Earlier this week, the Department of Defense officially announced it will extend certain spousal benefits to partners of gay and lesbian service-members. It's another step in a policy shift to treat all service members equally since the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
The news was embraced by a Waterford, Connecticut couple who are the lead plaintiffs in a suit challenging the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Joanne Pedersen worked for the U.S. Department of the Navy for more than thirty years before retiring in 2008. Today, she is still fond of the career she led. "It was just a wonderful, wonderful outfit to work for. They treated us like a regular couple. She went to Navy Day balls with me. She attended military functions." Pedersen married her longtime partner, Ann Meitzen, the same year she retired from the Navy. Same sex marriage is legal in Connecticut but federal healthcare benefits Pedersen earned after her long career don't cover her spouse. That's because the Defense of Marriage act or DOMA trumps state law and doesn't recognize same sex couples. So this means they have to buy separate health insurance, file their taxes separately, and they're not entitled to many of the same ben. that heterosexual married couples receive. Meitzen is also retired and has a lung condition. She says she's forced to use sixty percent of her social security benefits to pay for own health insurance. "If and when DOMA is repealed and I'm able to get on Joanne's health insurance, we would wind up paying about $200 more a month rather than me having to lay out the money that I pay." Pedersen and Meitzen are lead plaintfiffs in a lawsuit challenging DOMA. Their suit is still pending. The U.S Supreme Court has agreed to hear a similar suit next month. The couple say they're optimistic that one day, the federal law will be ruled unconstitutional given how public opinion has changed on same sex marriage.