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Newly weds fighting for marriage equality

Rosses join in lawsuit seeking marriage benefits

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 5:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 4:13 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
Dan Ross and Lt. Gary Ross enjoyed their honeymoon aboard Holland America's MS Oosterdam, following their marriage at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 20. Dan Ross, formerly Dan Swezy of Morris, is joining with his husband and seven other couples in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as the provisions in Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38 of the U.S. Code.

It was the honeymoon many newlyweds dream of: a cruise to the Mexican Riviera for one week, then another to the Hawaiian Islands for two weeks.

There were around 2,000 passengers on board the MS Oosterdam out of San Diego, Calif., about 1,000 crew members, and "the meals were incredible."

Walking into the dining room, the new couple was met with congratulatory remarks and positive feedback about their recent wedding.

Thinking back to the special day, the couple said they felt like they were counting down on New Year's Eve as they watched a countdown on a laptop computer waiting for exactly 12:01 a.m. Sept. 20, 2011.

"It was an interesting realization when we realized it was illegal one minute and the next it was legal," former Morris resident Dan Ross — who recently changed his surname from Swezy — said about marrying his husband nearly 12 years after they met.

Dan was married to Navy Lt. Gary Ross at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 20 in Vermont, the exact moment the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" law was repealed.

DADT was passed by Congress in 1993, mandating that any openly gay, lesbian or bisexual service members be discharged. More than 14,500 service men and women were fired under the law, according to the Service Members Legal Defense Network at www.sldn.org.

Now that the Rosses and other gay, lesbian and bisexual couples can be legally married, many are fighting for their benefits as married couples.

"We are not asking for money or back-pay," Gary said. "We are asking for the exact same benefits as straight couples have. We do equal work with equal sacrifices, so we should get equal benefits."

Gary and Dan have joined with seven other couples in a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and the United States of America, challenging the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as the provisions in Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which preclude the military from providing "vitally needed" benefits to these legally married spouses.

The lawsuit was filed by SLDN in the District of Massachusetts.

"The plaintiffs seek the same recognition, family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the military has provided and currently provides to opposite-sex spouses of current and former service members," the lawsuit says. "These benefits include medical and dental benefits, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, military ID cards, visitation rights in military hospitals, survivor benefits, and the right to be buried together in military cemeteries."

Gary and Dan said they are hoping they will not meet much opposition in the case, although opposition to their cause is still commonplace.

While the Christian church cannot comment on what is or is not constitutional, as in the Rosses' case, they can comment on what they believe and what they feel is considered biblical.

"The Bible is very clear that God desires a man and woman be united to become one," said Pastor Steve Cook from Living Water Church of the Nazarene, former president of the Morris Ministerial Association. "Christian marriages follow that."

The main concern the church as a whole has with same-sex "civil unions," is that as they become more popular and more socially accepted, the court and the law may someday require Christian churches to provide civil unions, which would violate freedom of religion as granted in the First Amendment to the Constitution, Cook said.

"We marry a man and a woman desiring a Christian marriage," he said.

If a same-sex couple comes to his church asking to be married, Cook refers them to the courthouse and a Justice of the Peace.

"The law is allowing civil unions to take place in some states," he said. "That's OK as long as the law doesn't require Christian churches to perform civil unions."

SETTING PRECEDENT

Similar cases to the one involving the Rosses have already moved through the District of Massachusetts, but none were on behalf of active duty or currently serving military personnel, said Zeke Stokes, director of communication for SLDN. This case is unique in that respect.

"Nowhere in (the Constitution) does it say that everyone should be treated equal except same-sex couples," Gary said.

Right now, the plaintiffs are in a "holding pattern," Stokes said. They are currently waiting for two things to happen: the Department of Justice to decide whether or not they will defend the case and whether or not the plaintiffs will be granted a summary judgment.

The Department of Justice has until Feb. 28 to make its decision.

A summary judgment means the judge will rule on the law and nothing else.

"No one is disputing the fact that these couples are married or that each one of them includes someone now in the military or who is a veteran," Stokes said. So the plaintiffs are asking for a summary judgment to eliminate the need for a trial.

Stokes said SLDN is a non-profit organization that filed for the Rosses and other same-sex couples because they believe in equality for all military members. As an organization, they are in the fight for equality and cannot have it as long as DOMA is "on the books," Stokes said.

"If I have served my country, paid my taxes and volunteer in my community, I don't understand why certain people don't think we deserve the same benefits," Gary said.

Gary and Dan feel that they are being treated like second-class citizens. This case means a lot to them because, even as Gary's husband, Dan would "get absolutely nothing" if something happened to Gary while he was serving the United States.

The most difficult job in the military is being a military spouse, Gary said. As a military spouse, Dan has to endure things like moving every two years, starting life over and finding new people to connect with.

"When I get deployed, I should not have to worry if Dan is being taken care of," Gary said.

Dan says without Gary, his link to the military is gone. 

"Our everyday lives are the same as everyone else's," Dan said. "We work. We pay taxes. We have squabbles like other couples. It's a shame that we have to fight for what everyone else already has."

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