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For Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen of Waterford, Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act will change their lives.
"We are just ecstatic that they made the right decision," Pedersen said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. She had scanned a Supreme Court blog all morning and was watching cable TV in anticipation of the ruling.
The 5-4 ruling that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional extends benefits to couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Pedersen, 59, and Meitzen, 63, married in 2008, as soon as it became legal to do so, but they have been unable to reap some of the related financial benefits that heterosexual couples receive. Pedersen, a retired civilian worker for the Navy, applied to have Meitzen, a retired social worker, added to her health insurance and was rejected because they are the same gender.
Meitzen, who requires expensive medications for a chronic lung condition, has been spending 60 percent of her Social Security payments on medication. One of her medicines costs $1,000 a month.
"You do what you have to do," Pedersen said. "We used to go out to eat once or twice a week and that went out the door, but that's OK."
Enrolling Meitzen in Pedersen's health care program would save the couple an estimated $600 a month. Pedersen said she is checking with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation attorneys to see when she will be able to add Meitzen to her health insurance. She said she hopes it is before October, when Meitzen's COBRA insurance expires and her insurance co-payments increase.
The Waterford pair had joined five other same-sex couples from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont in a lawsuit after all were denied benefits. Their case had been put on hold while the nation's highest court took up the case of New York City resident Edith Windsor, who inherited her late spouse Thea Clara Spyer's property but was not treated as a legally married partner by the Internal Revenue Service and was forced to pay a hefty inheritance tax.
Pedersen said she and Meitzen are happy that same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia, but said they still have to protect themselves when traveling. She said she carries documentation naming her as Meitzen's health care proxy, enabling her to visit Meitzen in the hospital.
"You have to have all of those things in place because in states that do not recognize our marriage, they don't have to abide by that," Pedersen said.
She and Meitzen plan to say involved in the effort to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states.
"I think we will stay active," Pedersen said. "It's important. We have grandchildren who hopefully will never know the difference."