Though Washington State affirmed same-sex couples’ right to marry in 2012, the ripple effect of this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has resulted in significant victories for LGBT Washingtonians. Legal Voice recently secured one such victory for Joe Krumbach, who has fought since 2013 to obtain legal recognition of his marriage to his deceased husband, Jerry Hatcher.
Joe and Jerry met in 1989 and soon fell in love. After 14 years together, they had a marriage ceremony in Seattle in 2003, officiated by a rabbi with 200 friends and family in attendance. Jerry, a decorated veteran, passed away in 2008; Joe kept his promise to care for Jerry at home until the very end, and helped fulfill his final wish of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. But because Washington had an unconstitutional law on the books when Jerry died that purported to ban their marriage, Jerry's death certificate did not indicate that he and Joe were married.
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" in 2013, Joe applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for benefits that are available to spouses of deceased veterans. The VA denied his request on the grounds that Washington State did not permit same-sex couples to marry until after Jerry's death. But Joe didn't give up. Last year he asked the Washington Department of Health (DOH) for an amended death certificate that recognized that he and Jerry were married. He received a similar reply denying his request.
Joe then contacted State Senator Jamie Pedersen, who referred him to Legal Voice. We submitted a letter to the DOH on Joe's behalf, arguing that Joe and Jerry's ceremonial marriage must be recognized as a valid marriage by Washington State in light of the Obergefell decision. We are pleased to report that the Department agreed with our arguments, and has issued an amended death certificate correctly indicating that Jerry and Joe were married.
This victory is bittersweet for Joe; when we delivered the amended certificate to him he said, "It's surreal. It's so final." But, like Legal Voice, he is focused on creating change.
"Every journey starts with a step, and I made that first step," said Joe. "What matters now is the people behind me, the people who will benefit from this."
While we continue to celebrate this year's momentous marriage equality victory, our work to win full LGBTQ equality did not end with that decision. And you know that we will continue to fight until the promise of legal equality becomes a lived reality for all LGBTQ people.