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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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The Drip, Drip, Drip of DOMA’s Disrespect

Photograph of Leslie Horst & Louise Forrest

Leslie Horst & Louise Forrest

In 1998, in an Episcopal church filled with friends and family, Leslie Horst and Louise Forrest of Watertown exchanged rings and pledged lifelong commitment to one another in a religious celebration known as a covenant ceremony. It signified that Leslie and Louise were settled people, in a long-term relationship that others supported with their caring and prayers; some family members had flown across the country to be there. For both of them, the love and support of family was profoundly important.

The simple act of wearing that ring had an unforeseen impact on Louise. “I remember being in the swimming pool at my health club and being so happy to have a wedding band on my finger – that I was like the other married women in the swimming pool,” Louise recalls. “That was a sign that I had entered into a different position in life.”

After many years of saying that she was single, because she was closeted in the church she then served as an Episcopal priest, Louise eventually began to admit to some that she was dating and then living with a woman. After the covenant service, wearing the ring signaled that she was married; she didn’t need to go into any details about who she was married to unless she wanted to. 

However, as much as the covenant service was a marriage, it did not yet have the force of law. In 1998 neither Leslie nor Louise would have predicted that the momentous change in Massachusetts law that happened in 2003-2004 would occur so soon. Certainly they had already celebrated their relationship in all the other ways they could over the course of their 19 years together. Besides their religious ceremony, Louise, 62, and Leslie, 65, registered as domestic partners in Boston in the early 1990s, and they were joined in a Vermont civil union in August 2001.  Finally, in August of 2004 they got legally married in an intimate ceremony at Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown.  Says Louise of the ever-expanding recognition, legal and otherwise, of their relationship, “It’s very interesting to me how it’s been a very long process, and it’s really not finished yet.”

That process won’t ever be complete as long as DOMA is on the books, because it prevents the federal government from recognizing Louise and Leslie’s marriage, thus depriving them of important protections other married couples enjoy. According to Leslie, it sometimes takes one concrete example to “get it” about the impact of something like DOMA. For her, this moment came with the realization that she would be forced to pay twice as much per month for her individual Medicare Part B health insurance coverage because her monthly premium is calculated based on her income as a “single” person instead of her and Louise’s combined income, as other married couples are allowed to do. Thus, Leslie pays $211 a month for her Medicare Part B, instead of the $110.50 she would pay if the federal government recognized her marriage to Louise.

Leslie, a former Boston Public Schools employee who now does market research and consulting for educational institutions, is at least as bothered by “all the little fine tentacles of the discrimination” inherent in DOMA as she is by the financial penalties.

“It’s the drip, drip, drip of disrespect, even though for us it has not been as disastrous and horrible as many of the things that have happened to people [because of DOMA].  I’m well aware that Louise and I are lucky in many ways,” she says, noting that she’s able to provide Louise, who is also a garden coordinator for CitySprouts, with family dental and individual health insurance through her current and previous employers’ health plans.

Louise, however, is concerned about DOMA’s impact on their finances, especially should Leslie pass away before her. Louise’s income is substantially less than Leslie’s. And, she’d be ineligible to receive survivor benefits from Social Security, or Leslie’s City of Boston employee pension (for reasons unrelated to DOMA). “My safety net is at risk,” says Louise. She expects that the loss of the income stream would take her out of a strong middle class lifestyle to a lower middle class lifestyle, require her to sell their home and try to work full time until at least 70. 

Having witnessed – and benefited from – the progression of relationship recognition for same-sex couples over the course of nearly two decades, Louise and Leslie would like to hope that DOMA will soon be overturned. “For me it would mean that we’re not schizophrenic,” says Louise of life without DOMA. “It would mean when we send our information to our accountant there’s one way in which it’s analyzed: as a married couple both in Massachusetts and with the IRS.” 

“At the most concrete level it’d probably save us thousands of dollars a year, and it would also reduce anxiety,” says Leslie, but just the thought of DOMA’s repeal renders her momentarily speechless as she contemplates what true equality would be like.

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