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DOMA Stories:
Federal Marriage Discrimination Hurts Families

GLAD is in court challenging the federal government's discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. In Gill v OPM and Pedersen v OPM, we represent couples and widowers who are harmed in various ways by DOMA. But DOMA hurts many more people than we can represent in these lawsuits.

In these stories, loving couples, widows and widowers, from all walks of life, describe how DOMA hurts their families.

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A Very Ordinary Family

Photograph of Rebecca Rehm & Judi Burgess

Rebecca Rehm & Judi Burgess

Rebecca Rehm and Judi Burgess work hard at their jobs. They have a lovely two-year-old daughter, Beau, and a cozy farmhouse with a yard and garden in a small town west of Boston. But despite all of this the federal government denies them something fundamental—recognition that they are legally married in their home state of Massachusetts.

Rebecca and Judi have been together for ten years and married for six. They are still “happily in love” but these days Beau is at the center of their world. On their daily hour-long commute into Boston with Beau they listen to music, tell stories, and read her favorite books. Beau goes to a day care near where Judi works as an Assistant General Manager for the MBTA. At lunch time, Judi will stop by the day care center and check in with Beau and her teachers. In the evening, back at home, Beau and Rebecca work together on preparing dinner while Judi sings to them from the piano in the next room.

“We’re a very ordinary family,” says Rebecca, who runs the public education program at a genetics center at Partners HealthCare. “Boring, actually. And we like that.”

But ordinary doesn’t mean that life is easy or even that the federal government treats them like other married couples. They have worries, and they are often reminded of their second-class status as a married couple.

Because the federal government does not consider them married Rebecca had to pay federal taxes on the value of the health insurance Judi received through Partners. Judi switched back to her own employer’s plan—now she pays thousands more each year for less comprehensive coverage. The family loses thousands more dollars each year because the federal government denies Judi and Rebecca the right to file their federal taxes jointly as a married couple.

“Every year we lose money that we could be using for family expenses or setting aside for Beau’s college fund,” says Rebecca. “It’s a yearly penalty and a reminder that in the eyes of the federal government we are not equal to other married couples.”

They have concerns about the future, too. Judi’s income is significantly higher than Rebecca’s, which means that when they’re older her monthly Social Security payment will be higher. Lower-earning spouses typically are eligible for half of their higher-earning spouse’s Social Security payments—but Rebecca won’t be. She also won’t be eligible for Judi’s full Social Security payment if Judi predeceases her.

For Judi all of this hits hard. “Because of DOMA we are not a family in the eyes of the federal government,” she says. “I feel like half a citizen.”

“One of the reasons we got married,” Rebecca says, “was to have the legal protection our relationship deserved and to prepare our family for the future. The federal government’s double standard for our family means we will never be as prepared as other married couples.”

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