Thirty-three years after first meeting, Raquel Ardin and Lynda Deforge have reluctantly stepped into the spotlight as advocates for gay rights.
"The first day I saw her I knew I wanted to get to know her," Ardin said.
The Hartland couple is among a group of lesbians and gay men suing the federal government, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. Also known as DOMA, it was passed by Congress in 1996 and says the federal government will not recognize same-sex marriages.
"Historically and to this very day states control marriage and decide who can marry," said Greg Johnson, a professor at the Vermont Law School. "This is the only time in the entire history of the country that Congress has decided to step in and define who can marry."
After three decades together Ardin and Deforge married last September.
They didn't even know about DOMA until Deforge applied for time off from her job at the U.S. Postal Service so she could take Ardin to medical appointments at the VA hospital in Connecticut. But the government denied her request saying the family medical leave act only applies to married couples.
"You know when you get married you figure you have the same rights as everybody else," Ardin said.
"But we're second class," Deforge said.
"We're second-class citizens," Ardin agreed.
Both Ardin and Deforge are military veterans and work for the U.S. government. In addition to time off, the couple wants to buy health insurance together and they're worried about survivor benefits. Not just for themselves, but for others as well.
"We have to change this world. Make it better for everybody. It may not even affect us by the time these changes happen but it will help younger people behind us," Ardin said.
That's why they've joined the suit - that could eventually land in the Supreme Court.
Johnson says legally this is a strong case. The plaintiffs all have tangible things they can point to as proof this federal law treats them differently than heterosexual couples. But there is also concern about backlash: if opponents of same-sex marriage feel this suit has a good chance of winning in the Supreme Court they may make a strong push for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as a man and a woman. Similar efforts in the past have failed.
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