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Across America, Gay and Lesbian Couples Mark Valentine’s Day with a Call for Marriage Equality

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Bipartisan majority of Americans agree it’s #Time4Marriage

As the nation celebrates Valentine’s Day, gay and lesbian couples from around the country are sharing their stories in order to emphasize the importance of allowing same-sex couples to marry. The Respect for Marriage Coalition is showcasing these couples as part of an ongoing effort to highlight the importance of marriage and secure the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. Supporters can tweet their support for marriage for same-sex couples on Valentine’s Day – and every day – by tweeting with the hashtag #Time4Marriage.

While there have been historic gains toward LGBT equality in recent years and a bipartisan majority of Americans support marriage for gay and lesbian couples, their marriages are still not recognized in most states. Only nine states and the District of Columbia grant same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Moreover, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) requires the federal government to treat legally married gay and lesbian couples as unmarried.

Next month, the Supreme Court will weigh the constitutionality of DOMA and whether married same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal recognition and protections available to every other married couple. As long as DOMA remains federal law, however, married same-sex couples will continue to be discriminated against – with significant consequences for gay and lesbian Americans, as well as their families, employers, communities, and our economy as a whole.

“Gay and non-gay, we all deserve the freedom to make a lifetime commitment to the person we love. And we will stay engaged and work hard until all marriages are respected and all loving and committed couples can share in the freedom to marry throughout our country,” said Freedom to Marry President and Coalition co-chair Evan Wolfson.

“The nation is ready to fully recognize the love that so many gay and lesbian couples share,” said Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign and Coalition co-chair. “Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love – and I hope we take the opportunity to reflect on how we can extend the promise of equality to all Americans.”

Gay and lesbian couples from around the nation are standing up for the freedom to marry this Valentine’s Day.

Matthew Phelps & Ben Schock, Washington, DC
Matthew and Ben made headlines in December when they became the first same-sex couple in history to get engaged at the White House. They are planning to marry this spring before Matthew, who is an active duty Marine, is deployed to Japan in May. Ben told the Huffington Post last year that “Matthew has made me the happiest I’ve ever been and I am so fortunate that I get to spend the rest of my life with him.”

Joanne Pederson & Ann Meitzen, Waterford, CT
Joanne and Anne have been together for nearly 15 years and were married in Connecticut in 2008. Joanne is a federal retiree, but can’t cover Anne’s health insurance like all of her other retired colleagues because of DOMA. “For me marriage was wonderful,” says Joanne. “It meant a lot. I wanted to feel like everybody else did when they got married—to love somebody, but I wanted to be recognized.”

Heather Mack and Ashley Broadway, Fort Bragg, NC
Army Lieutenant Colonel Heather and her wife Ashley made headlines when Ashley applied for membership to the local military spouses club and was told she would not be allowed to participate because she lacked a military ID, something she could not obtain because of DOMA. “[Heather] is prepared to give her life for the country that she loves,” says Ashley. “She’s prepared to save one of her soldiers in a time of attack. She shouldn’t have to worry if her family is going to be taken care if, God forbid, something happens to her.”

Dwayne Beebe and Jonathan Franqui, Pensacola, FL
Navy Senior Chief Dwayne Beebe and his husband Jonathan Franqui are legally married in Maryland, but their marriage is not recognized in Florida where Jonathan lives or Tennessee where Dwayne is stationed. They want the same access to benefits and protections that other military couples have so that they can provide for their family as Dwayne continues to serve the country. “I want them to know that this is not just a relationship – it’s a marriage,” said Jonathan. “I want them to know that we are committed to each other, that we’ve made a promise to each other about our goals and our future together.”

Ron Wallen &Tom Carrollo, Palm Springs, CA
Ron will be spending Valentine’s Day with the memory of his recently passed husband and life-long partner, Tom. Ron and Tom, both veterans, were married after a 55-year relationship in California in 2008 before the freedom to marry was stripped away by Proposition 8. After Tom’s passing, and because of DOMA, Ron was also unable to access Social Security Survivors’ Benefits and has faced the loss of the home they lived in together. “I should be allowed as the surviving spouse to have the larger of the two social security benefits just like any other surviving spouse,” said Ron.

William and Joseph Wesley, Rochester, NH
Wil and his husband Joseph are married in the state of New Hampshire and are the adoptive parents of three young children they adopted through the state foster care system. In order to provide for their family, they must be able to provide for one another. Because of DOMA, Joe, who is an employee of the federal government, is prevented from covering Wil on his health insurance plan as other federal employees can do for their spouses. “If I have to tell my children that there’s a law in this free country called the Defense of Marriage Act, a name which is a complete misnomer,—I don’t know,” Wil says. “I don’t want to have to explain that ‘well, what they’re defending heterosexual marriage from is us.’”

Bette Jo Green & Jo Ann Whitehead, Jamaica Plain, MA
Bette Jo is a retired nurse, and Jo Ann is a retired gardening educator. Their retirement income is smaller than it should be because even though they paid into Social Security, they aren’t eligible for the standard spousal Social Security formula that results in higher payments to the lower earning spouse. “Bette Jo and I joke about the longevity of my family, but there is a real possibility that I could outlive her,” says Jo Ann. “Under DOMA, the federal government will deny me Bette Jo’s Social Security survivor benefit. I will not only lose the love of my life, I will lose more than $12,864 each year—a major part of my retirement income.”

Lee Schreter and De Linda Bunnell, Atlanta, GA
Lee, an employment lawyer in Atlanta, and her wife De Linda, a retired teacher of emotionally disturbed children, were finally married to one another after 30 years together as a loving, committed couple. They are constantly faced with issues when it comes to taxes, estate planning and health care providers. Due to DOMA, they are not provided the same benefits that other, opposite sex couples are allowed. “Marriage is so important to our community. For De Linda and I it was a defining moment,” says Lee. “It is hard to believe that after 30 years of being together that getting married could be such a significant moment and I have to say that it certainly was. And I know that’s the case for many other couples.”

Herbert Burtis & John Ferris, Sandisfield, MA
Herbert Burtis and John Ferris met in college in 1948, when Herb was 18, John was 22. They were legally married in Massachusetts in 2004, after what they called their “55-year engagement.” When John died in August 2008, they had been together for 60 years. Now 82, Herb is learning how to live a life without John and, because of DOMA, the Social Security benefits they earned together. “Just as I struggled to cope with John’s loss, I never thought I would have to fight the federal government for the legal and financial protections that I need, and that other surviving spouses can count on,” said Herb.

Bradley Kleinerman & James “Flint” Gehre, Avon, CT
Brad Kleinerman and Flint Gehre each talked up their desire to have children on their first date more than 21 years ago. So it’s no surprise that they are now the proud parents of three sons: Raymond, 22, Rick, 20, and Joseph, 11. Their life in Avon, Connecticut, bustles with hockey games and other sporting events, homework, violin lessons, friends, family vacations and lots of laughter. Because of DOMA, however, the couple faces a significantly higher tax burden. “We’re just looking to be treated equally, like other married couples,” says Flint. “There are a lot of things it could do for our family.” The couple easily ticks off a list of ways they would put their money to good use, from paying college tuition to buying groceries.

Michael Roberts & Ray Rodriguez, Denver, CO
Michael and Ray have been together for almost 10 years and received a “Certified Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship” from the state of Hawaii in 2005. In their home state of Colorado they have also been granted more rights and protections through the state’s “Designated Beneficiary Agreement,” but it’s not the same as marriage and doesn’t come with the same federal rights and privileges. Ray asks, “We love each other, we live together, we own a home, we are happy together and we want to get married. Why won’t they let us?”

The Respect for Marriage Coalition is a partnership of more than 80 civil rights, faith, health, labor, business, legal, LGBT, student, and women’s organizations working together to end the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and grow support for the freedom to marry. The Coalition is co-chaired by Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign.

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