On Jan. 1, 2015 my father died of colon cancer at the age of 60. In March, while I was helping my brother and sisters clean out our father’s house, I got a call from my doctor: I had breast cancer.
My spouse, a public school teacher, had very good insurance. Better than I have ever had, but over the 10-plus years she had this insurance, I was not allowed to be on it. Because I am a woman and she is a woman and the state of Michigan did not recognize our marriage (or I should say “marriages,” because in 2003 we had a wedding before our friends and family. And then in 2013 we went to San Diego and were married legally. Sadly neither marriage mattered in the eyes of Michigan law).
My father had always wanted to write a book and, sadly, died without ever accomplishing that dream. So after my father’s death, I resigned from my teaching job at the University of Michigan in order to focus on my writing. When I resigned, I had planned to finish the semester, but when I was diagnosed in March I went on immediate medical leave to begin treatment. My insurance would run out Sept. 1. I had about six months until I would be a cancer patient without insurance.
Surgery left me weak, chemo made me very sick, and just when I was feeling a little better radiation knocked me down again. It was not an ideal time to figure out insurance plans. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I knew that I could not be denied insurance based on a preexisting condition — so I had hope that I would be able to buy a policy on the exchange.
Around this time, the U.S. Supreme Court had before it cases regarding both the ACA and marriage equality. I really needed both to go my way. If the ACA was struck down, I was worried I would have a hard time getting insurance. As I sat in the chemo ward, poison pumping into my body, I worried about bankrupting my family. My wife and I had just bought a new house in a great school district for our then 5-year-old son. I worried about losing our house. I worried about what school district my son would end up in.
But most of all, I worried about my son losing his Mama D. Because my marriage to Stacy was not recognized, neither was my relationship to my own son. My wife is his biological mother. According to Michigan law, I was just some woman who lived with them.
Even while I was sicker than I have ever been, I held out hope that the Supreme Court would finally rule that my family was, indeed, a real family. That my marriage was a real marriage. That my son was my real son. Marriage equality was something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. And now, as the length of that lifetime hung in limbo, I needed it more than ever.
When the ruling came down in June of 2015, I cried. Bald and bloated from the chemo, I had certainly felt better physically, but I also felt like a tremendous weight was lifted off of my back. Off of my family’s back. I felt like we were finally free.
Soon after the ruling my wife called her benefits office and added me, her lawfully wedded wife, to her insurance. And I continued with my treatments. And I survived.
And so I like to say that the Supreme Court saved my life. It sounds a little hyperbolic, sure. It’s not like they cured cancer. But the Court absolutely saved my family, and my family is my life. So it’s really not an exaggeration at all.
So when people ask me why I’m supporting Hillary Clinton for president, I tell them this story. I want my friends and family and neighbors to understand how actual Supreme Court cases directly changed the course of my life. I want a Supreme Court that will continue to protect families like mine, and I trust Clinton to appoint justices who will do just that.
Truth be told, I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. I thought very hard about who to vote for and it was clear to me that I had the choice between two excellent candidates. Sanders was a bit more progressive and so he got my vote. But I cast that vote knowing that if he didn’t win, I could and would support Clinton. Not only do I like her as a person and trust her as a leader, I know from harrowing first hand experience how close to home a Supreme Court case can cut.