norfolk, which has been very supportive of the couple.

Joel, a real estate agent, serves in leadership roles for the town library, the local farmer’s market and is a member of the community association charged with maintaining the beauty of the town green and the downtown Norfolk area. Tracy sits on a committee that did fundraising to buy new lights for the town’s Christmas tree. Additionally, they donate to their local fire department, ambulance service, library, and the Norfolk Land Trust.

“Most of the stuff that we give to is in the community in Norfolk. That’s what we kind of focus on,” says Tracy.

“One reason I’m very behind giving locally is because not only do we see [our money] in action … but this is a community, this is a state, that’s supported us and I want them to know that we appreciate it,” adds Joel.

The federal government, unfortunately, is not as supportive of Joel and Tracy’s marriage as their community. DOMA prevents them from filing their federal taxes jointly, so they paid an extra $12,000 in taxes last year alone. The tax bill was a disturbing reminder of the inequality to which Joel and Tracy are subject despite their legal marriage.

“It’s kind of like someone punched you in the gut,” says Tracy. “You don’t really know the full effect of DOMA until you are in a same-sex marriage and you file your taxes and all this stuff comes and hits home real quick.”

“One big thing is having every year to hear the amount that we are paying basically as a penalty for being a gay couple,” adds Joel.

Aside from the financial penalty, there are other ways in which the limited recognition their marriage receives because of DOMA concerns them. Though they are legally recognized in Connecticut and a handful of other states, “we’re constantly wary of where we travel, as an unplanned hospital stay could be even more traumatic than necessary,” says Joel, referring to the fact that under DOMA, other states do not have to recognize their marriage and could prevent them from making medical decisions for one another.

“It is both sad and maddening to think we have to live in a certain state in order to be treated with equality,” says Joel.

“We will likely always have a home in Connecticut as not only do we love it here, but we also relish the freedom afforded us here,” he says. “Here we have some measure of official recognition.”

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