Gerber and Berlin v. Cooper: Plaintiff Profiles

April 9, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Ellis & Winters LLP have filed a new case in federal court on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, they are asking the court to take swift action.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Ellis & Winters LLP have filed a new case in federal court on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, they are asking the court to take swift action.

Ellen "Lennie" Gerber and Pearl Berlin

High Point, North Carolina

Ellen Gerber and Pearl Berlin

Ellen "Lennie" Gerber and Pearl Berlin, of High Point, North Carolina, have been together for 47 years and were legally married in Maine last year. The two fell in love and committed their lives to each other in 1966. Ever since they have traveled the world together and supported one another in their professional careers, Gerber working as an attorney and Berlin as a college professor. They are now retired and have lived in North Carolina for more than 40 years.

Berlin is 89 years old and in fragile condition. She has been hospitalized three times over the past two years, most recently for having suffered a fall where she hit her head, incurred internal bleeding, and broke three ribs.

"As Pearl's spouse, I want and need to be by her side the whole time in any medical emergency," Lennie says. "The idea of Pearl having to go through any sort of emergency alone, or have another person make decisions for her is devastating to me."

They worry that Pearl may die before their marriage is recognized in North Carolina. "Pearl's death would be devastating for me," Lennie says. "It would only make things worse at a time of tremendous grief and loss if I were not listed on her death certificate as her spouse, which would demean the relationship we've built over 48 years and be an insult to her memory."

Jane Blackburn and Lyn McCoy

Greensboro, North Carolina

Jane Blackburn and Lyn McCoy

Jane and Lyn met in 1991 and have been in a stable, loving relationship for more than 20 years. Their careers have taken them many places together, including a two and a half year stint in Moldova where Lyn worked for the Peace Corps, before they moved permanently to Greensboro in 2008.

In 2011 they were legally married in the District of Columbia. One year later, Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer, and although she is undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, the cancer has spread to a Stage IV diagnosis.

"Lyn has been right there beside me the whole time," Jane says. "They tell us it's not curable, so we're just doing everything we can to keep it at bay."

They worry what will happen if Jane dies before their marriage is recognized in North Carolina. "If Jane dies without the state recognizing our marriage, we'll never be able to have the dignity of other married couples," Lyn says, "and there is no guarantee that I will be able to recoup the benefits that we would have been entitled to if it had happened during her lifetime."

"North Carolina is our home, and it's important for us to have our love and our commitment to each other recognized here," Jane says.

Esmeralda Mejia and Christina Ginter-Mejia

Hickory, North Carolina

Esmeralda Mejia and Christina Ginter-Mejia of Hickory, have been together 19 years, have a 7-year old son, and were legally married in Maryland in 2013. Mejia is a decorated retired Army major who served for 13 years, including in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, and received a Bronze Star, among other accolades.

She left the Army after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Four years later, in 1996, she received a second cancer diagnosis for a tumor in her left lung. She has undergone many procedures, including surgery to remove the upper lobe of her lung and three ribs, and a liver transplant.

"I never know when Esme will have an emergency situation and need me to be there," Christina says. When Esme experienced liver failure, she was airlifted to Charlotte and hospitalized for 144 days, but Christina was not granted a single day of family medical leave from her job because their marriage is not recognized in North Carolina, forcing her to use paid vacation time. "I don't know where I'd be without Christina," Esme says. "She's my rock and has been through all my surgeries and treatments with me. She is the person I trust to act on my behalf if I am ever unable to make decisions on my own."

Because Christina is also their son's sole legal parent, he is not able to receive the family benefits that flow from Esmerelda's military service, and if Esmerelda were to die before North Carolina recognizes her marriage, he will never be able to receive them.

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