Sally & Susan Waters
We have said publically before God, our family and our friends that we love each other and are committed to one another and our children. At this moment, I want to spend time loving my children and my wife while knowing that should I die, they will be cared for. - Sally
In a marriage ceremony sixteen years ago, Susan and Sally pledged “til death do us part” in front of their God, their family and their friends. Unfortunately for this couple, a terminal diagnosis and Nebraska’s marriage ban means a lack of security for them and their children.
Sally, 58, and Susan, 53, met through work seventeen years ago. They both have a background in training and development. A year after they started dating, the couple got married at North Side Christian Church in Omaha. The couple wanted to begin a family and adopted a little girl, Ella, in 2001. Because of Nebraska’s laws, only one of them could be the adoptive parent.
Concerned about their daughter being denied the protections of having two legal parents, Susan and Sally then made the very difficult decision to leave Nebraska and their families behind. They moved to California where Sally could become a joint parent to Ella and where they could jointly adopt a second little girl, Jaden. Susan and Sally registered as domestic partners and became legally married in 2008.
The couple had a family that was legally protected and jobs at UC Davis. The Great Plains called them home, however, and in 2010 they moved back to be closer to their aging parents, siblings, cousins and extended family. In spite of the legal recognition in California, they missed their family and wanted a larger family for their children. Ella is currently 13, Jaden 10, and their family now includes Kayla, now 18, for whom Sally and Susan are legal guardians.
Sally returned to working in their ongoing consulting firm founded in 1998, Waters & Associates. Susan took a job at UNO. That is when the family was confronted with terrible news.
In January 2013, Sally was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She had surgery, chemo and radiation. The “very rough” treatments forced her to give up working. She had a clear mammogram in 2013 and took a job at Mutual of Omaha, but then in June 2014 the doctors discovered the cancer had returned and spread to her spine. She currently has stage four breast cancer, which is invasive and terminal. The family is doing their best to get their affairs in order, knowing that in the eyes of Nebraska, the two women who have spent nearly two decades caring for each other and their children are legal strangers.
Sally understands she is not going to be cured but is staying positive with family and church support. The couple is still active at North Side Christian Church where they were wed. She’s also still active in breast cancer education efforts—she was a “calendar girl” for Project Pink’d.
Planning for a single-family income, they’ve moved into a smaller home. Susan won’t be covered by Social Security survivor benefits, though the children will be. The options for Sally’s retirement plan are also impacted because the couple isn’t considered married. Susan will have to pay 18% inheritance tax on half of the property they share – including their family home. Susan and the children could be left without a way to stay in their home should Sally die.
Crystal Von Kampen & Carla Morris-Von Kampen
Because of what I gave for my country, I am now disabled. My wife and the family we’ve created are facing challenges because Nebraska doesn’t recognize our marriage. The families of all veterans need to be honored, no matter what state we call home. - Crystal
Crystal Von Kampen spent several years of her life in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. While deployed in Iraq with the Marine Corp, she says she “saw things no one should have to.” Now that she has been honorably discharged and is living with PTSD, she wants her wife, Carla, and their family to have a basic sense of security other military veterans and their families have.
Crystal, 35, and Carla Morris-Von Kampen, 40, have spent most of their lives in the town of Norfolk. They have been together for five years and celebrated their one year marriage anniversary at the beginning of November.
Carla recently decided on a career change. She went from owning her own business to working as a family advocate for a non-profit specializing in families with children that have emotional and mental disabilities. Carla has two adult children from a previous relationship. After meeting Crystal, Carla's son became inspired to join the military and Carla's daughter is a junior majoring in Exercise Science at Wayne State College.
The couple and their children can benefit from medical insurance and use of military base facilities. This is because the federal Veterans Administration recognizes their marriage. However, there are several areas where the VA either relies upon state law or where the state is providing a benefit to a veteran’s family. A few of these areas are creating incredible difficulties for the family.
Crystal and Carla put in a joint application for a VA home loan that would cover the loan and down payment on the family’s new home. On the eve of closing, the state VA administration office said the couple is not considered legally married in Nebraska and a loan from the VA was denied. The couple scrambled to secure a down payment from family members, costing them $11,000 that a Veteran who wasn’t gay or lesbian wouldn’t have to pay.
Carla's daughter does not get the tuition benefit afforded to other children with a disabled veteran as a parent or step-parent. Through student loans, a Pell grant and a Chapter 35 GI Bill which is a federal program, Carla's daughter has made things work. She has to pay $5,600 a year for tuition that she would not have to pay if her mom’s marriage was recognized.
Jessica & Kathleen Källström-Schreckengost
We decided to move back to the ‘Good Life’ to raise our son. We had to choose between a good quality of life and legal security. Our family should have both the quality of life that comes with Nebraska and the security that comes with legal marriage. - Kathleen
Kathleen Källström-Schreckengost grew up in Omaha and moved away to go to Barnard College where she met Jessica in 2004. The couple started dating soon after meeting and quickly fell in love. In 2010 they were married in Massachusetts.
The couple has had a successful career in the New York City area but recently moved back to Nebraska. Kathleen is a therapist who is joining a group practice called Arbor Family Counseling Associates. Jessica graduated from Rutgers Law School and has worked as a litigator for a large Wall Street law firm. She hopes to continue her legal career in Nebraska.
Their son Sebastian was born in February of this year while the couple was living in New Jersey. Jessica gave birth and both parents’ names are on the birth certificate. They hope for another child and are already making arrangements to grow their family – but they worry that if they had a child in Nebraska, he or she wouldn’t be able to have two legal parents.
Even with Sebastian, they worry that Nebraska’s refusal to recognize their marriage sends a message that his family is less deserving of support and respect than other families. Moreover, because of the lack of legal recognition of their marriage, Kathleen and Jessica will have to take on additional expenses to get legal documents such as powers of attorney and health care proxies in order to provide some of the protections that come with marriage, although they know that no legal documents can provide most of the protections of marriage.
When Kathleen was a sophomore in high school, she was active in the opposition to Amendment 416, and in part due to the political climate in Nebraska, decided to move out of state for college. She never realized that the Amendment would have such a direct effect on her life, but having a child motivated Kathleen and Jessica to move back to Nebraska to be near family and to give their son a Midwestern upbringing. Sadly, the cost of moving to Nebraska to be close to family was to be effectively “unmarried” and, thus, considered less of a family in the eyes of the state.
Kathleen’s parents are both teachers in Omaha. Her sister, married with three children, lives in Papillion. Kathleen and Jessica are enjoying being near to family so Sebastian can spend time with his cousins. Kathleen looks forward to her children experiencing things like the farmers market and pumpkin patches.
Greg Tubach & Bil Roby
In the evenings when we look over at each other and know we are there for the other that is when we know we are right for each other. - Bil and Greg
One day Greg, 49, and Bil, 57, met while playing a game of pool in Lincoln. 28 years and several arguments over who will shovel the snow later, the couple is still together and living in Lincoln. They have said that when they get married, they will do it in the state they love and have called home for most of their lives.
Greg works from home and has been with his company for almost two decades. Bil works for the State of Nebraska.
Greg was born and raised in Lincoln. Bil moved here as a young boy. After the couple met, they moved to College Station, Texas, while Greg was in graduate school at Texas A&M University, later moved to Indiana for two years, and moved back to Lincoln in 2001 to support the family when Greg’s dad was dying from cancer.
Greg’s mom is currently in an assisted living home in Lincoln. She lights up when Bil comes with Greg to help her and visit. Bil also has a nephew and a niece in Lincoln who, according to Bil and Greg, “are like our kids.”
Being by each other’s side as their parents have had medical issues and passed away has been one of the most meaningful parts of their relationship. They don’t think about their love for and commitment to each other in terms of momentous occasions, but rather spending time with each other by the fire pit at night or helping each other with chores. For over a decade they’ve owned a lake cabin outside of Lincoln where they go over the summers. They enjoy knowing all of the other families that get together at the lake.
They have done their best to plan for each other through wills and powers of attorney documents – all things they wouldn’t need if they could get married in Nebraska—but know that this only provides them a fraction of the protections that come with marriage.
Marj Plumb & Tracy Weitz
I was born and raised in the Midwest, with siblings, nieces and nephews and their families now within a day’s reach. We didn’t come to Nebraska to pick a fight. What we relied on when we made the decision to move to a state whose law does not recognize our marriage is the belief that deep down Midwesterners believe in fairness and equality and that this would soon change. - Marj
When Marj Plumb, 55, and Tracy Weitz, 49, moved to Omaha this year for a job, they brought with them a half-million dollar a year business, two distinguished careers, and mounds of legal questions.
They have been a couple for ten years but have known each other for longer. They met almost two decades ago when they were both living in the San Francisco area. In 2008 during a vacation with extended family, they got married. The wedding was a small intimate affair. To them, it was perfect, being in a small rural community with their family and formalizing the love they have shared for years.
After a job offer for Tracy, which they couldn’t turn down, they moved into a 100 year old house in Dundee with their two big dogs. In the time they’ve been in Nebraska they hired local contractors and businesses to help them renovate their home, a centerpiece in the historic neighborhood. The couple has enjoyed block parties and their neighbors, many who stop on the street to talk about the weather, families, pets and work.
The couple has also discovered Nebraska’s great parks and enjoy camping. They also enjoy going to the movies and shopping, particularly for household furniture. Marj and Tracy have found local charities they support and have already become donors. Pleased to now call Nebraska home, the price of moving to Nebraska has been, in effect, to become divorced for the purposes of state law.
They have too many times since moving here worried about what their legal status is in this state and how they would care for each other if something were to happen. Before answering what for most people in Nebraska is a simple question asked on forms at doctors’ offices, banks and other places -- What is your marital status?--they don’t know whether to check the box “married” or “single” given that they are married but Nebraska considers them single. They hired accountants and attorneys to help them plot out the strange path between being legally married in one state, and through the eyes of the federal government, but not legally married in Nebraska.
Nick Kramer & Jason Cadek
It’s amazing how having a child changes everything. We want Nebraska to recognize our marriage for Alice and our family. She deserves the same happiness, opportunity, and security that so many other children have. - Nick & Jason
Jason, 37, and Nick, 42, both grew up in rural America. Jason is from North Loup, Nebraska, population 300. Nick grew up in Montana. When they met, Nick was a consultant living in NYC who frequently came to Omaha for work. They met in a way people often do in romantic comedy films: Jason was a server at a restaurant Nick frequented while in Omaha for work. After ten years as partners, they were married in October of 2013.
Nick joined Jason in Nebraska because they wanted to make a life together and raise a family. In September of 2011, Jason and Nick were in the delivery room when their daughter Alice was delivered and their family was born. They have been Alice’s parents, by her side, from the moment she took her first breath. Alice just celebrated her third birthday. However, because Nebraska doesn’t recognize their marriage, they could not jointly adopt Alice, leaving her with no legal ties to Jason, her “Daddy”, and without the comfort and security that she would have if Nebraska recognized her parents’ relationship.
Although the State does not recognize the family relationship between Jason and Alice, their extended family and community does. Shortly after Alice was born, Jason’s family wanted to host a baby shower for Alice in North Loup. So many people RSVP'ed that they had to move the event to a venue in a neighboring town to accommodate nearly a hundred people who wanted to attended.
Nick is currently a consultant and Jason is a compliance auditor for a bank in Omaha. They own their home and Alice enjoys playing with their 2 cats and 2 dogs. In addition to a supportive family, Jason is fortunate that his job allows him to extend his health insurance benefits to Nick and Alice. However since Nebraska doesn’t recognize Nick and Alice as his family members, they have to pay taxes on the health insurance benefits. This means $5,650 of health insurance is considered taxable income every year.
Such family and workplace support, however, doesn’t change the fact that if Nick were unavailable, it might be difficult for Jason to make medical or legal decisions for Alice. Additionally, were Jason to pass away, Alice would receive no survivor benefits. The couple lies awake some nights fearing that Alice would not be able to stay with Jason if something were to happen to Nick.
Tom Maddox & Randy Clark
Essentially, in addition to preparing our joint Federal income tax return, I would need to prepare mock federal income tax returns as single individuals for each of us to satisfy Nebraska. It is an undue burden for married same-sex couples who would need to incur significant additional professional tax preparation expenses. It is demeaning to have Nebraska make us say we ’single.' - Randy
Tom, 57, grew up in Lincoln. He attended the University of Nebraska for both undergraduate and medical school. Tom moved away from Lincoln to do his Family Medicine residency in Kansas City, Missouri, where he met Randy, now 61, who grew up in Missouri. The couple have been together for over 30 years.
The couple lives in La Jolla, California, but keep strong ties to their family in Nebraska, Missouri and other parts of the country. Randy is a CPA who currently works as Chief Financial Officer for a company based in Kansas City. Tom is a practicing Family Physician and is part of the teaching faculty at a residency program in San Diego. In addition to having extended family in Nebraska, the couple also owns commercial property in Nebraska.
They are both active in the Methodist church where they teach Sunday school classes. They also have two shelter dogs. They’ve had the tug and pull of government on their relationship several times. They were first married in 2004 when the city of San Francisco allowed marriages for same sex couples for a short period. That marriage was annulled by the state of California but they were finally able to get married in 2008 in La Jolla, California.
When the couple comes to visit family or checks on their commercial property, they effectively become unmarried.
Unfortunately, America’s patchwork of marriage laws continues to create difficulties for the couple. While they can file a joint federal tax return, Nebraska has informed them that for 2013 they would need to file as single individuals to report Nebraska sourced income on the properties they jointly own. They are challenging this decision.