The freedom to marry movement received a power boost last June. That’s when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act provision that denied federal benefits to same-sex married couples and Edie Windsor became the matron saint of marriage equality.
“It was thrilling to learn that Edie’s $363,000 estate tax bill was zeroed out,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. “Even better was the outpouring of love, joy and hope that radiated across the nation because the government stopped treating Edie as a complete stranger and recognized her marriage to Thea Spyer.”
Along with the good cheer came a flood of legislative and legal activity to further chip away at discriminatory barriers. “We barely had time to celebrate our Windsor victory before another volley of lawsuits was launched,” Mittman says. “The ACLU is currently involved in 15 lawsuits and one is right here in Missouri.”
Days before Valentine’s Day, the ACLU of Missouri filed its court case in Kansas City on behalf of eight couples. This lawsuit does not seek a repeal of Missouri’s 2004 ban on marriage for same-sex couples.
“Instead, we are asking Missouri to recognize each couple’s legal out-of-state marriage,” explains Tony Rothert, the ACLU of Missouri’s legal director. “It is as if they are handed involuntary divorces every time they set foot in a state that ignores their marriages. No other right evaporates and reappears depending on the state you are in.”
“Because of the many benefits of marriage, Missouri has traditionally recognized lawful marriages performed in other states, even when the couples would never have been allowed to marry in Missouri,” Mittman says. “We know that the people of Missouri are fair-minded and did not intend to harm the estimated 5,445 couples in same-sex marriages currently living in Missouri. But our current laws do harm them.”
Some of the harms are life-threatening, like the denial of health benefits to a spouse. Others create additional paperwork and stress. All violate the Constitution’s mandate of equality.
The following eight couples, plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit, have bravely stepped up to show the Show-Me state exactly why it should recognize all legal marriages.
Sher Schild & Jan Barrier
Married: May 1, 2009, in Iowa City, IA
Together for: More than 30 years
Location: St. Louis County
Occupations: Jan is a retired St. Louis Area Director for the U.S. Dept. of Labor and Sher is a retired teacher and homemaker.
Jan Barrier and Sher Schild of St. Louis have already experienced extreme hardship due to the state’s failure to recognize their marriage. Barrier was forced to accept a demotion in order to take time off to care for Schild when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Five years later, Schild was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to stop working. Barrier was unable to add her to her medical insurance. In 2012, Barrier herself was diagnosed with cancer.
“We have both sacrificed our finances and our livelihoods in order to care for each other,” Barrier says. “Our life savings have gone to paying medical bills. We are scared to death about what would happen if both of our cancers recur, or if one of us needs care in a nursing home and we’re denied the right to care for each other in privacy because the state views us as legal strangers. We just want the peace of mind of knowing we will always be able to look after each other.”
Alan Ziegler & LeRoy Fitzwater
Married: November 1, 2008 in Stanford, Calif.
Together for: 13 years
Location: St. Louis
Occupations: Alan is a physical therapist and LeRoy is an engineer.
Alan Ziegler and LeRoy Fitzwater had a taste of what it’s like to live in a state that recognizes marriage. They were the first same-sex couple to have a legal wedding performed at Memorial Church on the Stanford University campus in California. They moved to Missouri because of Fitzwater’s job transfer.
While they are not confused about the status of their marriage, various states are. “If we are in California, we are married; if we are in Missouri, we are not married; if we are in Illinois we are married; if we are visiting my sister in Pennsylvania or my aunt and uncle in Ohio, we are not married,” Fitzwater explains. “None of this changes the way Alan and I feel about each other, or our commitment to care and support one another, but we lose the rights, responsibilities and protections to do that in many states. We ought not to be relegated to legal strangers just for crossing political borders within the United States.”
“The biggest advantage of marriage is the sense of safety and contentment, a commitment of mutual love, respect and support,” Fitzwater concludes. “Alan will be there for me, and I will be there for him. Whatever life decides to throw at us, good or bad, we will be in it together.”
Beth Drouant & Julikka LaChe
Married: March 12, 2010 in Iowa City, IA
Together for: 10 years
Location: University City
Occupations: Beth is a teacher and Julikka is a sign-language interpreter.
Beth Drouant and Julikka LaChe married to celebrate their love and commitment for each other. “Marriage is the next logical commitment you can make to your partner in our culture,” Drouant says. “It is a rite of passage into a realm of adulthood as well as a more binding and concrete level of dedication within your relationship.”
What they didn’t anticipate was the stronger bond and deeper level of commitment. “Our friends and family took our relationship more seriously and started to see us as equal and deeply dedicated partners,” she adds.
Even so, Drouant and LaChe have noticed the negative effects of living in a state that doesn’t recognize their union. “As much as you try not to let it affect your life, it does,” LaChe says. “We worry about visitation in the hospital, major health and financial decisions, taxes, insurance, joint property, starting a family and the rights of our children, survivor benefits, retirement, and family leave. We feel an immense burden and stress associated with the lack of benefits and our future financial and overall stability.”
Andy Schuerman & Jim MacDonald
Married: July 25, 2005, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Together for: 12 years
Location: Kansas City, Mo.
Occupations: Jim is a non-profit professional and Andy is a school counselor.
The couple has a three year-old daughter.
Marriage was a romantic and sentimental expression of Jim MacDonald and Andy Schuerman’s love. “It’s a recognized institution that affords us some rights that don’t require explanation or onerous paperwork to validate,” MacDonald explains.
Now that they have a three-year-old daughter, a recognized marriage has become even more important. Schuerman is Grace’s biological father. Unlike members in of an opposite-sex marriage, MacDonald did not benefit from the legal presumption that a child born to a married couple is the child of both spouses. He had to adopt Grace to be her second parent.
Although MacDonald and Schuerman are eligible for family health insurance coverage through their employers, it is more expensive than it is for opposite-sex married couples because the men are treated as domestic partners, not spouses; coverage for a domestic partner is considered taxable income.
Arlene Zarembka & Zuleyma Tang-Martinez
Married: July 18, 2005, in Golden, British Columbia, Canada and on July 10, 2008 in Woodland, California
Together Since: Feb. 7, 1983 and had a commitment ceremony on May 26, 1985 in St. Louis
Location: University City
Occupations: Arlene is an attorney and Zuleyma is a university professor.
Arlene Zarembka and Zuleyma Tang-Martinez have supported each other through the good times and bad, including Alzheimer diagnoses of both Tang-Martinez’s father and Zarembka’s mother. They’ve shared their lives’ joys and sorrows, finances, home, automobiles, yet Arlene does not have Social Security spousal benefits because this benefit depends on whether or not your state recognizes your marriage.
When asked how she feels about the federal government recognizing their marriage, Tang-Martinez says, “I never imagined that this would happen in my lifetime. It’s amazingly wonderful!”
Missouri’s recognition of their marriage is important to the couple not just because opposite-sex married couples receive automatic benefits, like the right to make end-of-life decisions for one another.
Marriage recognition is important, “because it would mean that Missouri would stop treating us as second-class citizens and acting as if our marriage is meaningless and invalid.”
JoDe & Lisa Layton-Brinker
Married: July 17, 2010, in Des Moines, IA
Together for: Six years
Location: Jefferson City
Occupations: Lisa is a mid-Missouri career firefighter and JoDe is a homemaker.
The couple has two sons and a daughter ranging from 17 to 22 years old.
JoDe and Lisa Layton-Brinker rented a house with a beautiful backyard for their intimate wedding of 25, which included close friends and family. To include their children in the ceremony, “we poured different colored sand into a glass vase to represent individuality and becoming one family,” JoDe Layton-Brinker says.
When asked why it is important for Missouri to recognize their marriage, she replies, “We live our lives just like everyone else; we shouldn’t have to fight for the things that opposite-sex couples get automatically with a $40 license.”
To get similar benefits, the couple registered in Boone County as domestic partners and had their attorney prepare wills, a trust, and documents they might need in emergencies. “We have had to bring them to the hospital on several occasions to be copied and put on file,” Lisa Layton-Brinker explains.
Ashley & Kate Quinn
Married: May 24, 2009, in Springfield, Mo.
Legally Married: January 12, 2010, in Boston, Mass.
Together for: Eight years
Occupations: Ashley is a commercial real estate agent and Kate is a licensed massage therapist.
One of the unexpected benefits of the couple’s marriage was an extended family.
“We are all very different people, and we don’t always like each other or get along perfectly,” Kate Quinn says. “In fact, we challenge each other at almost every level, but at this point we share a history and a common goal of being successful and happy, so we come together and support each other, especially when life is difficult.”
Both Springfield natives, the two spent a few years in Boulder, CO — a city and state with much friendlier LGBT laws — before returning to Springfield in 2013, mainly to be closer to family.
“Our choice was to live far from our family, where our marriage is recognized, and our future children would be indisputably our children, and I can’t be fired from my low-paying job just for being queer,” Ashley Quinn explains. “Or, move back to our hometown, close to our families, and where we have to fight to be treated with basic human decency on issues like marriage equality, MONA and safe-schools legislation?” she concludes.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but being a part of this lawsuit makes it feel like a little bit more of the right choice.”
Patricia & Adria Webb
Married: March 12, 2010, in Iowa City, IA
Together for: Six years
Location: St. Louis City
Occupations: Adria is an artist/musician and Patricia is a pharmaceutical product inspector.
The couple is raising a 14-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter (who think it’s really cool that they have a bonus mom!)
Patricia and Adria Webb agreed early in their relationship that marriage was the most faithful of commitments and that it would be the only natural progression for two people who love each other as much as they did.
“I feel a deep sense of sorrow at the injustice of being ignored and forgotten for something so much a part of who I am as a citizen of Missouri,” Patricia Webb says. “I want to spread the great news that I found someone to love for the rest of my life. Welcome us with our equal share of respect and responsibilities.”