Dear President Obama:
One of the quotes I heard in the last couple of days following the marriage equality case was something like “at last love can be love…”
I write to you today about another marriage inequality, an inequality suffered by thousands and thousands, an inequality invisible and never talked about, an inequality no one fights to remedy, an inequality based on federal statute: the attack on marriage of the disabled and senior citizens.
Thousands and thousands of couples in this country find themselves unable to either get married or stay married because of the financial penalties imposed on them by federal law. It is unfair. It is wrong and rather it is legal or not it is discrimination that hurts thousands of innocent American citizens.
My wife Linda and I know first hand.
We have been married for 34 years. Linda has been disabled since birth. She has epilepsy. At one point in time 10-15 grand mal seizures were a good day for her. She has had brain surgery to try to control the seizures. For a while that worked, but they come back and right now are a greater and greater problem in her life.
We have never been rich but when I took social security retirement our world caved in on us. Linda had SSI and had to maintain that at all costs to continue to receive Tenn Care (Tennessee medicaid). We found out that my retirement took all but a few dollars of her SSI. In the space of a few minutes meeting we lost over $700 a month in income. My retirement (that I worked 47 years for) was Social Security told us “unearned income” and the ceiling on unearned income was half that of earned income. They told me I could get a job to make up the shortfall but that if I earned more than $40 in a month Linda would totally lose her SSI and her insurance. She would not survive.
We went home and figured out a budget. With the loss of her income after bills were payed we would have less than $30 a month to live on. In succeeding months it would get worse. We could not buy food. We could not buy gas for the car. We could not buy any of the thousand things people buy in the course of a month and never think about. And there was no way to make it better. To get a job was to put her life in danger and make it impossible for her to access any medical care at all.
On December 26, 2013 we separated and have been separated ever since. What we have found out since then is that tens of thousands of people are in the same boat. We know of people that have been married for years that have had to separate in their senior years because they government basically tells them they have to. The combination of disability by one or more of the partners and being a senior is particularly deadly. But we also know young people who although they love each other may never be ever to marry. It would impose too big a risk.
I talked to one congressman who was at least sympathetic but he told me that it would cost too much to fix the problem and would probably never be addressed. Legally right now I know of no way my wife and I will ever live together again.
Part of the problem for us would be addressed if Tennessee expanded medicaid and we are doing what we can to be part of that effort. But greater issues remain. We can not live on $30 a month. We should not have to. That should not be the penalty for us being married. Disability should not be the cause of others having to separate or not be able to marry.
Justice Kennedy in his opinion talked about the right if people are to enjoy the liberty they should as citizens of this country no obstacles or problems should be put in the way of their becoming married should they choose to. It is part of dignity. It is part of respect. It is part of freedom. And without it how can we ever say that this is a just society.
The federal government should not be the source of the assault of its citizens. To be disabled in this society for too many means that being married is dangerous and consigns you to a life of poverty, hunger, and fear.
The decision of the Supreme Court is a huge step. But few people even know about this issue. People, if they know at all, turn a blind eye and are sorry the law is so harsh. Mr. President please take a look at the issue and please, please make the thousand and thousands suffering also have a fair chance. Marriage equality for all.