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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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In the Eyes of the Federal Government, We Don’t Even Exist

Photograph of Kate Tyndall & Debra Grossman

Kate Tyndall & Debra Grossman

When Kate Tyndall, 56, and Debra Grossman, 59, met on Cape Cod in the summer of 1980, neither one was looking for something long-term. Despite that, Debra, a Cleveland native, and Kate, who grew up in Shrewsbury, MA, started a relationship that summer that culminated in their getting married exactly 24 years from the day they met, on July 5, 2004.

To the couple, who is extremely involved in their community in Lowell, their marriage represented a powerful way of sharing their commitment with their friends and neighbors. “We both take tremendous pride in our community and truly believe there is a lot to like about Lowell!” Kate exclaims. “Debra and I actively support and participate in many cultural events and organizations involving UMASS-Lowell, the city of Lowell, as well as the Greater Lowell community. Debra is the President of the Board of Trustees of Merrimack Repertory Theatre and is also a member of the Lowell Historic Board and serves on the Board of Directors for Girls, Inc. of Greater Lowell. There is a rich history here and it’s a wonderful urban landscape that continues to evolve through the hard work and dedication of Lowell’s citizens.”

“I didn’t necessarily choose a time or event to ‘come out’, and a lot of my friends didn’t necessarily publicly step out of the closet either,” Kate said. “Coming out was more about just living our lives. Debbie and I always presented ourselves as a couple, and we’re very active in our community so people just accepted us as community members first, and someone may have commented ‘Oh by the way, did you know they’re a couple?’ So, when we did get married, it was an important event. Our families, friends, and acquaintances in the community got the opportunity to embrace our same-sex relationship. It was a public declaration. We were finally equal to other married couples.”

Kate and Debra have both played large, although very different, roles in the marriages of others as well. Debra is a lawyer who specializes in matrimonial litigation.

“There was no pre-nup for us,” Debra laughed.

In addition to volunteering as a trauma intervention specialist Kate teaches Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  She also became a Justice of the Peace when marriage equality became a reality in 2004. Kate feels it is an honor to officiate at weddings.

However, despite all of their experience, knowledge, and work on behalf of other couples, Debra and Kate still face discrimination from the federal government in terms of their own marriage.

Due to having very different career paths, their annual incomes are significantly different. Though the couple files their state taxes jointly, they are not permitted to file a joint federal tax return because of DOMA.  Consequently, Debra pays much more in taxes than would be required if she and Kate were allowed to file as a married couple, and take both of their incomes and expenses into consideration.

Further, the negative impact of DOMA Section 3 affects almost every jointly owned asset.

“Since we can’t claim the unlimited marital deduction, everything that is joint, Kate can’t say that she contributed to,” says Debra. “It also passes through to life insurance proceeds and retirement savings. As a beneficiary, rather than a surviving spouse, it would be taxed to her.”

Social security is another troublesome issue. In the event of Debra’s death, Kate can’t collect as Debra’s surviving spouse, and her payments will be far lower.

“It totally negates a lot of the rights that supposedly go along with marriage,” Kate says. “To be on equal footing on so many levels (as married heterosexual couples), and yet, in the eyes of the federal government, we don’t even exist.”

Currently Debra and Kate are trying their best to ensure that as much of the couple’s joint income and savings as possible passes to the surviving spouse.

“The fact is, that as a gay couple, we must do a lot more planning, legally and financially, than heterosexual couples need to do, in order to ensure that our wishes are followed,” says Kate.

And while this brings frustration at times, the couple certainly isn’t going down without a fight. As Kate says, “We are a married couple. And it is about the joy…not the genders!”

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