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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 “I already had a family insurance plan through work, but the federal government had withdrawn taxes for Dorene’s coverage.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.”