Gay men and lesbians who have legally married their same-sex partners in Massachusetts are finding that they don't have access to the same federal rights as straight couples, nor the same state-level rights, when those from out-of-state return home. The latest reports surfaced on Tuesday with the story of a Massachusetts gay man who is having trouble changing his passport license and an account of the FBI's revoking health insurance benefits for a lesbian employee's partner in Connecticut.
Donald Henneberger, formerly Donald Smith, of Springfield, Mass., recently received a letter from the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, N.H., denying his request for a name change on his passport. The center said it would not recognize a marriage license for a same-sex couple as proof of a name change. The center addressed the letter to "Mr. Henneberger."
Henneberger married his partner of 23 years, Arthur Henneberger, in May, when same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts. On the marriage license the couple checked a box that automatically changes the last names of the partners to whatever they request. The letter from the National Passport Center cites the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which states that federal law requires that a marriage be a union between a man and a woman and that "spouse" refer to only a person of the opposite sex. Donald Henneberger said he had no trouble with the Social Security Administration, another federal agency, when he requested a card in his new name.
He and his partner now have gone to probate court to get further proof of Henneberger's name change. "The woman at probate court said, 'What do you want to do--change your name to Henneberger? It's already Henneberger,"' Donald Henneberger said.
Rep. Richard Neal's office advised the Hennebergers to return to court and that this time the court would initiate the name change. The couple had sought the Democratic congressman's help. "You have to publicize your intent, demonstrate that you are not changing your name for fraudulent purposes, and then you have to appear before a judge," said Jennifer Levi, a professor at Western New England School of Law. She said the probate court name-change process is cumbersome. Henneberger balks at spending $180 in court fees and waiting for the eight-week process to run its course. "It's discriminatory," he said.
Meanwhile, the FBI has rescinded health benefits that it says were mistakenly given to the same-sex partner of an agent after the couple wed in Massachusetts. Katy Gossman, an agent with the FBI in New Haven, Conn., received an e-mail from the bureau informing her that her wife, Kristin, would be removed from her health plan.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter said Tuesday the approval had been a mistake and an oversight. The U.S. government does not allow same-sex spousal benefits, Carter said.
The couple, who live in Meridien, Conn., had been receiving spousal benefits since May 30, Katy Gossman said. They were wed after gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts in May. Katy Gossman sent a copy of her marriage license to FBI headquarters in Washington seeking benefits for Kristin, whom she listed as her spouse. She also said the New Haven office called FBI headquarters to give them a "heads-up" about the situation. "I didn't try to hide it," Katy Gossman, 40, said Tuesday.
Kristin Gossman, 38, is a full-time student and had no health benefits before their marriage, Katy Gossman said. The Gossmans have not decided whether to fight the decision.
Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal has said that state law does not allow for same-sex marriages, but he declined to say whether Connecticut will recognize marriage licenses issued to gay couples in Massachusetts. The Gossmans are among eight couples who have filed a lawsuit challenging a 1913 Massachusetts law that was used to block other out-of-state couples from marrying in that state.
Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has said that any gay marriages involving out-of-state couples would be declared void.