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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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We Love Traditional Marriage!

Photograph of Ailsa Wu & Kate Herman

Ailsa Wu & Kate Herman

Ailsa Wu didn’t make the decision to convert to Judaism overnight. Her connection to the Jewish faith grew as she attended services and weekly Shabbat dinners over the course of her seven year relationship with Kate Hermann, who is Jewish. “The more I learned, the more interested I became,” explains Ailsa.

After consulting with a rabbi, Ailsa, 39, enrolled in a conversion class, which Kate, 46, completed with her. She celebrated her conversion ceremony with the congregation at Lexington’s Temple Emunah in May 2009. At their Rabbi’s insistence, they exchanged wedding vows in a religious service later that month, even though they had been legally married since 2004. It was the first wedding of a same-sex couple to be performed at their temple.

After their religious wedding ceremony, Kate’s father remarked to the couple, “Now you’re really married.” The comment amused Kate, who says that her parents are not religious. “He was very excited the first time [we got legally married],” she notes. “He felt like now all of his kids were settled and he sort of didn’t need to worry about any of them. But this time he really seemed to feel that we really sealed it.”

The Waltham couple’s faith community is at the center of their life together. Both work at Billy Dalwin Pre-School of Temple Emunah; Kate is a teacher, Ailsa an administrative assistant. On the eve of their civil marriage ceremony – before Ailsa began working at the school – the parents of the children in Kate’s preschool class threw her a bridal shower, complete with sparkling grape juice and gifts chosen from the couple’s wedding registry.

But while they’re grateful for the love, support and relationship recognition from their families, co-workers, their faith tradition and the state of Massachusetts, Ailsa and Kate are equally frustrated by the federal government’s refusal to recognize their legal marriage because of DOMA. At tax time, they suffer financially because of their inability to file their federal tax returns jointly, as heterosexual married couples do. “Our tax accountant has said it would save us money if we could file the federal [tax returns] jointly,” says Kate. Instead, they must file their federal returns individually and their accountant must complete a “dummy” return to reconcile their joint state return with their individual federal returns – a process that costs them more time and money. Kate and Ailsa are also upset that under DOMA, they don’t have the same access to Social Security benefits and other protections as heterosexual couples do.

“It seems so unfair because when the federal government collects your money, it’s not gay money or straight money, it’s just money,” says Ailsa. “And why should ours be treated differently just because we’re two women who are married?”

Given their modest incomes, money is a concern, particularly since Kate and Ailsa are currently involved in the long and complex process of starting a family through adoption. They’re also concerned that once they do adopt, their legal status as parents could be questioned should they travel beyond Massachusetts to other states. They worry about getting the proper documentation to protect that relationship, Ailsa says, “because we can’t rely on the federal government to protect us.”

Ending DOMA’s disrespect of their marriage would certainly put an end to many of their worries, and allow them to better focus on becoming good parents. “It just continues to baffle me … why people want to keep DOMA in place,” says Ailsa. “They say, ‘Oh we want to protect traditional marriage,’ and I want to say, ‘From what? Me?’ I don’t have anything against traditional marriage. I love being married.”

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