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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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Despite Our Differences

Photograph of Oliver Sun & Glenn Miliken

Oliver Sun & Glenn Miliken

Glenn Milliken and Oliver Sun admit that they’re as different as two men can be. Oliver likes spreadsheets. Glenn prefers sandpaper.

“I’m the guy that builds things, fixes things and uses my hands,” says Glenn, a firefighter and self-described “country boy.” He enjoys sailing on the boat he built himself and his occasional work fixing up foreclosed properties.

Oliver, who works in the financial industry, boils down his household responsibilities this way: “I organize, I clean and I pay.” He loves the amenities of city life—art house films, coffee shops, bookstores.

While their individual interests are wildly divergent, they have some fundamental commonalities. “Way down deep,” says Glenn, “there’s a whole core set of values that are not different at all.” Both men value honesty above all else in their relationship. They both believe it’s important to support friends through tough times, and that their home in Dorchester should always be open as a gathering place for friends and family. Glenn also quickly took to Oliver’s family; early in their relationship he began accompanying Oliver to help out at the Westboro restaurant his parents used to own on busy holidays and when there were repairs to be done.

“It was nothing more than anyone would do for their in-laws,” says Glenn. “There were holidays that were just incredibly busy and if Oliver’s obviously heading out there to give them a hand on New Year’s Eve, I’d rather go with him and help out than sit home alone, so I’d go in just like their children did.”

Glenn, who grew up in Norwell, and Oliver, a native of Taiwan, exchanged wedding vows in their living room on November 18, 2005, joined by 40 friends and family members. Though they had been together for nearly five years prior to their marriage and owned a home together, almost immediately, Oliver felt a stronger sense of commitment to the relationship. When times get tough or when he and Glenn have a fight, taking off or breaking up no longer seem like viable solutions, he says. “I think the relationship [is] more solid. I think sometimes that sense of commitment [makes] a big difference.”

Happy to be recognized as a married couple by the state of Massachusetts, Glenn and Oliver were unaware of the limits DOMA placed on their marriage until they learned about the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program through GLAD. Under the program, when a public safety officer is killed in the line of duty, the officer’s spouse is eligible for a lump-sum payment—currently $311,810. Heterosexual spouses need only provide their marriage certificate when applying for the death benefit. But because the federal government does not recognize Glenn and Oliver’s marriage, Oliver would not receive the benefit by virtue of being Glenn’s spouse. Instead, Glenn, a 24-year member of the Mashpee Fire Department, has to either take the extra step of specifically designating Oliver as his beneficiary through his workplace, or naming Oliver as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy.

Glenn chose the latter route to ensure that Oliver will be provided for in the event he is killed on the job, but having to jump through that extra hoop just reinforced for the couple how disadvantaged they are as a married couple compared to their heterosexual counterparts. As Glenn points out, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit is just one of 1,138 federal benefits, rights and privileges he and Oliver are denied because of DOMA. That, he says, is “just plain wrong.”

“It really should be that the federal government at least honors what Massachusetts says is a spouse if the people are Massachusetts residents,” he says. “They don’t have to agree. They don’t have to do anything [but] exactly what they’d do to the same guy that’s on my shift – the guy that I work with every single day that’s married to a woman. I just want exactly the same thing,” says Glenn. “Nothing more.”

But neither man spends too much time these days dwelling on the inequities DOMA forces on them, though they very much want to see the law overturned. Now, they must focus on dealing with Glenn’s recent diagnosis of prostate cancer and his pending surgery in July. Though he’s confident the disease has been caught sufficiently early, Glenn is grateful that Oliver will be by his side through the ordeal.

“I realize more keenly than ever how glad I am that I’m not single,” says Glenn. “It is just like, it’s more clear than ever that I am just so grateful that I’ve got such a great guy. I have always valued my marriage more than anything in the world, but so help me it’s like double that even now.”

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