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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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Marriage is More Than a Legal Document

Photograph of Suzanne Smith & Chris Parrish

Suzanne Smith & Chris Parrish

Suzanne, 60, and Chris, 63, first met 24 years ago at a jazz lounge in Atlanta.  They had a mutual friend who had been trying to introduce them for a while, and when they finally were able to meet up, they bonded over an appreciation of local jazz legend Bernadine Mitchell, and have been together ever since.

Suzanne served for 22 years as an officer in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps before retiring, and Chris worked as a hospital infection control nurse in Atlanta before the couple decided to move to Massachusetts.

For Suzanne and Chris, one of the biggest concerns was moving to a place where they could feel comfortable being themselves. Suzanne recalls, “Leaving Atlanta, we had the opportunity to choose where we would move.  We selected Massachusetts because after the Goodridge decision, we wanted to move to a place where we’d have the opportunity to get married.  We felt as though we could be full citizens in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Almost immediately after their 2005 move, Chris and Suzanne married at the Japanese tea house on the Smith College campus on October 18th.  Suzanne and Chris were surprised that the mere act of getting married changed their relationship.  Chris says, “When we got married, we had been together for 19 years; we knew we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives.  We had thought that a marriage license was just a legal document but it turned out to be so much more.  We are no longer second-class citizens.” Suzanne agrees: “We never anticipated that we would feel even more committed to each other.”

Despite the joys and recognition that come with being a married couple, Suzanne and Chris still deal with a number of issues.  As a retired officer from a uniformed service who served for more than 20 years, Suzanne is entitled to a federal pension.  However, should Suzanne pass away first, Chris would not be eligible to receive Suzanne’s pension. Suzanne worries about Chris’s financial security should that happen.

“I live in Massachusetts, so the injustice I feel is with the federal government.  This is particularly aggravating because I was a federal employee and my pension is linked to the federal government.  If I were to die first, my spouse of 24 years would not receive anything because we are in a same-sex marriage,” explains Suzanne. “But my former coworkers who are married to someone of the opposite sex are able to provide for their spouses in a way that I cannot.”

As a result of DOMA Section 3, Suzanne and Chris have been forced to do additional financial planning that they would not if they were a different-sex married couple.  The couple puts away extra money, in effect creating a parallel retirement account to replace the one that Chris isn’t eligible to receive.  They pay a hefty monthly premium for a life insurance policy to help cover the tens of thousands of dollars a year that Chris will not be receiving should Suzanne pass away first.

Chris and Suzanne continue to struggle with the uncertainty that the Defense of Marriage Act brings to their planning for the future.  But their lives have been much improved since moving to Massachusetts, where they can be treated just like every other married couple.  The couple has been engaged in simplifying their lives and living with different priorities.  Suzanne says, “We had been career-focused in Atlanta.  Now, we spend a lot more time together working on the garden.  We travel more.  Chris has always done this, but now we both can give back to the community.  And just have adventures together!”

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