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Senate hearing chronicles costs of DOMA: lost dignity, financial ruin

In emotional testimony, married gay and lesbian couples testified before a Senate committee as to the costs – financial and emotional – of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Senate is considering a repeal.

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“The effect and purpose of the [repeal] bill is to have the federal government validate same-sex marriage,” said Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative group.
He said the repeal of DOMA would require tax payers to subsidize federal benefits to same-sex marriages. It also threatens to pave the way for tax payer support for polygamists and other polyamorous unions, Mr. Whelan said.

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In addition to the policy debate, the committee heard the real-life experiences of several individuals who are enduring significant hardships because their marriages are not recognized as legitimate by the federal government.

Ron Wallen of Indio, Calif., told the committee that he had been in a committed, 58-year relationship with his partner Tom Corrollo. The two were married in California in 2008 and pledged to support each other for the rest of their lives. But when Mr. Corrollo passed away in March, Mr. Wallen was not permitted to claim the spouse’s Social Security survivors benefit.

“That additional benefit would have done for me what it does for every other surviving spouse in America,” he said. “This is unfair. This is unjust.”

Wallen says that after losing his partner to leukemia, he is now facing the loss of his home as well.

“We served our country, paid our taxes, and got married as soon as we were able to do so,” he told the senators. “It is hard to accept that it is the federal government that is throwing me out of my own home.”

Andrew Sorbo of Berlin, Conn., worked for 35 years as a school teacher and principal before retiring in 2005. His partner of 32 years was a professor at Yale University. The couple married in Connecticut in January 2009, but four months later the professor passed away.

Because the federal government did not recognize their marriage, the professor’s federal pension checks ended with his death and the household income dropped by 80 percent, Mr. Sorbo said.

“This year I had to sell our house and downsize to a condo,” he said.

In addition, he said, he was excluded from his spouse’s health care policy, he was ineligible for Social Security survivors benefits, and they could never even file a joint tax return.

“The financial aspect of this is only one part of it,” Sorbo noted. He called their treatment by the federal government “an insult to our dignity.”

Sorbo said gay and lesbian Americans have long endured second-class treatment. “Every day of my career, I led my students in the Pledge of Allegiance. That pledge ends with the words ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ ” he said. “For 35 years I stood before my students with a blank face, but I knew inside it was not true.”

The former teacher told the senators he couldn’t understand how lawmakers could miss the a broader, historic perspective.

“This country was formed on ideals of equality and justice. We have had to struggle and fight during every generation to extend that ideal of freedom and justice to more and more groups,” he told the judiciary committee. “My group is the latest.”