“That’s not fair!” I said to my dad as a child. He replied as I imagine thousands of parents would saying, “Life’s not fair.” I remember at that early age thinking to myself, “But you aren’t even trying to make life fair.”
Now that my wife of 16 years and I are fighting for our marriage to be recognized in Nebraska, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about those moments with my dad, and the lessons I want to impart upon my children, Ella and Jaden.
My mother died at age 36 when I was only a child. My children may soon experience a similar tragedy as Sally has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
My heart breaks for my in-laws. Sally’s siblings may lose another sister. My heart breaks that my wife will not have the retirement we had planned. We will not travel the world. We will not see our girls married with children of their own.
The fact that Nebraska does not consider Sally my wife makes this difficult situation even more difficult. Because of the 18 percent inheritance tax I would have to pay on the house we jointly own, we have made the decision to downsize so I could afford the tax hit. Money that could be going to education for our children will go to taxes. Sally’s social security benefits may not be extended to me.
So I have been thinking about how life is not fair, and I can’t go there.
Instead, I think about having 17 wonderful years so far with this amazing woman, this wonderful friend, this partner who has seen me in my best and worst and loved me just the same.
I cannot change the fairness or lack of fairness in the battle with cancer. When we pledged before our God, our family, and our friends “Til death do us part,” we never thought we would be faced with a terminal diagnosis at such a young age. But our love and commitment to one another hasn’t changed.
I cannot protect my children from the pain of this time in our lives and some of the days to come. I can, however, stand tall and say that not recognizing my family and our love is not fair. I can say to the state of Nebraska that with the death of my wife, I should have access to all of the same laws and benefits that my sister would have with her husband.
I am legally married to my wife Sally Elizabeth Waters. I will stand up and do what I can to make life fair. I will not say “life is not fair” to my children without at least doing my part to make it fair for our family and others in our state.
Susan Waters is a plaintiff in Waters v. Heineman our freedom to marry case in Nebraska.