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North Smithfield Couple Addresses DOMA at National Press Club

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Wednesday Jul 27, 2011
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A North Smithfield couple traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to speak out about how the federal Defense of Marriage Act has impacted their lives.

Beth Vorro and Beth Coderre addressed the National Press Club at the request of the Courage Campaign on July 19.

Vorro, a federal employee, spoke about having to spend $150,000 on health insurance for Coderre. She told EDGE that members of the media seemed empathetic to the plight of married same-sex couples who cannot enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual married couples.

"I felt a sense of comprehension," said Vorro. "There was a sense that they got it very quickly and immediately."

Coderre remembered the anger she felt when a doctor asked about the impact on health insurance premiums if married same-sex couples received federal benefits.

"The reality is I am in a legal same-sex marriage," she said. "I am legally married as recognized by the state of Massachusetts and my heterosexual peers automatically have these rights and privileges conferred to them upon marriage. We are legally married. We have the responsibilities. We pay our taxes, we perform our civic duties, we vote, we serve on juries when asked to, we are fully engaged in our neighborhoods but we are barred access to the rights and privileges that everyone else has."

As a result, married same-sex couples have to take actions not required of married heterosexual couples.

"If something were to happen to (Beth,) I need a special form I have to fill out that enables me to deal with the funeral director, make funeral arrangements, plan her funeral, that recognizes I am the person to do that," said Coderre.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that she does not expect that Congress will act this year on a bill that would repeal DOMA. She views the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on the Clinton-era law on July 20, however, as an important first step.

"I think eyes have opened," said Feinstein, one of 14 senators who voted against DOMA and is the lead sponsor of a bill that would repeal the act. "More and more people across this land know people who are gay, who want to have a lasting relationship, who look at marriage as an economic agreement as well as an emotional agreement."

Feinstein spoke about the issue at the National Press Club along with Vorro, Coderre and two other same-sex couples.

The July 20 hearing allowed lawmakers the chance to hear from married, same-sex couples who are ineligible for the many federal benefits that married, heterosexual couples currently receive. For example, same-sex couples who legally marry in New York, Iowa or any other state that recognizes their unions cannot file joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions. They also cannot receive spousal benefits under Social Security or take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.

DOMA passed both chambers of Congress by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996. The White House announced in February that it would no longer defend DOMA’s constitutionality in federal court. A couple of weeks later, House Speaker John Boehner [R-Ohio] announced that the Republican caucus would defend the law.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated President Barack Obama’s support for repealing DOMA at a July 19 press conference. "This legislation would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples," he said.

Vorro and Coderre said speaking in front of the media in the nation’s capital was an unforgettable experience.

"It was just exhilarating," said Coderre, noting the sense of history in the room was very moving. "It really did make one feel like one does have a voice and it is really is very much about what we say we are in terms of a country. We are entitled to free speech and in this case when we feel that there is discrimination, there is something that is incorrect that needs to be corrected, we actually do have a forum in which to do that."

Vorro added she remains optimistic that DOMA will eventually be repealed, either by Congress or through the courts.

"I have faith that history is on our side," she said.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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