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.”
As a Boston public middle school student in the 1990’s, Jason Haas endured three years of unimaginably vicious taunting, shunning, and physical attacks by his fellow students – and no teacher or administrator lifted a hand to help him.
In 1996 and 1997, Jason and his mother, Sandra, repeatedly notified school officials about incidents ranging from a kick in the throat to name-calling of “faggot” and “nigger” to threats of violence. Teachers who actually witnessed Jason being punched on one occasion and strangled on another did nothing.
To see him now, a confident, articulate college senior, is to witness the fortitude of the human spirit – as well as the influence of both a strong mom and a good lawyer. “My mom always told me that I was a great person. She helped me keep things together,” Jason said.
Finally fed up with the school’s indifference, Jason picked up the phone himself and called GLAD after seeing an ad in Bay Windows. And on the phone he got Mary Bonauto, who listened in horror to his tale.
“Mary was awesome,” said Jason. “She came to our house, she listened to everything I said.” GLAD documented both the abuse and the inaction of school officials. It was clear that the problem went beyond Jason to an atmosphere in the school system that at best looked away and at worst condoned anti-gay sentiment, even when it went as far as violence.
Jason finally escaped by entering Concord-Carlisle High School, but he says now, “I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else. That was the main thing for me.”
And in fact, when presented with the case that GLAD intended to file on behalf of Jason in 1999, the Boston Public School system officials recognized the extent of anti-gay harassment and knew they had to do something. Jason and his mom received a settlement – but more significantly, Boston changed the way it deals with LGBT students.
The key provisions of the settlement were:
- Boston’s agreement to train all school personnel in leadership positions – teachers, administrators, and counselors among others – on LGBT issues
- The appointment of an LGBT liaison in each school
And Jason? Jason went on to become a student leader in both high school and college (coincidentally Hamilton College, Mary Bonauto’s alma mater). As a high school senior, he went back to Boston’s middle schools and spoke about his experiences. He organized both an LGBT group and a comedy troupe on his college campus –representing two interests he hopes to combine in the future. “Activism and public service are my number one passions,” he says.
Jason Haas spoke at GLAD’s Spirit of Justice Award Dinner on September 30, 2005.
Like many natives of Boston’s South Shore, Rhiannon O’Donnabhain grew up in a quiet, close knit Irish Catholic family. Saturday confession and Sunday mass were weekly rituals.
And like many Americans during the 1960s, Rhiannon went into military service after college, enlisting in the Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. She later worked in construction and as an engineer, in both the public and private sector.
But despite her years of service and hard work, the IRS has not treated Rhiannon the same as other tax-paying Americans. In 2003 they denied her the ability to deduct the cost of medical treatment —simply because she is transgender.
Born anatomically male, Rhiannon began having conflicted feelings about her gender identity—a person’s deeply-felt sense of being male or female—as early as elementary school. By early adolescence, these feelings intensified, and she increasingly imagined being female. The dissonance between who she felt she was inside and who she saw in the mirror caused her acute distress.
Rhiannon tried hard to fit into the male role—to do “masculine” things—to make these feelings go away. She joined the Coast Guard, chose the male-dominated field of civil engineering, married at 26, and parented three children.
But her strong sense that she was a woman persisted, and her internal conflict escalated. After her marriage ended in 1992, she reached a point where she could no longer live with the inner discord. She was focused all the time on the strong feeling that she was in the wrong body. Her suffering made forming social relationships difficult, affected interactions with her family,
and occupied her constantly.
In 1996, Rhiannon began seeing a therapist who evaluated her and diagnosed her with gender identity disorder (GID), a persistent conflict between a person’s birth sex and their gender identity. GID is a recognized medical condition requiring medical care in severe cases.
For Rhiannon, the diagnosis meant that after a lifetime of feeling utterly alone and misunderstood, she finally had a language for what she had experienced since childhood. More than that, there was a prescribed course of treatment—and hope that at last she could feel better.
She took her treatment one step at a time, starting with regular counseling and eventually undertaking hormone therapy. Later, she “came out” as transgender to her family and coworkers, legally changed her name, and presented as female in every aspect of her life. Finally, in 2001, after she and her health care providers determined that surgery was critical to enable her to live her life as a woman, she underwent several surgeries as part of her course of transition. Without the surgery, Rhiannon could not unite her inner and outer selves, live a full and healthy life, and be fully human.
Despite the pain of surgery, Rhiannon felt immediate relief. She returned to work after six weeks of recovery with the sense that she—for the first time—could comfortably live her life.
When she filed her taxes the following year, she claimed a medical deduction for the approximately $25,000 out-of-pocket medical expenses related to the surgeries and other medical care relating to her transition and quickly received her refund. But months later she got notice that she would be audited. She was prepared with every required receipt and then some—she was so well prepared that her auditor at one point mentioned that the IRS might even owe her money. But eventually she received a letter saying that they denied her deduction—someone somewhere at the IRS had decided that her surgery was not medical care but “cosmetic.”
With Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), in 2006, Rhiannon brought suit against the IRS, arguing that the medical expenses relating to her transition were clearly for medical care, and therefore as deductible as an appendectomy or heart bypass surgery.
What she wants, she says, is fair and equal treatment—to not be discriminated against simply because she is transgender.
“I’m not asking for any more than any other person is entitled to,” she says.
Elizabeth (Beth) Kerrigan & Joanne (Jodie) Mock
Elizabeth (Beth) Kerrigan (left), 52, and Joanne (Jodie) Mock (right), 53, of West Hartford, are committed partners of more than 13 years and parents of six-year-old twin sons, Carlos and Fernando. And it is the concern for their family that particularly compels them to seek the right to marry.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the boys are safe, secure and loved,” said Jodie. “Marriage is certainly part of that, because only marriage will provide our family with the full package of legal and social protections that other children of married parents enjoy.”
The women adopted Carlos and “‘Nando” five and a half years ago from Guatemala. In order to provide their boys with a connection to their heritage, they live in a city with a significant Latino school-age population, and in a neighborhood where there are other adopted children. In fact, their household is often the center of activities for neighboring kids and their parents.
Both Jodie and Beth work in the insurance industry and have lived in Connecticut for fifteen years, settling in West Hartford six years ago. Through her job at The Hartford, Jodie volunteers as a tutor and is The Hartford’s Coordinator for Reading Buddies at West Middle School in Hartford. The boys spend lots of time with Beth’s extended family from Long Island and try to see Jodie’s family in California, Ohio, and Michigan when they can.
The couple has taken all of the steps legally available to protect their family through documents and second parent adoption. They have chosen not to have a civil union, deciding instead to wait for marriage.
“As someone involved with long term care insurance, I’ve seen the difficulties that can come with aging and illness,” said Beth. “Marriage is the best way to ease our family’s burdens if Jodie or I face a medical crisis. It would be hard enough to go on with life and care for the children without also dealing with the additional hardships that we would face because we’re not protected by marriage.”
Damaris Navarro & Gloria Searson
Damaris Navarro, 47, and Gloria Searson, 48, of West Haven, have been dedicated partners for 13 years. They are committed to raising four children.
When Gloria and Damaris met, Gloria had two children, and today their family has grown to include the couple’s goddaughter and Gloria’s nephew. The children, who call Gloria and Damaris their parents, are talented and energetic. Two are currently in college; one is applying for college, and the fourth attends a magnet school.
While the couple had a civil union in Vermont in 2001 not being able to marry has presented a variety of problems for them. “We have worked hard to provide our children with a stable and loving home. Not being able to marry makes Damaris and I feel like outsiders and substandard citizens.”
“Although having a civil union was important for us,” Gloria said, “it was a bitter pill to swallow because we knew that it was not the same thing as a real marriage.” When Damaris had surgery in 2004, Gloria was denied access to the “family only” recovery room. Additionally, Gloria has been unable to list Damaris as a spouse on her health insurance. That leaves the couple with two options: forego coverage, or pay $400 each pay period for domestic partnership benefits.
Both women are dedicated to helping people with HIV. Damaris is a Prevention Program Manager for Hispanos Unidos in New Haven. Gloria is an advocacy relations manager for Abbott Laboratories.
Carol Conklin & Janet Peck
Carol Conklin, 54, and Janet Peck, 56, of Colchester, believe that only marriage reflects the love, respect, devotion and deep level of commitment they have shared for more than 32 years. Since they’ve become a committed couple, they’ve brought their family and friends together to celebrate their tenth, twentieth and thirtieth anniversaries. “I feel in my heart that we have been married for 32 years,” said Janet, “but the fact is, we are still denied the right to marry.”
Connecticut has always been home. Janet was born and raised in Manchester and Carol in Manchester and South Windsor. They’ve lived in Colchester for the last 27 years and Janet owns a local business. Janet has a mental health counseling practice and Carol is an electrician, previously self-employed and now working for the state of Connecticut at Riverview Hospital. “We work hard, but we are denied important rights that we know we need to protect our present and secure our future,” noted Janet.
Family has always been a priority. Major holidays are often celebrated with relatives from both sides of the family in their Colchester home. When Carol’s father’s health began to deteriorate from the effects of Alzheimer’s, the couple brought him from North Carolina to an assisted living facility in Connecticut so that they could oversee his care and visit him regularly until his death in 2005.
One of the many reasons Janet and Carol want the protection of marriage is to ensure access to each other in the hospital. Janet has undergone three surgeries over the last nine years. When Janet had major surgery to remove life-threatening, benign tumors from her liver, she withstood a long and painful recuperation. Carol was at the hospital day and night and lovingly cared for Janet at home until she regained her mobility and independence. Nonetheless, after waiting in the hospital through the eight long hours of surgery, Carol was initially not allowed to visit Janet in intensive care because she was not immediate family. When Carol identified herself as Janet’s partner, the attending nurse said she did not know what that meant.
At yet another point in Janet’s many hospitalizations, she was not permitted to designate Carol as next of kin. “I’m not a stranger,” said Carol, “I’m the one who is responsible for Janet’s welfare and I’m the one who knows her wishes if something were to go wrong. I believe only marriage will provide us with the basic security every couple needs as they face health issues and other crises. Powers of attorney and other legal forms, which we have, don’t always work and are not enough.”
Additionally, the couple has faced basic financial impediments because of their unmarried status. For example, when planning to sell their first home and build a new one seven years ago, they were denied a joint home construction loan because their combined income as a couple was not recognized. For the fifteen years they were both self-employed, they paid for two individual health insurance policies and were unable to purchase the two person policy available on their existing plan because of their single status. This added an additional annual expense of $2100, which totals $31,500 over their fifteen year period of self-employment. While Carol was able to add Janet to her health insurance policy as her domestic partner once she went to work for the state of Connecticut, they still cannot purchase other types of insurance on the same terms available to married couples.
The tax laws are equally unfriendly to their 32-year commitment and partnership. At different times, each returned to school while the other continued working to support the household, but neither could claim the other as a dependent at tax time. They also know the modest amounts they have saved for retirement will not be fully available to the other because they are not married, even though each is the other’s beneficiary on all accounts.
The couple have chosen not obtain a civil union. Janet says, “We’ve just not been able to force ourselves to pledge to a status that says that we’re not equal, or that we’re less than or inferior to others.” Carol adds, “My brothers and sisters are all married, and we’ve been together longer than any of them have been with their spouses. Why would we have something different?”
Carol and Janet have shared their hopes and dreams for the future for the past 32 years including their dream to be married. They believe their life reflects what a marriage truly is and desire the protections, respect and recognition of a legally married couple.
Geraldine Artis & Suzanne Artis
Geraldine Artis (left), 37, and Suzanne Artis (right), 36, of Clinton, fell in love 12 years ago and share a deep partnership, finding joy, strength and understanding in one another. Their commitment encompasses their shared values, which extend to their three children, nine-year-old Geras and seven-year-old twins, Zanagee and Gezani.
“Marrying will complete the dream of our family,” says Geraldine, “a family we are building based on love, responsibility, honesty and respect.”
The children are now the main focus of their parents, who juggle work schedules to provide a secure, loving environment in which to teach them at home. Suzanne teaches in a public school system and Geraldine works as a recreation therapist on the late shift.
Suzanne changed her last name to “Artis” to reflect their mutual commitment and the familial nature of their relationship. Each of the children’s names is drawn from the letters of their parents’ first names.
Because they believe in the goodness of their family and have taught their children not to accept society’s prejudices, Suzanne and Geraldine feel that they must challenge the state’s marriage discrimination. Although the couple now has a civil union, they still encounter situations where people don’t understand what that means, or recognize the nature of their relationship.
While the values are key, Suzanne and Geraldine also believe their family would have more protection if they could marry. For example, marriage would have likely prevented the discriminatory treatment they received in the past when seeking medical care for Geraldine, in one instance, and emergency care for one of their children in another. In both cases, the legal documents they obtained did not protect them as a family and were not recognized by the medical attendees. And they know that those documents can never add up to the full protections and benefits that flow from marriage.
“Every family needs safety,” said Suzanne. “Shouldn’t all committed families have equal rights?”
Barbara & Robin Levine-Ritterman
Barbara Levine-Ritterman, 54, and Robin Levine-Ritterman, 48, have been living in a committed and loving partnership since 1989. The parents of Maya (age 12) and Joshua (age 10), they have faced a challenge unfortunately familiar to many families: Barb’s breast cancer, which was diagnosed in June, 2004.
“Barb’s illness made us treasure our relationship even more, but it also made us realize how vulnerable our family is without the legal protections of marriage,” said Robin. Robin cut back on her work schedule as a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist to help Barb, owner of a computer business, during her recovery from surgery and chemotherapy. While she continues to have regular PET screenings, Barb is currently doing well.
Barb and Robin own a home in New Haven, where their lives revolve around their children. “We go from PTO meetings to violin lessons to Tae Kwon Do classes,” said Barb. The family belongs to a reform Jewish temple and volunteers at the synagogue’s soup kitchen. They enjoy gatherings of the extended families who have supported them and who delight in Maya and Joshua.
The Levine-Rittermans have taken numerous financial and legal steps to merge their assets and gain legal security, including obtaining a civil union. They have experienced first-hand, however, that civil unions do not function the same as marriage in daily life. Barb recounts a recent medical visit at which her marital status was listed as “single” because the woman running her test did not have a place for “civil union” on the medical form. Says Barb, “It’s striking that for all the talk about how [we] have the rights of marriage, it just doesn’t function that way. It’s important that it’s a different word. If it doesn’t get carried out in all the places it matters, then what good is it?”
“We want to marry as the natural expression of our love and commitment,” said Robin. “We also want our children to grow up with the security provided to a legally married family.”
Stephen Davis & Jeffrey Busch
Stephen Davis (left), 55, and Jeffrey Busch (right), 44, of Wilton, have been in a loving, committed relationship since 1989. For the two of them, as Stephen said, “Marriage is the only institution that is big enough for our love, and we want to formalize that love, commitment and responsibility in marriage.”
The two spent several years together in New York City, where Jeffrey is still an administrative judge and part-time legal services lawyer. Stephen runs the digital library program at Columbia University where he has worked since 1988. In 1997, they moved to Wilton, Jeffrey’s childhood home, with the dream of building a family. Their son, Elijah (Eli) Davis Busch, was born in August 2002. In naming their son Elijah, a Jewish symbol of hope, they honored Jeffrey’s Aunt Hope, who died shortly before Eli was born.
Now that they have a son, they are even more eager to marry to secure the protections for their family. “All of us parents deal with the same issues,” said Jeffrey. “We are providing Eli with a warm, loving and secure start in life. But we don’t want to have to explain to him that his family is disrespected and doesn’t have the same rights as other families. We don’t want Eli to feel like he has second-class parents.”
Even with all the steps they have taken to protect their family legally, including obtaining a civil union, they know that marriage is a unique safety net that benefits the couple and their children. Even now, if either of them died, the other would have about one-half less of the other’s retirement savings because they are not married. Jeffrey now works only part-time in order to spend more time with Eli, but without marriage, he cannot share in Stephen’s social security as a spouse would.
“We’re not housemates,” said Stephen, “We’re a responsible family and want the law to see us that way, too.”
J.E. Martin & Denise Howard
J.E. Martin (left), 45, and Denise Howard (right), 50, of Stratford, have been a committed couple for 17 years, and are the adoring parents of 10-year-old Rachel and 7-year-old Ross. Like most other families, they’ve shared many joys but have also shared challenges that have been more difficult to navigate without the protections of marriage.
Denise’s father passed away in 2005, and her mother recently moved to a senior housing complex, so Denise pitches in with other family members whenever she’s needed. Like many couples of their generation, J.E. and Denise face the co-issues of aging parents, young children, and an uncertain economy that doesn’t fully protect when one of them faces a job lay-off or economic hardship.
Denise was laid off in August after 11.5 years with HealthNet. Now the couple is re-evaluating their financial situation as J.E. will need to add Denise to her insurance and then incur the additional tax consequences of the imputed income from those benefits for Denise.
J.E. has worked with General Electric for over 23 years, and she’s concerned that her company’s full pension and 401K amounts will not be available to support Denise after her death the same way they would if they were married. She also worries about IRA payout treatment and Social Security benefits not being equal for them should she become disabled or die.
“In trying to plan for the future,” said J.E., “I feel like I need to save twice as much as I would need to if we were married, just to provide my family with a decent amount of financial security. No matter how much I try to provide security for Denise and our children, I can’t plan around discriminatory marriage laws.”
Rachel and Ross are active children who love to spend time with their many relatives, some nearby, and others in Texas. Rachel is involved in Girl Scouts and soccer. Ross also plays soccer with J.E. serving as his team’s coach. Both parents are involved in their children’s school activities like field trips, fundraising, and PTA.
The family is involved in the Metropolitan Community Church in New Haven, where both Denise and J.E. have previously served on the Board of Directors, and J.E. started a Sunday School program.
J.E. and Denise want to marry so that their children will know that their parents’ relationship is as secure and valued in the eyes of the community as the relationships of their friends’ parents, and to be able to take advantage of the legal and financial protections afforded by civil marriage.
“As a family, we have the same routines, and the same joys and concerns, as any other family,” said Denise. “We eat together, go on walks together, do homework together, and argue about bedtimes. But our family does not have the protections and recognition that come with marriage.”
John Anderson & Garrett Stack
John Anderson (left), 64, and Garrett Stack (right), 60, of Woodbridge, have built a life together for nearly 28 years. Garrett, a Connecticut native, met John at an education conference in 1980, and they settled in Garrett’s Woodbridge home two years later. After committing so much of their adult lives to one another, John and Garrett want to memorialize their commitment in a marriage and attain the financial and legal security that only marriage brings.
“I met someone, fell in love, and we have built a life together for nearly 28 years,” said Garrett. “That’s why I want to get married until death do us part.” Added John: “We’re getting older and as we become more vulnerable physically, it is even more important to us to have the financial and legal security that only marriage brings.”
Both men are passionate supporters of public education, and they have dedicated their careers to the public school students and their families in nearby Stratford. Garrett spent 35 years as a teacher and then school administrator, recently retiring after 12 years as the principal of the Franklin Elementary School. In June 2005, John retired after 20 years of teaching Latin at Stratford’s Bunnell High School.
John and Garrett have taken the legal steps available to them to secure certain protections, including obtaining a civil union. They still face limitations, however. They cannot share their retirement savings with each other as they could if they were married. And because Garrett first owned the home they have now shared for the last 24 years, they cannot place their largest asset in both their names because of gift tax consequences, even though they have shared all the maintenance and mortgage costs. That very significant tax burden is not imposed on a married spouse. Finally, as they age, they face an uncertain health future which they view with greater trepidation in light of the obstacles that often face gay couples in times of medical emergencies, such as being denied hospital visitation.
According to John, having a civil union makes them “legally second-class.” They know that only marriage can provide them with the comfort, respect, and security they seek.
Today, Garrett hosts two Saturday night shows on a Connecticut public radio station. One is called “Broadway Bound,” which features music from the American Musical Theater; the other, “American Jukebox,” presents classic pop from the 1950s and 60s. In addition, John pens a regular column on gay and lesbian life for The New Haven Register.
Sandi & Bobbi Cote-Whitacre
Sandi (left) and Bobbi (right) Cote-Whitacre, both 58, of Essex Junction, Vermont, met in 1967 in the Women’s Army Corps, while stationed at Fort McClellan in Alabama. Their “dates” centered on a little coffee shop near the post. “I knew after our third date, this was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life,” said Sandi. They began planning a future together and talked through all the issues couples do who are about to embark on a lifetime commitment. In February 1968, on a three-day pass to Atlanta, Georgia, they purchased rings and held a private ceremony to celebrate their love. Now 38 years later, they still love each other, but remain completely vulnerable because their relationship is not legally recognized.
Sandi and Bobbi have done what they legally can to protect themselves including securing Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney documents, creating living wills and receiving a Civil Union in 2000, yet they still encounter challenges to their financial and medical security because they are not fully protected by a marriage license.
These concerns came to a head when Sandi was misdiagnosed with cancer and her doctor refused to allow Bobbi in to discuss treatment options. They promptly changed doctors, but the lesson endured. “If we had been married, the doctor never would have treated us that way,” said Bobbi. “He would have understood that couples make medical decisions together, leaning on each other, all the while, for support.”
The couple has faced significant financial insecurity following the collapse of a small grocery store they ran for five years in Vermont. Bobbi’s mother now lives with them, and they hope to purchase a home that will accommodate all of their needs better than their rented home. Nonetheless, whether as renters or home owners, the surviving spouse would face significant hardship without receiving the survivor benefits that would automatically flow to a surviving spouse through marriage.
Sandi now works as a Management Analyst for the Security Office of the Homeland Security Department, while Bobbi takes care of her elderly mother at home. Sandi and Bobbi were married in Provincetown, Massachusetts on May 17, 2004.
Paul Trubey & Mark Pearsall
Paul Trubey (left), 42, and Mark Pearsall (right), 38, from Lebanon, Connecticut met at University of Massachusetts Lowell and have been together for 16 years. They were both born and raised in Massachusetts, and both of their families still live here. Mark and Paul want to get married in the state where their families live, and feel that it is important to embrace an institution that recognizes and protects them legally and validates their relationship together.
Mark and Paul experienced a defining moment on the importance of having a marriage license when Paul was hit by a drunk driver and was taken to the hospital. Mark rushed to the hospital, but personnel would not allow him to see Paul for over an hour and refused to provide any information as to his status. Later, the couple attained powers of attorney and health care proxies but still believe legal security is more likely with a marriage license.
Both come from large, extended families that are supportive of their relationship.
Mark and Paul both have graduate degrees from Boston University and have been in the same professions for nearly 10 years. Paul is a social worker in Hospice, and Mark is a high school teacher. In addition, they operate a small dairy farm at their home. Mark and Paul were married in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Mary Norton & Wendy Becker
Mary Norton (left), 45, and Wendy Becker (right), 44, of Providence, RI have been a committed couple for 17 years, and want their five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son to know they are growing up in a family with as much love as all of the married families in their community.
Because their relationship is not recognized, they cannot give the legal and social protections only marriage affords to their family. For example, while waiting to board a plane with their daughter, Wendy and Mary faced a difficult experience. An airline employee stopped them in line and pulled them aside, demanding to know what their relationship was to their daughter. After showing the airline personnel their daughter’s birth certificate, they were made to wait in the corner while the airline decided whether or not to permit them on the plane. They were ultimately allowed to board, but they are concerned about this kind of event recurring, and how they would explain it to their children.
Wendy is a Professor in the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. Mary is the Director of Research Administration for the Division of Biology and Medicine at Brown University.
Wendy and Mary filed a notice of intention to marry in Attleboro, Massachusetts, but were not issued a license because of the Attorney General’s cease and desist order of May 21, 2004.
Jim Theberge & Michael Thorne
Together 22 years, James Theberge (left), 47, and Michael Thorne (left), 52, and their three-year-old son Nathaniel, live in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. While Maine is their new home, both spent most of their years in Massachusetts: Jim was born and raised in Massachusetts, completing both his education and medical residency here, while Mike moved to Boston from Maine in his late twenties.
The couple moved to Maine to raise their son Nate, who is named after Mike’s father. They want to get married because of the security, recognition and protection it offers their family. For example, when they decided that Mike would be a stay-at-home parent in Nate’s early years, finding health insurance was difficult and expensive.
“We have been together for 21 years, and have lived every day of our lives together. We have struggled through tough times together, and enjoyed the good times together. We have bought homes together, and are presently raising our son together”, says Mike. “We are married in every sense of the word, except our relationship is not legally recognized.”
Both note that while the Commonwealth granted them joint parent adoption, clearly recognizing them as suitable parents, by denying them the right to marry, Massachusetts is now taking the position that they are no longer a family deserving of support and protection.
They enjoy the full support of their families which include a very proud grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins for Nate. In fact, Mike’s brother, Jerry, is Nate’s godfather, while James’ sister, Francine, is Nate’s godmother.
After serving as an internist for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates for more than 15 years, James practices internal medicine at Mercy Hospital in Maine. Michael, a former bank executive, plans to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.
James and Michael were denied the right to marry in Somerville, Massachusetts after the Attorney General’s cease and desist order of May 21, 2004.
Kristin & Katy Gossman
Kristin (left), 39, and Katy Gossman (right), 41, of Meriden, Connecticut, have been together since June of 1999, and had a commitment ceremony the following year with family, church members and friends. The couple recently became foster parents. Kristin’s parents have embraced Katy, and remark how proud they are to have her as part of the family, while Katy’s parents are known to send “Happy Birthday, Daughter-In-Law” cards to Kristin. Although the two shared an exchange of vows in a commitment ceremony, they are reminded daily that they still don’t experience the many benefits given to married couples.
Katy has worked as an FBI Special Agent for eight years, and was transferred from Dallas to Connecticut in 2003. Heavily involved in the FBI’s work in the aftermath of 9/11, often working weeks at a stretch, and never knowing where her assignments would take her, Katy hastily did a video-taped will. That experience drove home the extent to which she and Kristin are not fully protected by marriage even though they have made a life-time commitment to one another.
”I put a lot of things on the line for my country and I’m proud of that,” said Katy. “But I don’t understand why I can’t be treated like everyone else. I simply want to make sure that should something happen to me, Kristin would be taken care of.”
When the couple moved from Texas, they were denied moving benefits because they could not produce a state-certified marriage license. They also began to realize that they would not necessarily have the right to hospital visitation, medical benefits and other protections routinely given to married couples.
Before moving to Connecticut, Kristin and Katy attended churches in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas area. Both were active in their church, participating in neighborhood clean-up campaigns, Habitat for Humanity, holiday drives and young adult mentor programs.
After eight years in the military, where she was in active duty for four years, Katy graduated with a mathematics degree and pursued a career with the FBI. She loves her work and plans to retire after a career with the Bureau. For the past 12 years, Kristin has worked in the health and fitness profession, working primarily in local hospitals, and has been an echocardiographer, since October 2004. Kristin and Katy were married in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Ed Butler & Les Schoof
Ed Butler (left), 55, and Les Schoof (right), 53, of New Hampshire, knew each other for several years before becoming a couple. They met at the Charles Playhouse in Boston, and started dating shortly thereafter. They have been together for 26 years, and have lived in Dorchester and Brookline.
Innkeepers of The Notchland Inn in Hart’s Location for more than 10 years, they have hosted the town and the media for the first votes cast in Presidential elections. In up-state New Hampshire, living in a town of 38 citizens, Les and Ed have enjoyed the broad support of their neighbors. “Everyone recognizes and accepts us as a committed couple, and many understand our strong desire to get married,” said Ed.
The couple also have the support of their families, with Les’ father often staying with them at the inn for two weeks at a time. Ed’s parents visit regularly and both of their large, extended family includes nieces and nephews who regularly stay at the inn. And because Ed is a Justice of the Peace, his nephew has asked him to preside over his wedding this summer.
While the couple doesn’t anticipate problems in and around their corner of New Hampshire, they also do a fair amount of traveling. And it was during a visit to New York City when Ed was suddenly hospitalized, that they faced the pain and anguish of exclusion. Les was literally asked to leave the emergency room, and it crystalized for them that marriage would offer them the protections they lacked, particularly as they get older.
Before becoming Innkeepers, Les and Ed worked in a variety of jobs in Boston. After receiving a nursing degree from Boston University, Ed worked in several hospitals for 10 years and got a master’s degree relating to long-term care. Eventually, he became head of the long-term care AIDS programs with the Village Nursing Home in New York City. Les worked at the Charles Playhouse, then moved on to the Cincinnati Playhouse, and later managed the Joffrey Ballet and America Ballet Theatre.
Les and Ed were denied the right to marry in Somerville, Massachusetts after the Attorney General’s cease and desist order of May 21, 2004.
Amy Zimmerman & Tanya Wexler
Amy Zimmerman, 33, and Tanya Wexler, 35, have been a committed couple for more than 14 years and live in New York City with their three young children: a six-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old, with another one due in February. Tanya and Amy attended Yale University where they met as members of an a cappella singing group. Although they had a formal commitment ceremony in Central Park in1997, they view marriage as the only way to give their family genuine legal and social security.
In addition, the couple wants to get married in Massachusetts where they have strong family connections, visiting here five to six times a year. Amy was born in Danvers and grew up in Andover where her family still lives.
Both Amy and Tanya come from large, involved and supportive families. Amy’s parents have been actively involved in the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts. In fact, Amy and Tanya were married in Amy father’s back yard surrounded by 70 friends and family members.
Although the couple has taken the necessary legal steps to protect their family, they know that no collection of legal documents equals the protections that flow from marriage. In addition, said Tanya, “Everyone knows what marriage is. Our kids know what marriage is, and it’s important to us that they know that we are a committed and secure family unit. Only marriage gives children that certainty and security.”
Tanya, who received her MFA in Film Directing from Columbia, directs independent films while Amy is a stay-at-home mom. Amy and Tanya were married in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Mary Ritchie & Kathy Bush
Like many moms, Mary and Kathy spend their evenings cooking dinner and checking homework for their two boys while navigating a maze of musical instruments, Legos and basketballs…and soccer balls and baseballs. By day Mary and Kathy are both engaged members of their community in Framingham. Mary is a State Police Detective Lieutenant assigned to the General Headquarters in the Division of Standards and Training. Kathy is co-president of their sons’ middle school PTO and is deeply involved in their education, volunteering in the school and coordinating fundraising events to help their school raise money.
Mary and Kathy have been together for nearly 23 years. They married in 2004 at their home in Framingham, surrounded by friends, neighbors, and family, including their sons Ryan, now 13, and William, who is now 11.
Kathy, originally from Framingham, stopped working after Ryan was born so she could stay home with the boys full-time. Mary is a Boston native and has been a member with the Massachusetts State Police 24 years. As a member of the State Police force, she risks her safety every day to protect her community.
But if Mary were killed in the line of duty, the federal government would deny Kathy the benefits the government pays to officers’ surviving spouses. Kathy also wouldn’t be eligible for the education benefit for surviving spouses—which she would need to re-enter the workplace.
“Every time a member of law enforcement dies in the line of duty, we’re reminded of how vulnerable our family is,” says Mary. “The federal government provides a safety net for the families of public safety officers who die, including a death benefit and an education benefit for surviving spouses. But because the federal government discriminates against our marriage, if something happened to me, Kathy would get nothing.”
And unlike other married couples, Mary and Kathy cannot file their federal taxes jointly. Since 2004 they have paid close to $30,000 more in taxes because they can’t file their federal taxes as a married couple—even though they are legally married. This means they have less money for household expenses, and to put away for their boys’ college funds and retirement.
“We have the same struggles and the same commitment as other families. Mary works, I stay home, we have two boys, a dog, and a cat, fish tanks, and a guinea pig,” says Kathy. “We work hard, pay taxes, volunteer, and do our part for our community. But the federal government still tells us we’re less of a family than other families in our neighborhood—families Mary works to protect.”
Marlin Nabors & Jonathan Knight
Jonathan and Marlin first met at a coffee shop in Indianapolis in 2004. From the beginning, they balanced each other out. Marlin is from Flint, Michigan, and worked at a college in the city; Jonathan is from rural Indiana and worked at an organic dairy farm. Marlin was fascinated by Jonathan’s quiet intellect; Jonathan thought Marlin was sophisticated and outgoing.
Six months later, a college in Boston offered Marlin a job in student housing. He and Jonathan decided to take the plunge, and moved to Boston in 2005. Jonathan found a job in financial administration at Harvard. They married in 2006, and bought their first home in Hyde Park in 2008.
But the federal government penalizes them for their marriage by making them file separate taxes and pay more than other couples. Since they married in 2006, they have paid thousands of dollars more in taxes than if they had been able to file jointly.
“For us, as a married couple just starting out, it’s a lot of money,” says Jonathan. “We just bought our first home and are working to fix it up. I do a lot of the work myself, and my dad even came from Ohio to help me install new appliances. But every penny counts.”
They have a solid foundation for their future together: the support of their families, friends, and community; good jobs; and a home. Marlin is now associate dean of students at Southern New Hampshire University. Jonathan recently received his B.A. in Extension Studies from Harvard University.
“We want to plan for a future in which we aren’t discriminated against just for being a married couple,” says Marlin. “We think our country can do better than having a system of first- and second-class marriages.”
As they grow in their careers Jonathan and Marlin know that their finances will change. As a couple whose marriage is treated equally by the federal government, they may pay more in taxes. It’s a price they’re willing to pay—for equality and for the safety net the federal government provides for spouses.
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.”
Dorene & Mary Bowe-Shulman
Having cancer twice in her early twenties changed Dorene’s outlook on what was really important in life. When she met Mary at a book group in 1996, she realized she had found someone who shared her perspective. They bonded over Irish tea and their old, stubborn alpha cats, and have been together since.
Mary, an attorney at the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, and Dorene, a stay-at-home mom and part-time acupuncturist, legally married in Massachusetts in 2004. They are raising two girls in their home in Acton —Emma Jae, who is 13 and an avid reader who loves playing soccer, and Olivia, who at 10 has taken on the role of family clown.
As a mom and cancer survivor whose own mother died of cancer at a young age, Dorene knows that good health insurance plays a critical role in her health and the security of her family. So when she and Mary were able to legally marry, they rushed to put Dorene on Mary’s family health plan at work rather than pay for an expensive individual policy for Dorene. They were relieved—until Mary got her first paycheck after adding Dorene to her family plan.
“It was as if I had added a total stranger to my insurance, not my spouse,” says Mary. “I already had a family insurance plan through work, but the federal government had withdrawn taxes for Dorene’s coverage. My married colleagues just aren’t penalized in the same way.”
Mary’s family health plan costs her employer the same whether Dorene is added or not. They also can’t file federal taxes as a married couple. This has cost them thousands of dollars over the course of their marriage; in 2006, for instance, the family paid $3,332 more in taxes than they would have if the federal government did not discriminate against their marriage. This is money they could be saving for their girls’ education.
There are other ways in which federal discrimination hurts their family.
“We do everything we can to protect our children,” says Dorene. “But by discriminating against us the federal government tells our girls that we’re not worthy of the same rights as everyone else. They are a little young to understand that now, but we know our girls will see this discrimination soon enough.”
Bette Jo Green & Jo Ann Whitehead
Bette Jo and Jo Ann became friends as college students in 1960. They parted ways after graduation, but nearly 20 years later they both found themselves living in Massachusetts. They reconnected, and fell in love.
They have been committed to each other for 31 years, building a life together in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain where they are well-known as the “hot dog ladies” for their role in weekly community barbecues during the summer. Bette Jo, 70, retired in 2008 after a 35-year career as a labor and delivery nurse and enjoys singing in a community chorus. Jo Ann, 70, still works part-time as a garden educator. Together, they spend time working in their home garden, canning, and freezing their favorite recipes.
They legally married in their backyard garden—their pride and joy—in 2004, with friends and neighbors.
They have found joy in the good times and have loved and supported each other through the hard times—through losing parents, losing friends, and both their battles with cancer. Now both cancer-free, they still worry about each other’s health as they age. They worry about their financial future. But unlike other married people their age, their worries are multiplied by federal discrimination. They lose money each year because they are denied the spousal Social Security benefit that would increase Jo Ann’s monthly Social Security payment. And they worry about each other as surviving spouses.
“My mother lived to be 95, and we recently celebrated my aunt’s 100th birthday. Bette Jo and I joke about the longevity of my family, but there is a real possibility that I could outlive her,” says Jo Ann. “Under DOMA, the federal government will deny me Bette Jo’s Social Security survivor benefit. I will not only lose the love of my life, I will lose more than $12,864 each year—a major part of my retirement income.”
“We have both worked hard at our jobs—jobs we have loved, but they never were going to make us wealthy,” says Bette Jo. “We have paid into Social Security all our lives, but now we are not fully protected by the system the way other married couples are.”
Randy was 51 when he lost the love of his life, his husband Rob, after his long fight with colon cancer. When Rob died in 2007, he and Randy had been together for 30 years. Randy had spent more of his life with Rob than without him. Rob’s grandchildren consider Randy their Grandpa.
Randy and Rob married in their hometown of Harwich Port on Cape Cod in 2004, after they had been together for 27 years. Their pickup truck broke down the morning they planned to apply for their marriage license at their town hall, so they walked the five miles to the town center to keep their appointment. Later, neighbors said they would have been happy to drive them—Randy and Rob had been so excited that morning they hadn’t even thought to ask.
They were best friends, and Randy says that’s what got them through the hard times—being downsized from jobs, opening a store together and weathering the slow winters at their gift shop in Harwich Port. That bond is also what guided them through Rob’s five-year battle with colon cancer.
The night before Rob died in 2007, he and Randy stayed up all night talking—about their life together, how much they loved each other, and what Rob wanted for Randy in the future.
“He never wanted to hold me back at anything. He wanted me to be happy and secure, even if it was a future without him,” says Randy. “We didn’t know then that the federal government would do so much harm that it would deny me the security that it gives to other married couples.”
Since Rob’s death, Randy has struggled to pay bills at home and at the gift shop. The difficult economy and reduced tourism have cut into sales at the store. The federal government adds to his worries by refusing to treat Randy as a spouse—even for the small but critical death benefit that would have helped him pay for Rob’s funeral expenses. And when Randy turns 60, the government will also deny him the survivor benefit other spouses receive.
“Rob and I paid into the system like everyone else,” says Randy. “But I’ll lose thousands of dollars every year—money that could make the difference in keeping our home and business.”
Herbert Burtis and John Ferris met in college, in 1948. Herb was 18, John was 22. They legally married in Massachusetts in 2004, after what they called their “55-year engagement.” When John died in August 2008, they had been together for 60 years.
Now 82, Herb is learning how to live a life without John. He says it’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do—harder than living apart from John for 21 years when they had jobs in different states; harder than watching John’s health deteriorate from Parkinson’s disease for 16 years; harder, even, than caring for him in their home during the final years of John’s life.
But the federal government has pulled away the Social Security safety net John paid into all the years he was working, and that Herb still pays into through his adjunct work as a voice teacher at Smith College.
“Just as I struggled to cope with John’s loss, I never thought I would have to fight the federal government for the legal and financial protections that I need, and that other surviving spouses can count on,” says Herb.
Herb and John met in college in Michigan, where John returned after being stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, at the end of World War II. Studying with the same organ teacher, they connected through their love of music. After ten years together in Michigan and New York City, their music careers took them to different states. John was appointed University Organist and Choirmaster at Harvard, where he created the first mixed choir of women and men in the history of Harvard’s Memorial Church—to that point only men had sung in the church. Herb took a job as the choirmaster and organist at a church in Red Bank, New Jersey and had an international career as a concert artist. In 1961 Herb and John bought and restored a 1780 farmhouse in Sandisfield, in western Massachusetts, making it easier to spend time together each week, on holidays and school vacations.
In 1979 Herb moved to Arlington, Mass., to be with John permanently where he taught voice at Harvard for ten years. He was also Adjunct Professor of Voice at Smith College for two years.
Before he retired from Harvard in 1990, John noticed that he was having trouble playing music—his hands no longer worked as well as they always had. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1992, and for the next 16 years his health deteriorated. In 2005, he spent six months in a nursing home after a hospital misdiagnosis. In the spring of 2006 Herb brought John home to care for him, but by then he had to rely on a walker and assistance to get around. Eventually, he needed a wheelchair and 24-hour care.
Herb, who still lives in their Sandisfield home, is now fighting the federal government for the Social Security protections that other widowed spouses can rightly count on in their senior years.
“The extra $700 every month from John’s Social Security would cover my gap health insurance—what I get above and beyond Medicare,” says Herb. “My medications alone are $700 each month. It would make a big difference.”
Dean met U.S. Representative Gerry E. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, through mutual friends in the early 1980s. They crossed paths in their Washington, DC neighborhood over the next 10 years, and began dating in January 1991. Less than nine months later Dean accepted when Gerry proposed a lifetime commitment and they exchanged rings.
Over the next five years Dean and Gerry as a couple attended congressional, public and political events in Washington and around the country. Dean wore the congressional spousal pin and in 1995 was given a congressional photo identification card as Gerry’s spouse.
Gerry decided not to run for re-election in 1996, and retired from public service after 24 years in Congress. He and Dean moved to Massachusetts with their new dog, Bonnie, and built a quiet life together with family and friends. They legally married in May 2004, one week after Massachusetts ended marriage discrimination.
On October 3, 2006 Gerry took Bonnie out for her morning walk. He collapsed from a blood clot in his lung and was rushed to the hospital. His health improved at first, but 10 days later his condition suddenly got worse, and he died in the early morning hours of October 14, 2006.
“Gerry and I spent 16 wonderful years together and I miss him,” says Dean. “I remember when he spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during the debate about DOMA as I watched from the visitor’s gallery in July 1996. Back then, we didn’t know that we would ever be able to legally marry. Now that Gerry is gone, I’m always reminded that DOMA denies fair and equal treatment.”
Dean works as a financial advisor and continues to live in Boston. Since Gerry’s death Dean has sought to be treated the same as other surviving spouses of retired federal employees.
“Gerry was a public servant for 27 years, worked hard for our country, and paid as much into the system as anyone else,” he says. “But after he died, I was treated differently than other surviving spouses. Every federal employee counts on their surviving spouses having basic protections, but the federal government denies me those protections because of DOMA.”
Nancy Gill & Marcelle Letourneau
Nancy and Marcelle grew up in the same Brockton neighborhood, within two blocks of each other. They were best friends before they fell in love, and say that friendship is still at the core of their marriage.
Now living in Bridgewater, they have been together as a couple for over 32 years. Nancy has been a postal worker—the lady behind the counter—for 25 years. Marcelle does administrative work at the local Visiting Nurse Association office. They have two kids—their daughter, now in college, was born after what Nancy and Marcelle call their “16-year honeymoon,” and their son, who is 13. The whole family went on their second honeymoon after Nancy and Marcelle legally married in Massachusetts in 2004.
“After 24 years together, we were so happy to get married,” says Nancy. “But we were shocked when the government refused when I applied for benefits for Marcelle. Because the federal government discriminates against our marriage, I can’t add Marcelle to the family health plan I already pay for through my job. We end up paying for the same thing twice—my family plan and separate insurance for Marcelle through her job.”
Money is always a concern. Like most parents, Nancy and Marcelle have made their choices based on what is best for their family, not on how much money they could make. They lost money selling a house in a neighborhood they thought wasn’t good for their kids. They arrange their work schedules based on what their children need, even though it means Nancy won’t make as much money, and had to work the night shift for many years.
But the federal government still penalizes their family by denying them legal protections and safety nets that are automatically there for other families. In addition to the money they lose paying for extra health insurance, Marcelle won’t receive the federal health benefit given to surviving spouses if something should happen to Nancy. And Nancy can’t bequeath her pension benefits to Marcelle like other spouses can.
They also worry about how this discrimination will affect their children.
“We have always tried to teach our kids to live their lives honestly, with love and respect,” says Marcelle. “By disrespecting our family, the federal government tells our kids that our family isn’t equal. That’s not right.”
Keith & Al Toney
Note: Keith and Al Toney are no longer active plaintiffs in this lawsuit, as their claim has been resolved. On May 27, 2009, the State Department modified its policy for name-changes on passports to include individuals who have changed their name after marrying someone of the same sex. Keith was able to successfully apply for a new passport in his married name on June 22, 2009.
The son of a teacher and a Massachusetts State Police Sergeant, Al joined the police force in his native Worcester at the age of 20. He became the first openly gay officer in the Worcester Police Department. Nearly 10 years later, in 1995, Al retired from the force after being shot in the line of duty. He was injured and needed major surgery, but he survived. But his boyfriend and another friend who was with him at the time died from their injuries.
Years later, in 1999, Al got a second chance when he met Keith. Since then, Keith has not only been committed to Al, but also to Al’s daughter Kayla (now 21), whom they have raised together in their home in Jefferson since she was 12. The couple are active members of their community who have opened their home to foster children for both long-term and respite care.
When Al, 42, and Keith, 37, legally married in Massachusetts in 2004, Keith changed his name so everyone in their family would share the same last name. He had no trouble updating his Massachusetts driver’s license. But when he applied to change his name on his passport—as many married people do—the federal government said no.
“Security is the most important thing for our family, and in a post-9/11 world it’s more important than ever to have identity documents in order so our family is safe and secure,” says Keith. “But federal discrimination compromised our safety. When we would go through airports my identity documents didn’t match. It made us all nervous.”
On May 27, 2009, the State Department modified its policy for name-changes on passports to include individuals who have changed their name after marrying someone of the same sex. Keith was able to successfully apply for a new passport in his married name on June 22, 2009. While this was a tremendous victory, Al and Keith remain aware of the federal government’s continued discrimination against their marriage and the marriages of other same-sex couples.
Al and Keith have built and now run a consulting business to educate people about inclusion and diversity, and often share their own experiences with discrimination. “As an African-American man who works to educate others about discrimination, it is especially important to me that the government treats our family as equal before the law,” says Al. “What we tell people in our business—and what we believe—is that there are no first- and second-class citizens in this country. Everyone is equal before the law. But in denying us the legal protections it gives other married people, the federal government says our family isn’t equal.”
Melba Abreu & Beatrice Hernandez
Beatrice’s parents left Cuba for the United States before she was born, leaving behind everything to ensure a future of freedom and opportunity for their children. Melba left Cuba in 1979, in search of freedom and prosperity for herself and her future family.
Fairness, equality, and family are at the heart of their American dream—a dream shaped by their experiences as Cuban-Americans. The opportunity to always be able to provide for one another is central to that dream; yet as citizens they do not understand why the federal government discriminates against their marriage.
Melba and Beatrice met in Miami in 1987, while Melba was working as a cashier and Beatrice as a waitress. Soon after, they moved to New York where Beatrice was to attend college; and into their first apartment together in Brooklyn. Their first day in their new home, they sat on the hardwood floor of their small New York apartment and shared a bottle of wine while unpacking a box of new dishes. That simple act marked the beginning of their commitment to each other, and they view that day as the beginning of their marriage.
“Our commitment was our bond. We knew that together we would bear witness to each other’s lives,” says Beatrice. “We legally married seventeen years later, on May 20, 2004. But despite our legal marriage, the federal government continues to deny us the protections that federal law provides to other married couples towards their well-being, security, and prosperity.”
Now living in the Boston neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, Melba is CFO of a non-profit that creates economic and educational opportunities that help people in need reach their own dreams. Beatrice is a web professional and writer working on two books. New York Yankees fans in a Red Sox town, they share a love of baseball, a commitment to good food, and a passion for philanthropy. They dream of the day they can build a business together.
But because of the federal government’s discrimination and its refusal to allow them to file their income taxes jointly, they have paid from 2004 through 2008 an extra $25,359 in taxes – money that would have brought them closer to their dreams.
“We are citizens of this country and we should be treated equally,” says Melba. “But the fact that we are legally married is not enough; that we contribute and pay taxes is not enough; that we are a family is not enough. We are part of the fabric of this nation and we just want to be treated equally.”