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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in MA » MASSACHUSETTS (all topics) » Love Does Not Discriminate
Darla Himeles and Betsy Reese     BY: Brad Fowler
Love Does Not Discriminate

Part 2 – Why Is Marriage Important to Same-Sex Couples?

By Mark B. Oliver | September 27, 2010

Previous Article in this Series

In this second installment ONE looks at the individual story of one couple.

Many opposite-sex couples do not marry and live quite happily together, so the question is often asked, why do same-sex couples want or need the right to marry? There is nothing to stop a couple from living together with all the benefits co-habitation provides, so why marriage?

Darla with her Wedding Bouquet
BY & COPYRIGHT: Brad Fowler

Darla Himeles and Betsy Reese met at Bryn Mawr College, where they both worked in 2006. They developed a deep and loving relationship over the course of the next year before moving in together in the fall of 2007.

“I was very aware,” explains Darla, “of how we were perceived as a couple. Not only are we lesbians, but there is an age difference between us, as well. I wanted our love, our relationship, to be recognized in a way that just living together simply doesn’t provide.”

Darla decided to propose to Betsy during Thanksgiving in front of a subset of Darla’s extended family.

“I wanted everyone to see how much I loved Betsy, that love is love, and for them to see what love looks like between two people, regardless of gender.”

Although Darla was confident of Betsy’s reply, she was extremely nervous before proposing, not knowing how those in her extended family would react. “I was waiting for the right moment when, unable to bare the tension any longer, I sharply pulled back my chair, ducked under the Thanksgiving table, and proposed as everyone looked on.”

“I was overwhelmed and amazed,” says Betsy. “Both of my parents are deceased, so it was wonderful for me to experience the outpouring of love not only from Darla, but from her entire family, all of whom were deeply moved by Darla’s proposal.”

Lawyer Marc LaCasse of The McCormack Firm, LLC, addresses the legal issues surrounding couples who are unable to marry.

“Property can be jointly owned by a couple, and under that joint tenancy, ownership would pass to the survivor upon the death of one of them. This is a simple and cost effective way to protect your partner.” But this only covers one of many, many issues.

Marc LaCasse
BY & COPYRIGHT: The McCormack Firm, LLC

“To some extent, couples can protect themselves by preparing legal documents. A will is needed, as otherwise on death the assets will transfer under intestacy laws to the parents and siblings of the deceased — not the unmarried partner. If both individuals sign health care proxies and a power of attorney in favor of the other, this provides legal rights during their lifetime in the event of illness and hospitalization.”

In his experience, however, Marc has determined that most unmarried couples, both opposite-sex and same-sex, don’t prepare the necessary documentation or keep existing wills up-to-date, which causes more heartache when a tragic event occurs. Even if couples do protect themselves in this way, there are over 1,300 federal rights that unmarried couples cannot claim and that cannot be covered by legal documentation alone.

“By way of example,” continues Marc, “upon death, a surviving spouse can elect to take his or her spouse’s social security benefit if it is higher than their own. This right is not available to unmarried couples or same-sex spouses.” So even though the same-sex partners have paid social security contributions identical to their opposite-sex counterparts, by being unable to marry, or by not having their marriage recognized by the federal government, pensioners not only have to cope with the loss of their loved ones, but also deal with potential financial hardship.

“One of the many predicaments caused by Massachusetts and other states allowing couples to marry is that although they are obligated to file state tax returns as married couples, they must file individual federal returns,” Marc explains.

“Another point that bears mention is immigration. For same-sex couples with one partner who is foreign, there is no way to petition Immigration Services for permanent residency based on the partnership. Even if, for example, a couple were to marry in Massachusetts (and let’s say one partner was an American citizen and the other an Australian citizen), they would not be able to naturalize the Australian because the federal government does not recognize their marriage. For many gay and lesbian couples, this is a huge barrier that opposite-sex couples would never encounter when it comes to immigration.”

Betsy on her Wedding Day
BY & COPYRIGHT: Brad Fowler

Jean Lacovara was one of the many guests at Darla and Betsy’s wedding.

“I have seen close friends and family resort to extreme measures to make sure their relationships and partnerships are recognized by friends, family and their communities, unfortunately sometimes without success. I have been astonished at the amount of documentation and legal advice that is necessary to make certain that both people are treated as well as a sanctioned married couple would be in matters of health decision-making, property ownership and custody of children.”

It has been argued that federal recognition of civil unions would provide the necessary rights and legal protections afforded married couples, a position supported by President Obama. This model has been followed in such countries as the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Yet, if an opposite-sex couple marries in the U.S., then all rights and laws that refer to a married couple, both federal and state, automatically apply. The same legal rights do not automatically apply to a couple in a civil union. Each of those laws would need to be specifically amended, and there are over 1,300 federal rights alone.

This approach also ignores the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s finding that discrimination is discrimination and that providing some citizens with “equal but different” rights violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Jack Martin and James Murdock, who live in New York, have been together since 1999. They considered getting married when Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, instructed the town clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on February 12, 2004.

“As a loving couple, we believe we deserve marriage as recognized by the government in all that the word means — just as much as straight couples,” says James. “While we did register as domestic partners in New York City in 2004, that status only applies here in New York City and is not equivalent to marriage.”

They married in Massachusetts in 2009, as did Betsy and Darla.

In the next article in this series, Jack and James discuss their wedding and the local businesses that assisted them.

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