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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 There For Each Other Through Thick and Thin

Photograph of Alice Halstead & Joan Cousins

Alice Halstead & Joan Cousins

Alice Halstead, (61), and Joan Cousins, (62), were both independent 40-somethings when they met. Joan had built and lived in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness; Alice had toured alone on her bicycle while living in Europe. Now settled in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, the couple happily shares a deep commitment to their marriage along with an enduring appreciation for learning and adventure. Alice and Joan have also been diligent in paying down their mortgage. Like most couples in their 60s, the need for financial security has become much more central to their thinking and planning.

DOMA compromises that security by costing the couple thousands of dollars each year in extra taxes and harming their ability to collect Social Security.

“We pay our mortgage, mow the lawn, vote, volunteer, care for both our families, and we’re there for each other through thick and thin,” says Joan. “We go through what everyone else does. But our government doesn’t support us the same way it supports other married couples. And for this, we have to pay more taxes!”

In almost six years of marriage the couple has paid nearly $15,000 in extra federal taxes—taxes a married opposite-sex couple wouldn’t have to pay because they could file their federal taxes jointly. Joan, who works as a career and business coach and used to be a tax consultant, prepares their tax returns every year and is acutely aware of every extra dollar they pay.

The money they lose would help ease their current financial strain. Joan had two total knee replacements in 2008 and 2009 so her income suffered. A Registered Nurse, Alice took 8 months off to support Joan through the major surgeries and painful rehab. Then Alice’s 92-year-old mother, Gertrude, became almost totally bedridden. Alice moved to Worcester to care for her. Six months later, Gertrude moved into the couple’s home. With the help of hospice, Alice cares for Gertrude, but that means she no longer earns a salary. Gertrude has a small long-term care policy and her husband’s Social Security to help with the costs of her care. The thousands Joan and Alice pay in extra taxes every year would make a big difference after losing an entire salary.

Looking forward, Alice and Joan also worry about their ability to collect Social Security. As an independent contractor, Joan has contributed much less to Social Security than Alice, who worked full-time as a nurse. But unlike opposite-sex spouses, Joan won’t be eligible to receive half of Alice’s higher Social Security payment. And if Alice should predecease Joan, the federal government will deny Joan Alice’s higher Social Security payment.

“We believe in the idea of contributing for other Americans,” says Joan. “We both have worked, paid taxes, and paid into Social Security. But if we’re in a pickle, we won’t have the same protections as other married folks.”

“It’s not fair,” Alice agrees. “We are legally married. We’ve stood by each other – for better or worse – for more than 20 years. Joan’s mother had Alzheimer’s. Pop had congestive heart failure. Gertrude is declining very slowly. Yet we’ve never wavered in our commitment to our families and to each other. Every year, we are forced to say we are ‘single’ on our tax returns and overpay by thousands of dollars. That’s money we could really use right now.”

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