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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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Truth Depends On a Walk Around the Lake

Photograph of Dick Rubinstein

Dick Rubinstein

Soon there will be a new park bench overlooking the northeast corner of Spy Pond in Arlington, Massachusetts.  The plaque on the bench will read: 

Eric W. Kurtz 1936-2009
“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
-Wallace Stevens

With the help of over 90 of their friends, Dick Rubinstein (pictured above, right, with his mother and his late husband, Eric) was able to purchase the bench to commemorate his husband Eric’s life and his particular appreciation for the beauty that is Spy Pond.

Walking around Spy Pond was one of Eric’s rituals.  That, and playing viola in a local amateur string quartet going on 37 years, swimming laps 4 times a week at the Arlington Boy’s and Girl’s club, and traveling with Dick and Allison, Dick’s mother, a retired high school biology teacher, to exotic places like the Galapagos Islands and the pyramids of Mexico.

Dick and Eric met in 1997 at the Boston Gay and Bisexual Married Men’s Support Group.  Each had a wife and children, each knew there was something missing in his life, but had waited until his kids had grown to face the truth about his sexual orientation.  Eric was 61—from Oberlin, Ohio, and a former Wellesley English professor with a PhD in English from Yale.  Dick was 50—a Southern Californian with a PhD from University of California, Irvine.  They clicked right away—brainy, into the arts and sciences, and passionate about living their life together to the fullest.

The couple moved to Arlington, immersed themselves in the community and made lasting friends with folks on the block.  In 2004, following the Goodridge decision, it was their neighbors who nudged them to get married. “I hadn’t realized how important the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision was until we got married,” Dick says.  “It really changes how the world sees you.  We felt truly accepted.”

On February 13, 2009, Eric died at home unexpectedly, following routine colon surgery.  Just over a year later, Dick Rubinstein is still dealing with the loss. “Some days are better than others. It’s unpredictable,” he says.  “I keep very busy.”  Since retiring, Dick has volunteered for the Arlington Friends of Drama Theater as a sound and lighting designer.

Six months after Eric’s death, Dick called GLAD’s InfoLine.  A usually calm, easy-going person, this day he was angry.  Although he knew he’d be denied, he’d applied for Social Security survivor and spousal benefits anyway.  When the denial letter arrived, though he wasn’t surprised by the decision, he was surprised at his emotional reaction.  “It’s different, knowing something on an abstract level and then having it happen to you.”  Living on a fixed income, Dick would certainly benefit from the bigger monthly check he’d receive if his marriage to Eric were taken into account – but it wasn’t the money.  It was the principle.  “It was an insult,” he says.  “Here I am—grieving the loss of my spouse and then the government says our marriage doesn’t count.”

The InfoLine provided Dick with a listening ear and information about how exactly DOMA affects his Social Security benefits. But there was nothing GLAD could tell him that would make the Social Security Administration treat him the same as his married heterosexual neighbors.

For so many widowers and widows, DOMA adds insult to injury at a time when one is most in need of comforting and support.  Yet Dick is fortunate—he’s in regular psychotherapy, has the genuine support of friends and family, and soon will be able to sit on Eric’s bench—watching the Canada geese swimming on Spy Pond and reliving the warmth he and Eric shared together.

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