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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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Love Makes a Family

Photograph of Annette Whitehead-Pleaux & Amy Whitehead-Pleaux

Annette Whitehead-Pleaux & Amy Whitehead-Pleaux

Amy and Annette Whitehead-Pleaux are committed first to their family. Annette works as a music therapist at a hospital for children in Boston – relieving pain and helping to motivate patients through music.  Amy runs a licensed childcare center at their home. But despite their busy schedules, Amy and Annette prioritize spending time with their three-year-old daughter Ellie. 

As Amy describes, “Fridays are special to me because they’re ‘Mama/Ellie Days’.  She and I try to do something special like go to the zoo or the Children’s Museum. Then when Annette comes home from work on Friday nights, our weekend begins.  Saturdays and Sundays are our family days, so they’re usually centered on the three of us. We hang out, go swimming at the YMCA, and go to the zoo or to story time at the library.  Our child is our entire life.”

Amy and Annette first met while members of the Freedom Trail band, a gay/lesbian marching band in Boston. Amy played percussion and Annette played the saxophone.  As Amy describes, “When I first met Annette in 1999, I knew right away that she was special. The running joke between Annette and me is that we love each other so much, we got married three times.”

Indeed, the couple celebrated their love for each other twice in 2001 and once in 2004.  In March 2001, they made an arrangement with a Justice of the Peace for a civil union in Vermont.  In October 2001, Amy and Annette had a church wedding, with friends and family coming in from all over the country.  And in 2004, they finally had a legal marriage in Cambridge.

The institution of marriage means so much to Amy and Annette because they know how hard won this right was.  “We went to get married on the first day they would let us,” Annette says, “and it was awesome.  It was so moving to tell someone how much you love them”.  Amy adds, “Our wedding vows mean the world to both of us”.

Amy and Annette love the life that they live – both the time they get to spend with their family and the work that they do - but the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has forced their family to make choices that they would not have otherwise made.

Through her job at the hospital, Annette is part of a self-funded insurance plan governed by the federal agency ERISA, which initially prevented Annette from adding Amy on her Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. 

After Amy started her own daycare business, there was a back-and-forth between Annette’s employer and the Whitehead-Pleauxs when the hospital refused to put Amy on Annette’s health insurance plan.  Finally the hospital agreed to put Amy on the plan, but because of DOMA Annette is forced to pay federal income taxes on the additional income resulting from Amy’s premiums, which a married straight couple would not have to pay.

In addition to the financial costs that DOMA inflicts upon them, the couple has to deal with the feeling of being treated unequally.  Annette describes, “We’re not given the same benefits as our heterosexual co-workers.  [My co-workers] are really supportive, but it’s hard sometimes to go in to work and know that I’m not equal to everyone else.”

Despite the trying experiences that DOMA has caused for them, Amy and Annette still feel incredibly blessed.  They enjoy all of the time they get to spend with each other and their daughter Ellie.  “Love makes a family, whether you are raised by same-sex parents, grandparents, or foster parents.  We want to raise our daughter to be everything that she can be, that she wants to be, and we want her to know that she’s loved and protected.”

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