June 23, 2018
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Married in the eyes of Maine but not the nation

By Jane Clayton, Special to the BDN

This time of year, our thoughts often turn to the symbols of love, as Valentine’s Day puts us on the hunt for the perfect gift.

After almost 30 years together, my wife Nancy and I don’t usually bother with elaborate gifts anymore. But this year was special; we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day as a legally married coupled here in Maine, the state we call home.

I’ve known and loved Nancy for almost 30 years. In 2008, we were legally married in Massachusetts. Last year, with the success of Question 1, our marriage was finally official in our home state of Maine. That makes this Valentine’s Day one we’ll never forget.

When Nancy and I decided to get married, it was about much more than a collection of rights and benefits. We wanted to commit to one another, forever.

Like most couples who marry, we got married to celebrate and solidify our love, to strengthen and make permanent our relationship.

Our wedding vows were made without exception. It wasn’t “in sickness and health, except where prohibited by federal law.” It was “in sickness and health, until death do us part.”

But under current federal law, we remain legal strangers even after our marriage and long commitment. That’s the effect of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Because of DOMA, despite our 30 years together and our legally recognized marriage under Maine law, Nancy and I aren’t married according to the federal government.

When Nancy and I married, we made a commitment to one another. We signed up for the whole of this important institution. That’s what we do in our everyday lives — we look out for each other, love one another and work together to build and support the life we both always wanted. We’re committed to all of the responsibilities and security that marriage provides.

Unfortunately, DOMA makes that impossible.

February marks the start of another, much less romantic season: Tax season. Taxes are just one example of the hundreds of ways in which DOMA forces the federal government to discriminate against legally married same-sex couples. In this and other vital areas, such as Social Security and Medicare, despite our status as married here in Maine and our more than 30 years together, we’re strangers in the eyes of the federal government.

As Nancy and I age, these concerns become more pressing and more serious. We both want the other to be safe if something should happen to the other. It’s frightening to think about the law preventing us from making those arrangements, and it’s insulting to have our marriage ignored by our government. To us, our friends and family, and our state, Nancy and I are legally married. DOMA ignores all of that.

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case challenging part of DOMA as unconstitutional. In Congress, the Respect for Marriage Act would repeal DOMA and end federal marriage discrimination.

That’s why we’re working with Equality Maine, other married same-sex couples and our allies to build support for ending DOMA. We’re hopeful that, no matter what action the Supreme Court takes, Maine’s members of Congress will support the Respect for Marriage Act.

Nancy and I are married. We’re married in the eyes of our family and friends, in the eyes of our neighbors and co-workers, and we’re married according the laws of the state of Maine. It’s time for the federal government to recognize our marriages and the marriages of thousands of other Americans like us.

Jane Clayton lives in Veazie with her partner — now wife — Nancy. She serves on the board of the Equality Maine Foundation and practices law at a Bangor law firm. Equality Maine is Maine’s largest and oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy and community group.

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