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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 Puts Unnecessary Pressure on New Hampshire Dads

Photograph of William Wesley & Joseph Wesley

William Wesley & Joseph Wesley

When William and Joseph Wesley began planning their commitment ceremony there was no legal recognition for same-sex couples in New Hampshire. It didn’t matter. Reflecting their deeply religious backgrounds, the couple wanted the blessing of their church and the support of their families and their community as they embarked on a future that would soon include three children.

“A relationship needs to be supported by the community,” says Joe, 32. “You need that support and that system behind you, telling you that, ‘We support you; we’re here for you.’ And especially being a gay couple, I think the pressures are increased.”

They had recently become licensed foster parents – a first step to becoming adoptive parents – and they wanted to formalize their relationship in some way so it would be clear to their future children that they were a family.

As they were planning to have their relationship blessed in the Episcopal Church they attended, New Hampshire legalized civil unions. On May 10, 2008 – their fourth anniversary – with more than 100 friends, fellow congregants and family members present, they were joined in a civil union. After the state’s marriage equality law passed in 2009, their civil union was upgraded to a marriage.

Joe speaks from experience about the increased pressure on gay couples, beginning with how he and Wil met: when both were involved with Exodus International, a fundamentalist Christian ministry that preaches that homosexuality is a spiritual deficit that can and must be overcome through belief in Jesus.

Though they were fortunate enough to find and fall in love with each other, they were not unscathed by their Exodus experience. Leaving the ministry meant losing a support system. “We lost a great many friends as a result,” says Wil. “So we had to find another community, we had to find other people that would support us and love us.”

What neither man lost was his faith – although they have lingering hurt and anger over Exodus’s message that living affirmatively as a gay person is sinful.

“[My faith] remains essential to who I am but obviously it had to take a new twist as I realized that I might be alright just the way God made me,” says Wil, who was raised by devoutly religious parents whose understanding of Christianity made accepting their gay son difficult.

“Faith has been a big factor for me,” says Joe, who was raised Pentecostal. But he adds, “I think I have dealt with more bitterness than Wil has. I would say that I have more bad days than he has.”

Committing to a life with Wil affected more than Joe’s religious outlook. Joe had enlisted in the Navy at 18. He continued to serve for the first two years of their relationship but because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he was forced to remain in the closet. “One of the deciding factors for me to get out of the military was because it was just too much pressure,” he says. However, he continues to work as a civilian for the Navy as a Referral Specialist.

Wil and Joe make their home in Rochester. In 2009, they adopted three siblings through the state foster care system—Kayleigh, 10; Destiny, 8, and Nathaniel, 6 – who otherwise might have been split up. Joe recalls how he had to adapt to having a small brood in one fell swoop when the kids came to live with them. He says, “They’re very smart, smart children, so they keep you on your toes for sure.” The couple is also currently fostering a 9-month-old boy.
Wil and Joe are celebrating Father’s Day with their children, after attending church together as a family. On the Friday, Wil’s mother – who has since become very supportive of Wil and his family, as has his father –spent the night with her grandkids while Wil and Joe attended a Navy Corpsman Ball. “It was really one of my first events with this group of people where I could attend as his husband and not his ‘friend,’” says Wil. 

The pressure they face as a gay couple now is because of DOMA, which prevents Joe from covering Wil on his health insurance plan as other federal employees can do for their spouses. When Wil left his job as a social worker to receive a master’s in special education, he lost his health insurance. Rather than bear the high cost of private insurance, he went without it for 18 months. They calculated the risk as worthwhile at the time because a teaching degree increased Wil’s earning potential and landed him a job that enabled him to be home with the kids most afternoons and during school vacations.

“I have almost fifteen years with the government, including my military time, and he needs health insurance and I can’t put the person I’m married to on my plan,” says Joe. “That’s just insanity to me.”

Wil now works as a special education teacher with third and fourth graders. Though he enjoys his job, he would prefer to be a stay-at-home parent or work part-time so the kids wouldn’t need daycare after school. “We would love for our children to have somebody at home with them,” he says. But neither man wants Wil to be uninsured again, nor does it make sense to have Joe stay at home because he’s the family’s primary breadwinner.

More than the financial concerns, Wil and Joe don’t want to have to explain DOMA to their children.

“If I have to tell my children that there’s a law in this free country called the Defense of Marriage Act, a name which is a complete misnomer,—I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t want to have to explain that well, what they’re defending heterosexual marriage from is us. I think that’s an awful thing for a kid to have to learn from their parents or from anyone.”

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