Beyond the courthouse steps

Advice for same-sex couples thinking about tying the knot … from three who’ve done it

In spite of the vigor and noisiness of the national debate, many of us probably have an impression of same-sex marriage based solely on the media’s iconic image. It’s the happy couple on the courthouse steps … just after midnight on the day the law gives them the right to marry … happily brandishing their marriage licenses.

As anyone who’s tied the knot knows, getting married and being married are different things. That courthouse step scene is simply a happy moment in time. It’s the cover for a much deeper story.

So, I recently took the opportunity to talk with three pioneers—Progressive colleagues who’ve agreed to share their stories as one half of a same-sex married couple. Each also offered advice to others thinking about making the leap.

Seek out support and resources

Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Josephine D’Angelo is a multiline rep on Progressive’s National Catastrophe Response Team. When severe weather strikes an area, her team mobilizes to respond quickly to customer claims.

After the federal government’s repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013, she and her partner of 20 years decided to get married. They held a small ceremony in New York, at the home of a friend who happened to be an ordained minister.

She remarked that she’s always felt like Progressive has supported her, regardless of her sexual orientation. “From the time I started in 2003, I’ve just felt like my manager and teammates have had my back.” In recent years, Josephine has both sought and provided support through her involvement in Progressive’s GLBT Employee Resource Group.

Her advice to same-sex couples, whether or not they’re pondering marriage, is to seek out GLBT-focused support in their communities. “A community GLBT organization can be your first step to getting the support you need for legal issues—like understanding how your rights vary by state.”

Josephine also talked about the importance of the social and emotional support provided by these groups, such as the one she volunteers her time to in Raleigh. “These groups are helpful to any GLBT person, particularly those raising children. Our group holds ‘family nights’ where we invite members to bring their children, offer games, and give families a chance to interact with each other. It really helps them build a broader base of support.”

Plan for the future

Hank Drake is a quality assurance analyst in Progressive’s IT department in Cleveland. He’s been at Progressive for 10-1/2 years.

He met his future husband at a movie theater in January 2006. They literally bumped into each other while walking back from the snack bar (picture popcorn and soft drinks flying). After quickly hitting it off, they moved in together that September.

Hoping Ohio would soon legalize same-sex marriage, the pair waited to tie the knot … for a while. Says Hank, “We finally had enough waiting and just said ‘to heck with this.’ We got married in Vermont in 2014.”

Hank’s advice centers on planning for the future, particularly financial planning. “There’s a lot of talk about the ‘power of the gay dollar.’ But, just because you might not have some of the expenses that straight couples have, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thoughtful about your financial future. Studies have shown that retiring gays and lesbians tend to have less stashed away than straight retirees.”

Hank also stresses the importance of end-of-life and estate planning, including preparing legal documents like power of attorney, will, burial directions, etc. It’s wise advice for any married couple. For same-sex couples, this documentation can serve as a legal buffer while marriage laws remain inconsistent from state to state.

You’ll also want to let your employer know you’ve gotten married—you may be able to get benefit costs deducted before tax, saving you money.

And, check with your insurance company. Progressive, for instance, now extends its marriage discount to all same-sex married couples, even those living in states that don’t currently recognize their marriage.

Know your rights

Dan Weybrecht is a 33-year veteran of Progressive, based in Cleveland. Today, he’s an IT director, helping lead the team that’s developing and maintaining the company’s policy management systems.

He met his future husband, a Canadian citizen, in Toronto in 2000. Embarking on a long-distance relationship, the pair considered marriage in Canada in 2004, shortly after that country legalized it. Dan’s partner, a working artist, was willing to relocate to Cleveland so Dan could continue his Progressive career. But they ultimately decided to hold off, knowing that the non-recognition of their marriage in Ohio would complicate his partner’s immigration.

By 2012, the pair felt they’d done enough waiting. They decided to get married the following September in Massachusetts. In the meantime, the federal government repealed DOMA, paving the way for Dan’s husband’s U.S. citizenship. As of this writing, they’re nearing the end of that process.

In spite of his own waiting, Dan is impressed at the speed with which states have legalized same-sex marriage. And, he advises couples to know their rights. “If it’s someone you want to be with for life, pursue it. The law is on your side. It’s a big commitment, but there’s no more or less risk than for a straight couple, so take advantage of it.”

And, like Josephine, Dan stresses the importance of support. “At one time, you could only find acceptance and support on these little ‘islands’ that seemed few and far between. But those islands have become bigger and bigger. Acceptance has spread well beyond specific neighborhoods. So, if you feel like you’re isolated, then you’re probably really in the wrong place.”

The speed with which our country is evolving to adapt same-sex marriage in the last decade is something to marvel at. And yet, we still talk about it as something a little different than the norm; literally a modified form of marriage.

Same-sex married couples share the same joys, experience the same challenges, and look to the future just as all married couples do. So, perhaps in another few years, we’ll look back on 2015 as a transitional time, and refer to any two people committed to each other in this way as simply “married.”