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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 Makes Us Feel Erased

Photograph of Bette Jo Green & Jo Ann Whitehead

Bette Jo Green & Jo Ann Whitehead

Bette Jo and Jo Ann became friends as college students in 1960. They reconnected twenty years later in Massachusetts, and fell in love. After 23 years as a couple, they were legally married on June 7, 2004 in the garden of their Jamaica Plain home.

Bette Jo, 68, retired last year after a 35-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. Jo Ann, also 68, still works part-time as a garden educator. But both are deeply involved in supporting their community full-time. “We both volunteer and are active in our Neighborhood Watch,” says Jo Ann. “Bette Jo takes elderly neighbors on shopping trips and both of us help at programs for local children and youth, including weekly summer barbecues.”

They have found joy in the good times and have loved and supported each other through the hard times—through losing parents, losing friends, and both their battles with cancer. Now both cancer-free, they still worry about each other’s health as they age. They worry about their financial future. But unlike other married people their age, their worries are multiplied by federal discrimination. They lose money each year because they are denied the spousal Social Security benefit that would increase Jo Ann’s monthly Social Security payment.

Bette Jo and Jo Ann also have very real concerns about each other’s quality of life as a surviving spouse. “My mother lived to be 95, and we recently celebrated my aunt’s 100th birthday. Bette Jo and I joke about the longevity of my family, but there is a real possibility that I could outlive her,” says Jo Ann. “Under DOMA, the federal government will deny me Bette Jo’s Social Security survivor benefit. I will not only lose the love of my life, I will lose more than $12,864 each year— and will not be able to meet the costs of living, including maintaining our home, as well as paying for food and non-insured medical care.”

“We have both worked hard at our jobs—jobs we have loved, but they never were going to make us wealthy,” says Bette Jo. “We have paid into Social Security all our lives, but now we are not fully protected by the system the way other married couples are. DOMA makes us feel erased, like we don’t even exist.”

Bette Jo and Jo Ann are plaintiffs in GLAD’s challenge to DOMA, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. Read more about their story.

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