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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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DOMA ‘just doesn’t make sense’

Photograph of BJ Weiss & Marty Downs

BJ Weiss & Marty Downs

Perhaps it was fitting that Marty Downs and BJ Weiss respectively masqueraded as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell when they married at a small Halloween party at their Mansfield home in 2004. As far as the federal government is concerned, they may just as well have tied the knot in Never Never Land.

The lack of federal recognition for their marriage under DOMA mystifies Marty, a scientist who says it’s important that things make sense to her. As she explains, if a function of marriage and family is to create relationships in society and provide a form of “social insurance” that keeps family members from becoming destitute or dependent on the state, she and BJ certainly exemplify that.

“We are that kind of a family,” says Marty. “And you know, we don’t get [any] respect for it. We don’t get the rights and privileges of marriage for it. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Indeed, BJ, 53, and Marty, 47, have supported and cared for one another—and members of their extended family—throughout their nearly 16 years together. BJ was the breadwinner when Marty returned to school full time in 1999 to earn a master’s in science journalism. Later, when chronic illness forced an end to BJ’s career in human services management, Marty sought work that enabled her to provide for both of them, in addition to providing care to BJ when her symptoms were at their worst.

“She seems to have an unlimited amount of love and compassion and nurturance in her,” BJ says of her spouse.

Despite BJ’s struggles with lupus and other chronic disease, she was the primary caretaker for Marty’s father when he became seriously ill and moved in with the couple. Though BJ’s health problems made caring for her father-in-law challenging, there was one major benefit: “[Marty’s] father, I think, came to love me in a very unique way,” says BJ, “in part because when he was living with us, I was home during the day and caring for him while he was dying.” Now, the couple pitches in to care for BJ’s mother, who resides most of the time with BJ’s sister.

Concern for others is a central theme in the lives of both women. Marty helped found and expand The Clothesline Project in the 1990s with a group of women on Cape Cod to raise awareness of the problem of violence against women, in addition to other work on gay rights, poverty and race issues. She is now the associate director of Brown University’s Environmental Change Initiative, a multidisciplinary research and education program aimed at solving environmental problems. BJ, whose roots in social change activism stretch back to her adolescence, became involved in feminist issues and gay rights in the seventies, followed by AIDS in the early eighties. BJ and Marty also support animal rights causes; their American bulldog Gwen is a rescue dog.

Needless to say, after years of working to improve the lives of others, their disappointment at being treated unequally under DOMA is palpable. “When I’m doing my job and helping people, when I’m doing pro-bono work and helping people, when we get a rescue dog – all of these things are ways that we contribute to the community,” says BJ. “When we send a check to the animal shelter, when we support our schools by voting decent people onto the school board, these are all very human things that we do – and we pay our taxes. We deserve the same rights.”

In the addition to the headache and added expense of filing multiple tax forms, because of the law, they are forced to pay taxes on the health insurance benefits that BJ gets through Marty’s employer at a cost of about $70.00 per month.

Ironically, because they can’t file a joint federal return, according to Marty’s calculation they actually paid $20.00 less in federal taxes last year – hardly enough, though, to offset the cost of the tax on BJ’s health coverage. But DOMA isn’t a matter of money for BJ and Marty. As Marty observes, “We almost certainly pay more because we file jointly in Massachusetts.” But she doesn’t begrudge the state, given that her marriage is treated equally here. “I figure the extra cost of filing jointly is a small price to pay for the chance to be married here,” she says.

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