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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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Our Lives and Dreams Are at the Mercy of DOMA

Photograph of Niles da Silva & Thiago da Silva

Niles da Silva & Thiago da Silva

Niles and Thiago da Silva met on a Sunday morning in 2002 at the Quincy Center T stop just outside of Boston. They struck up a conversation, had a lot to talk about, and agreed to get coffee together in Boston. Coffee turned into lunch, lunch turned into a hike, a hike turned into more coffee, which turned into dinner. They were engaged six months later and legally married in Massachusetts in 2004.

“We knew from the beginning that we were soulmates,” says Thiago. “We both found something in the other person that was special and different from any other person we had dated in the past.”

Now, struggling to find a way to stay together before Thiago’s visa expires next year, it is one of the only things in their lives that is still certain.

Originally from New Mexico, Niles moved to Boston ten years ago to take a job in finance. Around the same time, Thiago came to the city from Brazil to learn English.  He fell in love with the city and with Niles and decided to build a life here.

The federal government helps keep binational families together by letting U.S. citizens sponsor non-citizen spouses for a marriage-based “green card,” which gives immigrant spouses permanent resident status. Green card holders aren’t U.S. citizens, but can get a Social Security number, can work, and can get a driver’s license.

But Niles can’t sponsor Thiago for a green card any more than he could a stranger walking down the street. Because of DOMA the federal government sees them as strangers—not as a married couple together for nearly a decade. A green card simply isn’t an option for them. To stay together when Thiago’s visa expires next year they may be forced to leave the country.

“If we were an opposite-sex couple Thiago could apply for a green card as my legal spouse—which he is. But in the eyes of the federal government he is no one to me,” says Niles. “It makes me feel like my country doesn’t really care about me.”

DOMA is a costly and dangerous double standard for Niles and Thiago—costly because in leaving the country they will leave behind the stability of Niles’ job. And dangerous because they will also be forced to leave behind the security of the health insurance they both receive through Niles’ employer. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in his early 20s, Thiago needs careful medical supervision and daily care. Twice he has had to spend up to three weeks in the hospital for medical problems related to his MS. Paying for this care is only possible because of Niles’ job and his health insurance.

“We know we will get through this because we love each other and because we have support from our families and friends,” says Niles. “We understand each other and we share our lives and dreams together. But more and more our lives and dreams are at the mercy of DOMA.”

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