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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’re a Family, Just Like the Family Across the Street

Photograph of Jerry Savoy & John Weiss

Jerry Savoy & John Weiss

In 2008, after 10 years together, Damon “Jerry” Savoy and John Weiss abandoned the bustle of New York City for the quieter surroundings of Danbury, Connecticut because they wanted to raise a family. In Danbury, they found a spacious home with a large backyard, great schools, and a supportive faith community just down the street.

Both come from large, loving families—John has four siblings; Jerry three. “We both had strong family environments,” says John. “We spent a lot of time with our families growing up.” When they began the adoption process through Connecticut’s foster care system, a big family was all that made sense, so they requested a sibling group join their family.

In August 2009, their three children –Ashley, now 11, Melissa, now 10, and Dante, now 2 – moved in with them on a permanent basis. When the adoptions were finalized in December 2010, the family celebrated the occasion quietly. “We’d already been a family for a year and a half,” Jerry explains. “But it’s nice that the legality of it is done and we celebrated it with the children so that they understand that this is a momentous event in their life.”

Jerry, 47, has worked as an attorney at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the federal agency that charters, regulates, and supervises national banks, since 1992. John, 41, an interior designer, set aside his career to be a stay-at-home parent.

They met in 1998 through a mutual friend when both lived in Washington, D.C. Though John moved back to his native Buffalo shortly afterward, they maintained a long-distance relationship. Four months later, John returned to D.C. to be with Jerry.

“We clicked,” says Jerry. “It worked. We have a lot in common and at the same time we’re very different. I like to say that we complement each other in those areas where we’re most deficient ourselves. We don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but when we don’t it’s oftentimes for our own amusement.”

Aside from being new parents, Jerry and John are also newlyweds. Last October, with just their children by their sides, they married in a ceremony at First Congregational Church, where the family attends services and participates in the congregation’s charity work.

Jerry says their wedding was “an opportunity to reinforce to the children that we are a family.” They surprised their daughters Ashley and Melissa with new dresses and flower bouquets and presented them with heart-shaped lockets during the ceremony. “We told them that was a symbol of our commitment to them, that this was something that we were doing as a family,” Jerry says. “The girls wear the lockets every day.” Dante wore a new suit and tie with a boutonniere that matched the ones his dads wore. John compiled a wedding photo album and gave it to the girls. “They look at it a lot,” he says.

Jerry and John relish creating family memories and sharing new experiences with their children. “The greatest joy is when you can see how much they appreciate something that they’ve never experienced,” says Jerry. “Going to New York City or going to Maine, or something as simple as eating something they’ve never eaten before that they decide, you know, maybe it’s pretty good.”

Unfortunately, Jerry and John are hurt by the federal government’s refusal to recognize their marriage under DOMA. As a federal employee, Jerry is unable to cover John, who was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, on his family health insurance plan. Instead, they must buy individual coverage for John that costs $440.00 per month.

Ironically, OCC partially subsidizes the cost of John’s health insurance because the agency is not appropriated by Congress, and therefore, even though the OCC is governed by DOMA, it can set some of its own benefits policies. Under OCC’s domestic partnership policy, the agency reimburses up to 72 percent of John’s health insurance premium up to a maximum of $345 per month, which equals about $180 a month. So at the same time that the federal government refuses to allow John to get health insurance coverage under Jerry’s family plan, it is subsidizing his coverage at a greater cost to itself. As Jerry points out, “the federal government is paying for insurance for a self and family plan for me and the kids and is paying towards John’s health insurance separately because of the fact that they reimburse that amount. So the design behind DOMA is that the federal government doesn’t recognize John as my spouse, but the absurd result is that they are in fact paying for John’s health insurance twice.”

Despite the reimbursement, Jerry and John still pay roughly $3,120 out of pocket annually for John’s insurance. “We have three kids that we have to raise,” says Jerry. “We live paycheck to paycheck just like everybody else. We are a family just like the person across the street that’s entitled to put their spouse on their health insurance. Why can’t we do that?”

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