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Photo courtesy of Thom Johnston
Thom Johnston, right, and his husband, Bob Gould, were wed in New York on 11/11/11. Their marriage is not recognized as valid in Indiana.

Court sanctions what now exists

Fort Wayne pair seek benefits of federal acceptance

Today, although full marriage equality has not been achieved, we are a little closer to the promise carved in the Supreme Court’s pediment: Equal Justice Under Law. The court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. I don’t know what the court’s decision means for us in Indiana – it’s all so new and wonderful – but here are my thoughts.

I reluctantly agreed to write this piece because I’m not an expert. However, I am a participant. After 33 years, Bob and I eloped to Rochester, N.Y., and got legally married in that state on 11/11/11. (Like husbands everywhere, we wanted a wedding anniversary date we could remember.) In New York, we are legally married; in Indiana, we are not.

I was the last of Mother’s five children to marry, and she proudly sent out marriage announcements. She even mailed one to President Barack and Michelle Obama. The outpouring of support was heartwarming, including a congratulatory letter from The White House.

Eloping to New York was initially a political act, but to my amazement I felt different. Wow! We’re married! Somewhere in the United States, we are not second-class citizens.

To be legally married, a couple needs a government-issued marriage license – not a religious-based document. Since the Constitution guarantees citizens the inalienable right of freedom of religion, religious arguments against marriage equality should not be used by the government. After more than three decades together, Bob and I want those hundreds of federal and local benefits and protections to provide a level of security in the years to come.

As a not-married-in-Indiana married couple, we are in a difficult situation. We have availed ourselves of all legal recourse to secure our rights. It’s not enough. For instance, hospital visitation rights could be denied – a frightening thought as we get older.

But the crux of the matter, something my fellow Hoosiers should be able to understand, is that there are many financial benefits of marriage, such as taxes, pension sharing and access to spousal health insurance.

After retiring and losing group health insurance benefits, I’ve spent thousands of dollars annually on health insurance because I couldn’t be included in Bob’s health plan. We want marriage benefits.

There are divisive arguments from both sides. My take on some of those issues:

Children: Marriage is not a legal prerequisite for creating a child nor is creating a child a legal requirement of marriage. Marriage equality will not adversely affect the current status of most children, but it will provide benefits to children with gay parents.

History of marriage: Marriage laws have changed over the ages. Women no longer have their legal rights suspended while wed. In 1967 the Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting mixed-race marriages. We hope that a change can happen again.

Bob and I never imagined marriage equality would be a possibility in our lifetime, but like other devoted couples, we just want the legal benefits to protect each other – until death do us part and beyond.

Thom Johnston is a Fort Wayne resident. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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