‘It’s Finally Come to Fruition’: Valley Couples Celebrate Rulings Backing Same-Sex Marriage
Raquel Ardin, left, and Lynda DeForge are photographed with their chihuahuas Rosie and Thomas in their home in North Hartland, Vt. on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Ardin and DeForge have been together for 36 years and after a civil union in 2000, were married on September 7, 2009. Ardin said when she heard the news about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act that morning, she cried. "I just wish my mother could have seen this, because she just loved Lynda," said Ardin, who also said she and DeForge are soulmates. "We never thought we would see this in our lifetime," added DeForge.
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Diana Mancera, right, Laura Lemus, and their son Michael Zimmerman, 13, are photographed at their home in Enfield, N.H. on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Mancera and Lemus have been together since 2005, and were married in Vermont in 2011. Michael is Lemus's son biologically, but has known both women as parents since he was three years old. Because of the U.S. Supreme Court's strikedown of the Defense of Marriage Act, Mancera, who lives in the U.S. on a student visa, will not have to leave the country when she finishes her Masters degree this summer.
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Enfield — For one Upper Valley couple, it’s the ability to file taxes jointly and avoid what they jokingly called a “lesbian tax” of $1,500.
For another tandem, it’s the peace of mind that a spouse will be entitled to federal benefits in case of an unexpected death.
And for an Enfield pair, it means that the family won’t be split apart over an immigration matter. The Supreme Court decision yesterday to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act means that Diana Mancera, a Mexico City native who has resided in Enfield on a student visa for the last three years, won’t be on the wrong side of the border when she earns her master’s degree on July 27.
“For me to go back to Mexico, I didn’t picture any life for me there,” said an emotional Mancera yesterday. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
Mancera married Laura Lemus-Huerta, a U.S. citizen, in Vermont last September. She has lived in the country for 10 years, and was originally here on a different visa.
In order to stay with her wife, Mancera enrolled in graduate school, partially for the protection of a student visa, even though she couldn’t take out student loans or apply for financial aid.
Mancera said that she had expected the United States to be more open and tolerant toward same-sex couples than her home country of Mexico, but was dismayed to find that wasn’t exactly the case, especially when the couple lived in California, where they told neighbors that they were just roommates to avoid trouble.
Her disillusionment with what she had once thought of as the “land of opportunity” led to emotional arguments between the couple and tremendous guilt on the part of Mancera for relying on her wife’s financial support to get through school.
“I felt just like any other illegal immigrant that was here: hiding, except I’m not illegal,” Mancera said.
The court decision also applies to Raquel Ardin and Lynda DeForge of North Hartland, who were both plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. Nonetheless, the ruling means that Ardin, who is a Navy veteran, would be able to transfer disability payments to her surviving spouse.
“That was a big thing for me,” Ardin said. “I hated to think that if I were to pass away, that she wouldn’t be OK, but that’s no longer a worry for us.”
Ardin, who said she “cried like a baby” when she heard the ruling yesterday morning, said she has always been a patriot and took great pride in saluting the flag while in a Navy uniform. But those patriotic feelings were muddled somewhat as life went on.
“Thinking that the government that I love doesn’t even recognize us as being married — that hurt,” Ardin said. “That hurt a lot to think I’m so proud to be an American, but yet I’m not to be viewed as a full-fledged American. But now it’s finally come to fruition.”
Anne Johnson, who grew up in rural Minnesota, met her wife Alicia Patten, an Enfield native, when both of them were working at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in 2006. By May 2009, they were getting their civil union in a Woodstock church. They visited the Windsor County courthouse on Sept. 1 of that year to upgrade their civil union to a marriage, which had just been legalized in Vermont.
While Johnson said their lives were negatively affected by the Defense of Marriage Act, it didn’t stop the couple from viewing their situation with a sense of humor.
If the federal government recognized their marriage, Johnson said, they could have saved about $1,500 by filing their taxes jointly.
“We call it our lesbian tax,” Johnson cracked. “ ... If we filed married as a couple, we would have had $1,500 more in our pockets.”
Johnson said that the decision that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages “simplifies our lives a lot.
“And there’s also that sort of lack of resentment,” she added. “I had to do all this extra work to protect me and my family that straight people didn’t have to do, and now I feel like I’m just like every other person. It makes me feel less separate and stigmatized.”
Jackie Gardina, a Vermont Law School professor who specializes in gay and lesbian legal issues, is also in a same-sex marriage. She said that, in a broad sense, the ruling means that those same-sex couples who are legally married and living in states that recognize those marriages will have access to the same federal benefits available to all married couples.
“As soon as the opinion was released, I contacted Vermont Law School and asked them to recalculate my benefit package,” said Gardina, who explained that her wife is enrolled on her health care plan, but has to pay taxes that she otherwise wouldn’t have to if their marriage was recognized by the federal government.
Gardina said that there are more than 1,000 federal laws that use the term “spouse,” and gave the example of bankruptcy filings.
“In terms of the vast amount of federal laws that provide some kind of benefit or use the term ‘spouse,’ it would be impossible for me to name them all,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of concrete minutia that’s going to emerge as a result of this decision.”
But Gardina added that there are still many unanswered questions, such as whether states that do not recognize same-sex marriages would need to recognize a married same-sex couple who moved from a state that allows them, or whether those in civil unions are entitled to the same benefits as those who were legally married.
Lebanon resident Jessica Belley, who was pumping gas at The Fort yesterday, said she was against same-sex marriage on moral grounds and didn’t support the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“I just firmly believe that marriage is not just for love, but it is for procreation, and that’s probably my big reason,” she said. “I feel like, even in other cultures, in order for our species to survive, you have to have a man and a woman. There’s no other way around it, and I feel like the institution of marriage is one of the main reasons for that.”
While she said that the ruling doesn’t affect her directly, Belley qualified that “these decisions are huge and can impact (us) enormously, especially down the road.”
“I’m not angry, and I don’t want to say indifferent,” said Belley. “But in terms of political importance, this is low on my scale.”
Rich Cortese, of Lempster, said he “absolutely” supported the decision yesterday.
“I think (same-sex couples) should have the same rights as everybody else,” he said at the pumps. “Why should anybody have a problem?”
While Cortese described himself as a conservative, he said the issue wasn’t political for him.
“To be crude and use a joke, it’s like, ‘Why shouldn’t they be just as miserable as anybody else?’ ” he said.
Politicians, for their part, didn’t hesitate to weigh in on the Supreme Court ruling.
“While I believe in traditional marriage, I respect that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality of our nation’s laws,” said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in a statement. “Ultimately, I do think that states should define marriage and the court’s decision preserves states’ rights to do so.”
Both of the Twin State governors also had something to say. Vermont Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin called the ruling a “critical step toward equality for all families.
“Married same-sex couples in a dozen states nationwide now cannot be deprived by the federal government of the rights and benefits they deserve,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This is an historic decision.”
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan released a statement that said that, “for the first time, all married couples, no matter their gender, will receive the fair and equal treatment under the law that they so rightly deserve.”
“This will make a real difference in the lives of New Hampshire families who have been denied federal benefits, forced to pay higher taxes, and treated as less than equal,” she said.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.