Pedersen et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al.
July 31, 2012 – Connecticut Federal District Court Judge Bryant rules that DOMA is unconstitutional.
Judge Bryant issued an order denying BLAG’s Motion to Stay Proceedings on July 4, 2012.
House Leadership via the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings on June 20, 2012. Plaintiffs filed their Opposition to Motion to Stay on June 22, 2012
July 15, 2011 Update: GLAD files motion for summary judgment on behalf of plaintiffs
February 23, 2011 Update: DOJ Announces it won’t defend constitutionality of DOMA in Pedersen
On November 9, 2010, GLAD filed Pedersen v. O.P.M., a second major, multi-plaintiff lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Section 3 and the government’s denial of protections and responsibilities to married gay and lesbian couples.
Pedersen v. O.P.M. specifically addresses married couples in Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
For more information, visit www.glad.org/doma
Joanne Pedersen & Ann Meitzen
Toward the end of their first date in December 1998, Joanne asked Ann if she’d like to go out again sometime. “Well, sure,” Ann replied. “How about tomorrow?” A few months later, Joanne invited Ann to stay with her while Ann recovered from laparoscopic knee surgery, and she never moved out. They bought a house together in Waterford, Connecticut soon after.
Their relationship is built on unconditional love, commitment and their shared values—working hard, financial responsibility, the importance of sharing life with friends and family. In 2004 they held a commitment ceremony in their backyard with 120 friends and family members. After Connecticut enacted its civil union law they had a small ceremony at their Town Hall. But their ability to legally marry, which they did on their 10th anniversary in 2008, gave their relationship an instant legitimacy that they cherish.
“For me marriage was wonderful,” says Joanne. “It meant a lot. I wanted to feel like everybody else did when they got married—to love somebody, but I wanted to be recognized.”
“We wanted to have the same thing that everyone had,” says Ann.
Joanne held a civilian position with the U.S. Department of the Navy for more than 30 years, the last 12 as a Special Security Officer for the Office of Naval Intelligence. After undergoing breast cancer treatment, Joanne made the decision to retire when eligible at age 55. Ann recently retired for health reasons from her supervisor job at a nonprofit agency that provides care management services and home care assistance for elders and disabled adults. She was treated like any other spouse by Joanne’s military colleagues, attending Navy Day balls, picnics and accompanying Joanne to professional conferences. For years, Ann and Joanne coordinated the delivery of handmade slipper-socks—many of which they knitted—to sailors working on frigid submarines.
Together with Joanne’s siblings, they cared for Joanne’s mother after she had open heart surgery in 1999 until her death in 2000. When Joanne’s father fell ill not long after losing his wife, they all cared for him, too. Ann prepared Sunday dinners and they passed time with him playing cribbage. He died after a massive stroke, while Ann and Joanne—who was then recovering from breast cancer—were planning their commitment ceremony. They decided to go ahead with the ceremony anyway. “Life is too precious,” Joanne explains. “You can’t put off ’til tomorrow because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If my dad was there he would have been cheering us on.”
Having learned that life lesson, Joanne worries about Ann’s chronic medical conditions—hypersensitivity pneumonitis and asthmatic bronchitis—which cause her breathing difficulties and severe fatigue. In 2008, a flare-up caused Ann, 60, to miss four months of work with recurrent bouts of pneumonia; she was out for about three weeks in the first half of 2009. Ann manages her conditions daily with a nebulizer and prescription medications, but the stress of full-time work aggravated her illness to the point where she took early retirement at age 62.
As a federal retiree, Joanne can’t cover Ann, on her health insurance plan—as other federal employees and retirees can—only because of DOMA. As a result, Ann spends 58 percent of her monthly Social Security income on her monthly health insurance premium. If not for DOMA Joanne could add her spouse to her health insurance plan for a fraction of what Ann is paying, saving them a significant amount of money now that they are on fixed incomes.
For a couple that has taken great pains to publicly declare and demonstrate their commitment to each other, the federal government’s refusal to recognize their marriage—at the expense of Ann’s health—distresses them.
“We did not decide to get married out of the blue,” says Joanne. “We thought about it. We’ve been together—it’s going on 14 years. And I worked in federal service for over thirty years. Why shouldn’t I be able to provide for Ann just like all of my other married colleagues?”
Damon “Jerry” Savoy & John Weiss
In 2008, after 10 years together, Damon “Jerry” Savoy and John Weiss abandoned the bustle of New York City for the quieter surroundings of Danbury, Connecticut because they wanted to raise a family. In Danbury, they found a spacious home with a large backyard, great schools, and a supportive faith community just down the street.
Both come from large, loving families—John has four siblings; Jerry three. “We both had strong family environments,” says John. “We spent a lot of time with our families growing up.” When they began the adoption process through Connecticut’s foster care system, a big family was all that made sense, so they requested a sibling group join their family.
In August 2009, their three children –Ashley, now 13, Melissa, now 12, and Dante, now 4 – moved in with them on a permanent basis. When the adoptions were finalized in December 2010, the family celebrated the occasion quietly. “We’d already been a family for a year and a half,” Jerry explains. “But it’s nice that the legality of it is done and we celebrated it with the children so that they understand that this is a momentous event in their life.”
Jerry has worked as an attorney at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the federal agency that charters, regulates, and supervises national banks, since 1992. John, an interior designer, set aside his career to be a stay-at-home parent.
They met in 1998 through a mutual friend when both lived in Washington, D.C. Though John moved back to his native Buffalo shortly afterward, they maintained a long-distance relationship. Four months later, John returned to D.C. to be with Jerry.
“We clicked,” says Jerry. “It worked. We have a lot in common and at the same time we’re very different. I like to say that we complement each other in those areas where we’re most deficient ourselves. We don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but when we don’t it’s oftentimes for our own amusement.”
In October of 2009, with just their children by their sides, they married in a ceremony at First Congregational Church, where the family attends services and participates in the congregation’s charity work.
Jerry says their wedding was “an opportunity to reinforce to the children that we are a family.” They surprised their daughters Ashley and Melissa with new dresses and flower bouquets and presented them with heart-shaped lockets during the ceremony. “We told them that was a symbol of our commitment to them, that this was something that we were doing as a family,” Jerry says. “The girls wear the lockets every day.” Dante wore a new suit and tie with a boutonniere that matched the ones his dads wore. John compiled a wedding photo album and gave it to the girls. “They look at it a lot,” he says.
Jerry and John relish creating family memories and sharing new experiences with their children. “The greatest joy is when you can see how much they appreciate something that they’ve never experienced,” says Jerry. “Going to New York City or going to Maine, or something as simple as eating something they’ve never eaten before that they decide, you know, maybe it’s pretty good.”
Unfortunately, Jerry and John are hurt by the federal government’s refusal to recognize their marriage under DOMA. As a federal employee, Jerry is unable to cover John, who was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, on his family health insurance plan. Instead, they must buy individual coverage for John that costs $440.00 per month.
Ironically, OCC partially subsidizes the cost of John’s health insurance because the agency is not appropriated by Congress, and therefore, even though the OCC is governed by DOMA, it can set some of its own benefits policies. Under OCC’s domestic partnership policy, the agency reimburses up to 72 percent of John’s health insurance premium up to a maximum of $345 per month, which equals about $180 a month. So at the same time that the federal government refuses to allow John to get health insurance coverage under Jerry’s family plan, it is subsidizing his coverage at a greater cost to itself. As Jerry points out, “the federal government is paying for insurance for a self and family plan for me and the kids and is paying towards John’s health insurance separately because of the fact that they reimburse that amount. So the design behind DOMA is that the federal government doesn’t recognize John as my spouse, but the absurd result is that they are in fact paying for John’s health insurance twice.”
Despite the reimbursement, Jerry and John still pay roughly $3,120 out of pocket annually for John’s insurance. “We have three kids that we have to raise,” says Jerry. “We live paycheck to paycheck just like everybody else. We are a family just like the person across the street that’s entitled to put their spouse on their health insurance. Why can’t we do that?”
Raquel Ardin & Lynda DeForge
Lynda and Raquel met in 1977 when they were both in the Navy. Raquel was in the hospital recuperating from a broken neck, the result of an accident in the barracks. Lynda was a medic whose duties included caring for Raquel. “It was love at first sight,” says Raquel. “For me, at least.” They struck up a friendship over bedside card games and shared meals.
Their first date was to see “Star Wars.” Lynda hated the movie, but she fell in love with Raquel. Thirty-five years later, Lynda says, “We’re stuck like glue.” On Sept. 7, 2009, Jesus Ardin, Raquel’s father, officiated at Raquel and Lynda’s wedding, a private ceremony at their home in North Hartland, Vermont. “My dad is a sweetheart,” says Raquel. Prior to their legal marriage, they were joined in a civil union in 2000.
In September 2012, Lynda retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 27 years. Prior to her retirement, she worked the night shift at a White River Junction post office for many years. During those shifts, Lynda would call Raquel every night on her 10:30 p.m. break; Raquel waited up until Lynda came home after her shift ended at 2:30 a.m.
Raquel retired from the Postal Service after 25 years because of disability related to her neck injury. For the last 10 years of Raquel’s employment, she and Lynda worked the same shift, in the same office, doing the same job. Their co-workers marveled at how they could stand to spend so much time together. But Lynda says, “We’re like one person.”
Caring for family members has been a constant over the course of their life together. In addition to caring for Raquel’s father, who lived with them in Vermont for many years, they nursed Raquel’s mother back to health after she suffered a stroke. They moved from Florida to Vermont in the early 1980s to care for Lynda’s mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and nursed her father as he was dying of cancer. Now, they are assisting with the care of Lynda’s sister, who lives an hour north of Lynda and Raquel and has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. “To me, it’s just something you do,” Lynda says of caring for family members. “If they need help, you help them.”
Ironically, DOMA prevents them from caring for each other, as they have for their relatives and the way other married couples routinely take care of each other. Raquel needs quarterly neck injections to manage her degenerative arthritis – another consequence of her military injury. As a Postal Service employee, Lynda applied for time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – the federal law that allows workers time off to care for a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition – so she could transport Raquel the 2 ½ hours to and from the VA Hospital that administers this procedure. Her supervisors granted the leave, but then had to rescind it because of DOMA’s non-recognition of their marriage. Lynda could not use FMLA leave to be by her spouse’s side when Raquel needed knee surgery back in June of 2010 either.
Additionally, as federal retirees, Lynda and Raquel both obtain their health insurance through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. But because of DOMA, they pay for two individual (“Self-Only”) policies rather than being on one family policy, as other federally-employed married couples are allowed to do.
Before dealing with these issues, it hadn’t occurred to Lynda and Raquel that they could be treated differently than other married couples. “It never even struck our minds until I got that FMLA rejection saying it’s because of DOMA,” says Lynda. “That’s the point that we really realized that we aren’t treated the same.” She points out that she was permitted to take two weeks off under FMLA to care for her father when he was dying. Lynda was forced to use 24 hours of vacation time to care for Raquel.
“I don’t think it’s right,” says Raquel.
After 13 years together, Jerry Passaro and Tommy Buckholz were married on Nov. 26, 2008, in an intimate ceremony at their home in Milford, Connecticut. They exchanged vows in front of their Christmas tree surrounded by Tommy’s sister and Jerry’s parents and stepparents. They had a small party and posed for pictures in front of the tree with their family members and their beloved poodle, Sachi. “It was nothing extravagant,” Jerry says. “We were with the people that we loved.”
It was a bittersweet celebration, to say the very least. Tommy, a former chemist at Bayer pharmaceutical, was seriously ill with lymphoma. He passed away two months after the wedding. For 18 months, Jerry cared for Tommy at home, accompanied him to chemotherapy treatments and medical appointments, and spent long days by his hospital bedside as his illness progressed.
Like any spouse facing terminal illness, Tommy sought to ensure that Jerry, who is disabled and receives a $933 monthly Social Security check, would be taken care of after he was gone. Prior to his death, he contacted Bayer about his pension, and received assurances that Jerry would be the beneficiary. A month after Tommy’s funeral, Jerry contacted Bayer’s benefits administrator about the pension, which amounts to more than $500 a month. A customer service agent confirmed Jerry could receive the pension. Jerry submitted the required paperwork, but a month passed with no response. He called the benefits administrator again and was told that he couldn’t receive the benefit because he was not in a legal marriage. Bayer’s pension plan is subject to federal laws, including DOMA, which means Jerry and Tommy’s marriage didn’t exist as far as the federal pension laws are concerned.
Jerry was completely blindsided. “We were treated with respect when we went to the Town Hall of Milford to apply for the marriage license and set things up with the justice of the peace and all that, so to have someone say that I was not legally married—I didn’t even know that they could say such a thing,” he recalls.
The Social Security administration is similarly bound by DOMA, and thus Jerry cannot receive the death benefit normally available to surviving spouses.
Jerry still lives in their small house, which Tommy bought before he and Jerry met. But without the pension, he has difficulty paying property taxes and meeting other expenses.
Jerry, a former hairstylist, met Tommy in the mid-90s, when they both worked out at the same gym. They struck up a friendship and began dating. Tommy was a football fan and an avid outdoorsman who introduced Jerry to the joys of gardening, hiking and stargazing. Jerry, who has volunteered his talents as a flutist and piccolo player in the Milford Concert Band for nearly 17 years, was more of an indoor guy. “It took some time for us to iron out some of the Oscar and Felix Unger-type things,” he says of their relationship. But they shared a love of cooking and regularly prepared elaborate Sunday dinners that they served to friends and family. Jerry keeps contact with Erin, Tommy’s teenage daughter from a previous relationship, who lives in California.
“It was a wonderful experience, and I loved it,” Jerry says of his life with Tommy. “And I loved him.”
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.”
Suzanne & Geraldine Artis
Suzanne and Geraldine are raising their three boys – Geras, 15, and 13-year old twins Gezani and Zanagee – in Clinton, Connecticut. They have always put the best interests of their children first. Geraldine has coached their soccer and basketball teams, with help from Suzanne. Out of concern that they get the best possible education, Suzanne and Geraldine adjusted their work schedules so they could home school their boys through grade six, at which point they began attending a community school.
“Home schooling allowed us to basically tailor school for them and not put any grade restraints or age restraints on them,” says Geraldine, who is studying for a master’s degree in counseling.
“We really feel we know our kids the best,” Suzanne, a school librarian, explains of their decision to home school. “And the other thing that we love about it is it builds a lot of unity in our family.”
But DOMA is undermining their family unity. The law prevents them from filing their federal taxes jointly, as other married couples can, so every year they are required to “carve up” their family on their tax forms because they can’t both claim their children as dependents. In some years Suzanne has claimed them, in others Geraldine. In some instances, Suzanne has claimed one child while Geraldine claimed the other two, and vice versa. The idea of creating a paper trail that does not honestly and accurately reflect their children’s parentage is extremely unsettling for Suzanne and Geraldine.
“If the papers say that I’m the only parent, or vice versa, I worry that if something happened to one of us, would there be any issue?,” says Suzanne. “It just starts to make you doubt if they’re really going to respect the marriage in other ways when it comes to our kids. We’re covered in so many ways, but still, it just bothers me.”
On top of that, Suzanne and Geraldine are forced to pay extra taxes because of their inability to file jointly. On their 2009 taxes, for instance, they paid nearly $1500 extra to the federal government. That’s money they could be using to pay household expenses or putting into college funds.
Suzanne and Geraldine have been together for nearly 20 years. They legally married in 2009, and were joined in a civil union ceremony before that. Geraldine and Suzanne thought the right to marry legally in their home state would complete the dream of their family, a family they built based on love, responsibility, honesty and respect. Unfortunately they were unprepared for the discriminatory impact DOMA would have on their family.
“I don’t see why our marriage certificate is not recognized,” says Geraldine, “when it is the exact same document that heterosexual couples have.”
Bradley Kleinerman & James “Flint” Gehre
Brad Kleinerman and Flint Gehre each talked up their desire to have children on their first date more than 21 years ago. So it’s no surprise that they are now the proud parents of three sons: Raymond, 22, Rick, 20, and Joseph, 11. Their life in Avon, Connecticut bustles with hockey games and other sporting events, homework, violin lessons, friends, family vacations and lots of laughter.
After years as a stay-at-home dad, and previous careers as a police officer and a teacher, Flint recently went back to work as an organizational readiness leader for CIGNA Healthcare. He also manages Joseph’s traveling hockey team. Brad also works at CIGNA as a human resources director. They relocated from their native California—where they were registered domestic partners—to Connecticut in 2007, seeking better schools and a better quality of life for their kids.
Brad and Flint adopted Ray and Rick, who are biological siblings, through Los Angeles County’s foster care system when they were 6 and 5 years old. Brad and Flint didn’t intend to have another child until California authorities contacted them about adopting Joseph shortly after his birth. Joseph is a biological sibling to Ray and Rick.
“I feel like our life would be so empty without children,” says Flint, “watching them grow and develop, knowing the circumstances they started in, knowing where they were when we adopted them; to see them grow and mature and become more successful is very rewarding.”
The move to Connecticut also enabled Brad and Flint to get legally married, which they did on March 6, 2009, their 18th anniversary. Brad and Flint originally viewed marriage as simply a way to affirm the commitment they had long ago made to one another. Afterward, they were surprised at how marriage enhanced their relationship.
“There’s something that happened, a different feeling,” says Brad, “a strength between us from being able to say ‘we’re married’ and not just, ‘we’re life partners, and we have a certificate of domestic partnership.’”
“It was a very important step to take and a very important statement also—a statement to our children that their family counted just as much.”
But because of DOMA, their family does not count as much as other families do in the eyes of the federal government. Brad and Flint cannot file their federal taxes jointly as other married couples can. They paid an extra $8000 in federal income tax for the year 2010. They expect to continue paying more taxes as long as DOMA is on the books.
“We’re just looking to be treated equally, like other married couples” says Flint. “And eight thousand dollars to a lot of people is significant, and it is significant to us. There are a lot of things it could do for our family.” The couple easily ticks off a list of ways they would put their money to good use, from paying college tuition to buying groceries.
“We’re treated differently than my co-workers because of a federal law,” says Brad. “It’s just not right.”