The last thing we anticipated over a year ago at the start of our journey is that by the thinnest margin of one vote, a Supreme Court decision would bring us home. Our life is similar to so many of our friends because we met almost 25 years ago, knew within a year that we had found the person we wanted to live with "till death do us part", and made a personal commitment to a lifetime partnership.
Unfortunately, our commitment has never been recognized by the Federal Government as valid so we were unable to get Jess insurance, tax, or annuity benefits through Sally's federal job. These would have been financially helpful in the past, but are even more important now as we travel. If Jess was a man, we would have saved almost $4,000 dollars in health insurance last year, $6,800 this coming year and almost $70,000 over the next decade, and she would have received better coverage with lower deductibles. If male, Jess would also receive half of Sally's annuity and all of her social security survivor benefits if Sally passed first. Our current life expectancy calculations result in projected benefits for Social Security being worth an additional $159,264 and annuity benefits being $62,784.
None of those tangible economic benefits were possible while the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defined, for the purpose of thousands of federal laws and rules, that marriage was only legitimate between a man and a woman. DOMA barred same-sex married couples from being recognized as "spouses" for the purpose of receiving federal benefits such as health insurance, social security survivors' benefits, inheritances, annuities, and the filing of joint tax returns.
Things changed dramatically on June 26, 2013, when the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down parts of DOMA as unconstitutional, agreeing with the president who said "This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people." We don't perceive that we are particularly political or extreme in our views; however, it does sadden us and grind us down a bit when we are not allowed the same benefits because of the simple choice of who, and what gender, we love. We have always been well treated by our friends, colleagues, families and employers, but have been prohibited some tangible benefits at every stage of our lives routinely provided to our heterosexual friends.
For us, it is a simple financial decision to fly to California, stand with our witnesses who have supported us for over two decades, and tie the knot. It is also an incredibly symbolic decision that slowly, in our country, we will be treated with more equality than when we left a year ago. Same-sex marriage is allowed in 13 states and prohibited in 29. At least now, if married in one of those 13 states, we can receive the same federal benefits as our heterosexual friends. So we are coming home. And getting married.
We hope to see family and friends for the few short weeks we plan on being home before we head to Nepal. We miss you, and we will have much to celebrate with you!
Images are of a much younger couple on an ATV doing research in 1990 in the Gunnison Basin, a Galapagos class trip in 2004, and a quiet moment in Bolivia last year on the salt flats. Posted in Yogjakarta, Java, Indonesia.