Whitewood v. Wolf: Plaintiff Profiles

July 8, 2013
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians who wish to marry in Pennsylvania or want the Commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages. Read about our clients below, and learn more about the case, Whitewood v. Wolf, here.

Deb and Susan Whitewood

Bridgeville, Allegheny County

Deb and Susan Whitewood

Together for 22 years, Deb, a stay-at-home mom, and Susan, an executive at BNY Mellon, live in Bridgeville with their three children, two dogs, one cat, and two tanks full of fish.

Deb, who is 45, and Susan, 49, have two daughters, 16-year-old Abbey and Katie, who is about to turn 15. They also have a two-year-old son, Landon, whom they adopted from the foster care system in November 2012. Deb and Susan's lives are centered around their children. Deb has been active in the PTA and served as the "classroom mom," planning class parties and chaperoning field trips. Susan has coached the girls' volleyball and softball teams.

Faith is very important to the whole Whitewood family and they're all heavily involved in their church. Deb is the president of the Altar Guild and the girls sing in the church choir. Deb told us, "Susan and I feel that we are enormously blessed to have found each other. We each had the same goals in life, and continue to do so."

Deb and Susan had a Holy Union ceremony at their church in 1993 but would like to be able to be married and recognized as a married couple in their home state.

Abbey and Katie grew up assuming their moms were married. As they got older and came to learn that their parents were not allowed to marry in Pennsylvania, both girls felt that this was unfair to the whole family. They know they are a family and want to be legally recognized as one. The girls are also plaintiffs in the case because they feel their family should have the same protections and respect as other families.

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Fredia and Lynn Hurdle

Pittsburgh

Fredia and Lynn Hurdle

Fredia, 49, drives a truck for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is a member of the Teamsters. Lynn, 43, is a pediatric nurse. They met 22 years ago when Fredia was driving a Greyhound bus and Lynn was a passenger. It was a new route for Fredia, and Lynn tried to help out with directions. They dated via Greyhound for five months, and then Fredia moved from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh to be with Lynn. They've been together ever since.

Their family includes Lynn's daughter, Ashley, now 25, who lived with the couple from the time she was two years old. They also cared for two nephews and a niece after Fredia's sister died. Caregivers by nature, they've long been known in their neighborhood as the couple to go to when there are people in need of care. They cared for two children in the neighborhood when their families were going through difficult times. And an elderly family friend of Lynn's lived with Fredia and Lynn, who took care of her for 16 years until she passed away.

Because they cannot be married, Lynn had to go without health insurance for nearly three years because her job did not offer health benefits, and Fredia could not add Lynn to her employee health plan. During this time, Lynn suffered an injury and they were hit with thousands of dollars in medical bills. The inability to marry also prevented Lynn from learning the circumstances of Fredia's emergency surgery and caused Fredia to wake up after surgery all alone, without any family at her bedside because Lynn was not considered a family member. The couple now "won't leave home" without powers of attorney.

Fredia and Lynn feel that the exclusion from marriage stigmatizes them and other lesbian and gay couples by sending the message that they are not entitled to the same respect that other couples enjoy. As an interracial couple, Fredia and Lynn are aware that there was a time not that long ago when they could have been barred from marrying based on their races. As an African American who grew up in the South and went to a segregated school until third grade, Fredia has experienced the profound social and dignitary harms that come with discrimination. She and Lynn pray that they will soon be permitted to marry in the state that they love and that is their home and be treated here as full and equal citizens.

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Ed Hill and David Palmer

Bangor, Northampton County

Ed Hill and David Palmer

Born and bred Pennsylvanians, Ed, 67, grew up near Pittsburgh and David, 65, grew up outside of Wilkes-Barre in Trucksville. They've been together for almost 25 years and are planning a big party to celebrate their silver anniversary next month. Ed is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in Vietnam and, after that, spent most of his career at the Department of Veterans Affairs. David was director of exhibitions at a museum. When Ed was offered early retirement in 1996, they opened a bed and breakfast in Bangor. The couple retired "for real" five years ago.

Ed and David got married on May 10, 2013 in Maine. Ed's 90-year-old aunt was the flower girl. They would have preferred to marry in their home state of Pennsylvania, where more of their friends and family could have joined in their celebration, but after 25 years together, they did not want to wait any longer to marry. And, as seniors, they worried that they might not live to see the day when they could marry at in their home state of Pennsylvania.

Financial burdens caused by Pennsylvania's refusal to acknowledge their marriage weigh on Ed and David as well. Like many seniors on fixed incomes, they are concerned about managing financially in their retirement. They've even talked about moving to another state where their marriage would be recognized and they would have more financial security. But David said, "We don't want to leave our home and community. This is where we met 25 years ago, and this is where we want to grow old together."

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Heather and Kath Poehler

Downingtown, Chester County

Heather and Kath Poehler

Together 10 years and wed in Massachusetts, where they used to live, Heather, 44, and Kath, 41, reluctantly gave up the legal protections of marriage when they moved to Pennsylvania in 2007 after Heather was offered a job here. Since then they've put down roots, starting up a roller derby league and settling down on the edge of town in Downingtown with three rescue dogs, two cats, and seven chickens.

Because they are not recognized as spouses in Pennsylvania, they feel vulnerable and worry about what could happen in times of crisis because they are no longer automatically legally authorized to make medical decisions for the other if necessary. Instead, with each trip to the hospital or doctor, they have had to explain their relationship and prove it with paperwork. The couple has also has to pay more for health insurance because spousal coverage is no longer available to them, and they have experienced complications related to their mortgage and paying taxes because people don't know whether to treat them as married or unmarried.

The emotional toll of not having their marriage recognized in Pennsylvania has been especially difficult for Heather and Kath. Kath said, "Friends would ask me if I felt different once we were married, and it always surprised them when I said ‘Yes, I feel 100 percent different!' There's a sense of security, a knowledge that this is where you fit. Marriage means something." To that Heather added, "On the day we got married it felt like the last piece of the puzzle had fallen into place." To have the state they love and now call home essentially annul their marriage is painful. "It hurts to have to tell people we're not considered married here."

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Fernando Chang-Muy and Len Rieser

Philadelphia

Fernando Chang-Muy and Len Rieser

Together for 32 years, Fernando and Len are both attorneys who have dedicated their careers to serving the public interest. They both currently teach at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Fernando, who is 58, was born in Cuba and came to the United States with his family when he was a child. Len, 64, grew up in Vermont. The couple moved to Philadelphia in 1982 when Fernando was offered a job there; it has been their home ever since.

The couple adopted their daughter Isabel when she was 10 months old. Now 21, she's a student at Temple University who aspires to be a teacher. Fernando said, "The thing we're most proud of in our life is raising a child who's grown into such a wonderful adult."

Fernando and Len entered into a civil union in Vermont on February 14, 2004. Although that was an important moment for them, it reinforced the fact that their relationship is not legally recognized in their home state. Len said that they did everything they possibly could while Isabel was growing up to insure their well-being as a family, but adds, "If we could have been married, it would have made a big positive difference in our lives." They know that if they could marry, it would mean a lot to their daughter. They've talked about getting married in another state, but they really want to hold out for it to become recognized in Pennsylvania. Isabel has lots of ideas already for the big wedding she wants to help throw for her dads.

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Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson

Pittsburgh

Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson

Dawn and Diana met on a study abroad trip and bonded over their shared commitment to social justice. They have now been together for 13 years. Dawn, 36, works for an anti-poverty organization. Diana, 37, recently finished her Ph.D. and does research on improving the Pennsylvania economy for working people.

A Pennsylvania native, Dawn grew up in Camp Hill and most of her family is in the area; Diana grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. They fell in love with Pittsburgh and decided to settle down there after visiting Dawn's brother and his family several times over the years.

Dawn and Diana had a commitment ceremony in front of friends and family in 2007. But they also want to be legally married, in part because they want the same respect other couples enjoy. "Every time we have to check the ‘single' box on a form, it feels like a slap in the face," said Dawn.

Dawn and Diana have a five-year-old son named Elijah and a seven-month-old baby boy named Jude. They've completed a second parent adoption for Elijah and plan to do the same for Jude but first need to save up enough money to cover the expenses. Until then, they feel vulnerable because if anything were to happen to Diana, Jude has no legal tie to Dawn. If they were legally married in Pennsylvania, this would not be the case because both spouses would be recognized as parents from the moment of birth.

Elijah is beginning to understand what marriage is. He asks a lot of questions, and they struggle to come up with a way to explain to him why his parents aren't allowed to get legally married. Diana said, "It's gotten so complicated to try to explain to Elijah why we can't do this basic thing other families get to do."

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Angela Gillem and Gail Lloyd

Philadelphia

Angela Gillem and Gail Lloyd

Angela and Gail have lived together for 17 years. Angela, 60, is a clinical psychologist and professor at Arcadia University, and Gail, 55, is a filmmaker and visual artist who graduated from Temple University's Film and Media Arts Program. They practice Buddhism and meditation together.

After they met at a mutual friend's party, Angela couldn't get Gail out of her mind. Two years later they ran into each other at a book signing and have been together ever since. Angela told us, "After 17 years together, we both feel so lucky to have found one another. We are both amazed that we can't think of anyone else that we enjoy spending time with more than each other."

Angela and Gail are registered domestic partners in Philadelphia. They would like to get married and be recognized as a married couple in their home state because they love each other and want the chance to stand up and have their family and community witness them make the fullest commitment two people can make to one another. They also want the security that comes with marriage.

Gail and Angela bought their house together 15 years ago. It was a fixer-upper, and they both invested money and time to renovating the property. Because they cannot marry in Pennsylvania, when one of them passes away, the other one will have to pay inheritance tax on the home they built together.

Moreover, because Angela is the primary breadwinner and Gail, as an artist, doesn't draw a steady paycheck to contribute to Social Security, the couple fears for Gail's economic security should Angela be the first of them to pass away.

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Helena Miller and Dara Raspberry

Philadelphia

Helena Miller and Dara Raspberry

Helena, a teacher and education consultant, and Dara, an emergency room doctor, have been a couple for six years and were married in Connecticut on September 25, 2010. Helena, 39, and Dara, 43, moved from New York to Philadelphia in the fall of 2011 because they were hoping to have children and wanted to be closer to their families.

Helena and Dara's dream to start a family came true on May 28, 2013, when Helena gave birth to their daughter, Zivah. They've started the process for Dara to become Zivah's second legal parent, but it's going to be expensive and will take at least six months, during which time Zivah will have only one legally recognized parent. If their marriage were recognized in Pennsylvania, Dara would have automatically been recognized as one of her legal parents.

Sadly, the cost to Helena and Dara of moving to Pennsylvania to be close to family was to be effectively "unmarried" and, thus, considered less of a family in the eyes of the state. It is important to Helena and Dara that their marriage be recognized in Pennsylvania not only because of the concrete protections it would provide to them and their daughter, but also because they feel that being treated as an unmarried couple disrespects the commitment they have made to one another and devalues their family. They hope that their marriage will be recognized in Pennsylvania before their baby is old enough to be aware that the state does not consider her family deserving of the same respect afforded to other families.

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Ron Gebhardtsbauer and Greg Wright

State College, Centre County

Ron Gebhardtsbauer and Greg Wright

Ron and Greg met in the summer of 1994. Ron, 60, teaches actuarial science at Penn State University and Greg, 56, is an acupuncturist in private practice. They moved to Pennsylvania when Ron started working at Penn State five years ago. They registered as domestic partners in State College as soon as that became possible in 2011, and they are currently engaged to be married. It is important to them to marry in Pennsylvania because it's their home and they would like to be able to marry in their own church. Their minister has already agreed to officiate at the ceremony if that becomes an option for them legally.

They would like to be able to refer to one another officially as spouses. They feel that using the term "partner" is inadequate as it does not convey the level of commitment they have made to one another.

Because their relationship is not legally recognized in Pennsylvania, when one of them passes away, the surviving partner will be denied the spousal exemption from the inheritance tax and will have to pay a 15% tax on half of everything the couple owns together, including their home.

But when we asked him why he wants to marry Ron, Greg's first thought wasn't about the financial issues. "Ron is a man of integrity, and I am inspired by him every single day," he said. "He strives to see the best in people and makes me want to be the best I can be." And Ron added, "I'm still madly in love with Greg. He is my best friend, and we have a wonderful, happy life together."

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Marla Cattermole and Julia Lobur

Harrisburg, Dauphin County

Marla Cattermole and Julia Lobur

Marla, 54, and Julia, 58, met when they were in Army basic training together in 1983, started dating a couple of years later, and have been together for 27 years. Julia was discharged during basic training after her superiors learned of her sexual orientation. Military policy at the time barred lesbians and gay men from serving. Marla went on to serve for 12 years and left the Army as a sergeant in 1995. They now live in Harrisburg, where they both work for the commonwealth. Julia is a software architect/project manager and teaches computer science at Penn State Harrisburg. Marla is a senior benefits manager.

Marla and Julia not only support one another, they also took care of Julia's mother for 12 years when it became difficult for her physically and financially to live on her own. She lived with them until she passed away in 1997.

In 2009, Julia and Marla traveled to Iowa to marry in Marla's home town and became the first lesbian couple to get married in the county where Marla grew up. Julia joked, "I had to sneak my girlfriend across state lines to marry her," and confessed that during the ceremony she was "bawling like a baby!" Marla added, "I can't tell you how wonderful it was to marry Julia. It was our commitment come true."

Because their marriage is not recognized in their home state of Pennsylvania, Marla and Julia have gone to considerable expense to protect themselves legally and have paid far more for health insurance and other expenses than they would have to if their marriage were recognized. Moreover, they are now both in their fifties and have worked hard to save money for their retirement, but they worry that when one of them dies, the widow will be left financially insecure because she will be denied the spousal exemption from the inheritance tax and, thus, have to pay a large tax on half of their shared property, including their home. Marla and Julia pay hundreds of dollars a year to carry life insurance policies in order to cover the cost of inheritance tax when one of them dies.

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Maureen Hennessey

Philadelphia

Maureen Hennessey

Maureen lived with the love of her life, Mary Beth McIntyre, from 1984 until Mary Beth's death on May 18, 2013, at the age of 55.

Both life-long Philadelphians, Maureen and Mary Beth raised three children together: Maureen's son from a previous relationship, and Mary Beth's niece and nephew, whose mother died when they were young. And they became grandmothers to three grandchildren, now 19, 9, and 8 – with a fourth due in July 2013.

In 2009, Mary Beth was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After Mary Beth fell ill, Maureen left her job as a middle school teacher in the Philadelphia School District to care for Mary Beth full time and help manage Mary Beth's small home business.

Maureen and Mary Beth were married in Massachusetts in June 2011. They would have preferred to marry at their local Quaker meeting house surrounded by all of their loved ones, but getting married in Pennsylvania was not an option and they knew that their time together was too limited to wait.

While Mary Beth was suffering the physical and emotional pain of end stage cancer, she had the additional burden of worrying about how Maureen would manage financially after she was gone Because their marriage is not recognized in Pennsylvania, Maureen must pay a 15 percent inheritance tax on half of their shared property, including their home. And unless their marriage is recognized in Pennsylvania before Maureen turns 65, Maureen will not be eligible to receive Mary Beth's Social Security benefits. Pennsylvania's refusal to recognize her marriage to Mary Beth does not just cause Maureen economic hardship. In her time of grief, she is denied the comfort and dignity of being acknowledged as Mary Beth's widow.

Sandy Ferlanie and Christine Donato

Swarthmore, Delaware County

Sandy Ferlanie and Christine Donato

Sandy Ferlanie, 45, and Christine Donato, 44, have lived together in a committed relationship for 17 years. Christine has lived in Pennsylvania her entire life, and Sandy has lived in Pennsylvania since she was 11. Sandy is a trained nurse and works on drug safety at a pharmaceutical company, and Christine is a consultant for pharmaceutical companies.

Sandy and Christine’s life is centered around their family, and in particular, their five-year-old son, Henry, who is in kindergarten. After Henry’s birth, Sandy went back to work on a reduced schedule so she could spend more time with him. Sandy and Christine’s extended families live nearby (Drexel Hill and King of Prussia), and they feel blessed that their son is able to spend so much time with his grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and to play regularly with his many cousins. Sandy and Christine’s home is the center of family life for all of their relatives and is filled with loved ones from both sides of the family at every holiday.

Sandy and Christine would like to get married because they love each other and have built a life together, and want their family to be treated no differently than any other. They hope that they will be able to marry in Pennsylvania by the time Henry is old enough to ask questions about it. Sandy and Christine have hired an attorney to draw up wills and powers of attorney to provide them with some legal protections but they know that their lawyer can’t draw up documents that will give them most of the protections and obligations of marriage.

Last year, Sandy was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. During this difficult time, the couple had to deal with the additional stress of not knowing whether Christine would be able to get information from medical staff about Sandy’s condition or be able to make medical decisions for her if necessary, given that she wasn’t a legally recognized family member. Dealing with major surgery and chemotherapy reinforced for them the need for the security of marriage. They also realized that their situation would have been even scarier and more precarious for the family if Sandy had fallen gravely ill before Christine’s adoption of their son was final—a process that took about a year to complete. If they had been able to marry legally in Pennsylvania before Henry was born, Christine would automatically and immediately have been recognized as a parent to any child born to her spouse.

It’s important to Sandy and Christine that they marry in Pennsylvania, the state where they were raised and have spent their lives. They would also like to be able to marry in their church, Trinity Episcopal, before all of their friends and family. Because they are a same-sex couple, they have been unable to obtain a license to marry in Pennsylvania.

 

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