Vermont couples rejoice at ruling
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | June 27,2013
Jeff Towsley said Wednesday was the best day of his life.
“It was pouring rain today, and I still could not wipe the smile off my face,” said the 54-year-old mail carrier from South Burlington.
Towsley, 54, has been with his husband, Mike Bond, for 29 years. They married on their 25th anniversary, after Vermont passed same-sex marriage, and Wednesday they watched their marriage gain federal recognition as the Supreme Court overturned portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied national recognition of same-sex unions regardless of those unions’ status at the state level.
“It has been an annoyance since 1996 when they passed this law,” Towsley said. “To me, it looked like blatant discrimination from the beginning.”
It also had real-world consequences, such as when Towsley recently spent time on worker’s compensation.
“When I went to buy back my sick leave — you buy it back at a lower rate if you’re married or have children,” he said. “I am married. I have a marriage certificate. They denied me specifically because of DOMA. They said, no, you’re not married because your husband’s a man.”
Towsley said he has an appeal pending, which he had to file based on a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court ruling.
“Now, I have a Supreme Court decision to uphold me,” he said.
Rebecca and Sally Majoya of Proctor would have liked to have had federal recognition a couple years ago when their eldest son applied for financial aid before college.
The Majoyas file their state taxes jointly, but their federal taxes separately. So, they filled out their son’s Vermont Student Assistance Corporation paperwork as if they were a family of four, but the federal FAFSA form as if Rebecca Majoya were a single mother.
“They all have to match, so it all got stuck,” Rebecca Majoya, 49, said.
It took a number of conversations with state and federal student aid officials to straighten everything out.
“That first year, it was five months late and, or course, it’s first-come, first-serve, so he got less because of the wait,” Rebecca Majoya said.
Meanwhile, Sally Majoya was pursuing a second bachelors degree with enough of a course load to qualify as a part-time student. Had their marriage been federally recognized, that would have qualified them for more aid.
“She still owes student loans,” Rebecca Majoya added. “I don’t. If you still owe student loans, they look at that as part of your family’s debt for figuring aid.”
But not, she said, in same-sex marriages.
Rebecca Majoya said it will be a relief to no longer worry about what other gaps a lack of federal recognition might drop them into.
“Anything happens to me or happens to her, it’s going to make it so there’s no question who’s entitled to what,” said Heidi Eccleston of Clarendon, who has been with her wife, Diane Hamel, for 11 years. “It’s going to give us the equality we deserve.”
For Eccleston, a 45-year-old self-employed carpenter, one of the larger practical aspects of that equality deals with health insurance.
“Diane works for a restaurant,” Eccleston said. “When she was a manager there, they offered her insurance, but they wouldn’t give insurance to me because they were based out of state.”
Wednesday’s decision, she said, will keep others in her position from being excluded.
“I was excited that it had passed, that we were getting the equality we deserve, that we’re not second-class citizens,” she said. “We’re no different than any other couple. We love each other and care for each other.”