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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?”