July 18, 2011
By Adam Bink
As I wrote earlier today, tomorrow we are holding a press conference in Washington, DC with Sen. Feinstein to highlight the damage that DOMA causes to Americans who haven’t broken any laws.
Below is the written testimony of couples who will be speaking at tomorrow’s event. We are also submitting this testimony for the Congressional record at Wednesday’s hearing.
America understands what “same-sex marriage” is. But when told of DOMA, we get many blank looks. The value of this week is to help America understand what the Defense of Marriage Act is and why it has to go.
COURAGE CAMPAIGN MEMBERS
KATHLEEN CUMISKEY and ROBIN GARBER
Married April 18, 2006, Together Nine Years
My wife Robin Garber and I live in Staten Island, New York. We are on the brink of witnessing full marriage equality in our home state thanks to the passage of the Marriage Equality Bill in New York on June 24, 2011. Those seeking marriage in New York can no longer be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. This has been such a welcomed victory for us, even though we had traveled out of country to be legally wed in Toronto, Canada.
In 2008, our marriage was recognized as legal by Governor Paterson, so we have been legally married in New York State ever since. I have to say, that while on some level I knew that this privileged our relationship over other same-sex relationships in New York and elsewhere, it wasn’t until June 24 of this year that we truly felt equal amongst our neighbors.
The air has changed in NYC. LGBT people feel more entitled and respected. But I want to feel that way no matter where I travel in my country.
Equality now stops at the border of our state. When we travel beyond New York, we will still have to carry around our very expensive box of documents. As long as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allows for any State, territory or possession of the United States to disrespect my marriage, we will have to carry this box everywhere. It includes our Last Will and Testament, our Power of Attorney, our Living Wills and Health Care Proxy. The box works to alleviate any anxiety that we may have because we may be denied the rights that any heterosexual married couple would be afforded simply by verbally identifying themselves as a “wife” or “husband.”
Being legally married in my state did not prevent my insurance company from adding $7,000 to my annual salary because my wife’s benefits were counted as added income – something that NEVER happens to heterosexual couples. We cannot file our taxes jointly because of DOMA. We can file jointly in our state, however. We are essentially second-class citizens. DOMA flies in the face of everything that we hold dear as Americans. The Respect for Marriage Act will distance us from this dark mark in U.S. history. Let us not delay justice any further.
COURAGE CAMPAIGN MEMBERS
ROBERT KOEHL and STYLIANOS MANOLAKAKIS
Bi-National Couple Together 15 Years
Fifteen years ago this Christmas, while on sabbatical from Hunter College where I am a professor of Classical Archaeology, I met and fell in love with a Greek fellow. I had never met anyone like Stylianos. We have been together ever since, but it’s not been easy.
After spending a small fortune traveling back and forth between Greece and the U.S. for several years, Stylianos applied for a 0-1 visa – an artist’s visa – to stay in the States longer. He is an accomplished playwright, director and actor here in New York City. He got the visa, but years later, when it came time to renew it, his request was denied. This was shortly after 9/11. The following months, years, were all very emotionally draining and destabilizing. It was a horrible situation, and not to mention all the legal fees we incurred! We spent thousands and thousands of dollars on attorney services – something many same-sex couples end up doing.
Two years from August of this year, Stylianos’ visa is up again.
There is no guarantee he will be given another one. If he’s denied, he’ll have to return to Greece and we begin again the exhausting and costly process of visiting each other when possible.
Our lawyer advised us not to marry because she said it might raise red flags. So, we’re waiting. As long as DOMA is in the books, there is no way our marriage would be recognized. But if DOMA got repealed, we would get married the following day.
I am nearly 60 years old. How much longer will I have to wait to enjoy the stability of a marriage with my long-term partner, without the fear that at any time, we will have to separate?
COURAGE CAMPAIGN MEMBERS
BETH VORRO and BETH CODERRE
Married September 18, 2004, Together 26 Years
By the time we got married in Massachusetts in 2004, my spouse and I had already been together for 19 years. As a federal employee, I immediately filled out the appropriate paperwork for a change in marital status. Although I knew it would be rejected, I also filled out the form to add my spouse to my health insurance plan. Someone apparently made a mistake at first, as we received a membership card and welcome packet for my spouse – even though I had included her name and gender on the application. After a few weeks, I received a call from someone in the Office of Personnel Management, saying I had “obtained health benefits illegally,” and that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevented the government from extending these benefits to my spouse.
Because my wife, Beth Coderre, is a psychotherapist in private practice, she purchases an individual health insurance policy – to the tune of about $635 a month. DOMA directly costs us over $7,000 a year and denies me wages and benefits equal to those extended to my colleagues. We estimate that’s about $70,000 of wasted money already in our careers. Money we could have tucked away for our retirement or some nice vacations. After 26 years together, we are still not considered a couple in the eyes of the federal government – a travesty created and perpetuated by DOMA.
Rhode Island recently passed a civil unions law. It states that any same sex couple who had a civil union in another state would be recognized as civilly united here. However, it’s silent on the issue of couples married in other states. Our marriage is not recognized as a marriage in Rhode Island because of DOMA. Nor is it recognized as a civil union because of the statute’s language. In other words, we can’t get civilly united in our state because we would have to state that we are not married. As a result, we have fewer rights as a married couple than one joined in a civil union. How unfair is that?
The bottom line is DOMA really makes a mess in the states, and causes couples the unnecessary stress of not knowing our legal status or rights. In Rhode Island, it puts us right back to where we were before we got married.
It occurred to us that we could have marriage in all 50 states, but if the federal government doesn’t recognize it, then what’s the point? Unless DOMA is repealed, our marriage is legally meaningless and our 26 years together dishonored.