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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.”