Pam Kleiss and her partner Salud Garcia spent a majority of their lives together as a couple unmarried. Not because they didn't want to be married, but because they were legally unable to do so.
Kleiss, a 53-year-old lesbian woman living in Madison, said the inability to get married is the greatest example of a time the government did something to hurt her.
"Being unmarried for most of our time together — when we would have chosen to be married — was financially detrimental to us," Kleiss said while waiting for Madison’s Pride Parade to start on a sunny afternoon in August.
"We can wear the emotional strain of it, I mean minority communities across the nation live with that, but the financial burden of being home with our child, and being the stay-at-home parent — to assure that she had the care she needed — and knowing that my partner could not add me to her health plan, and the cost that we had to bear for that," Kleiss said.
Accepting that she couldn't be added to her partner’s health care plan was demoralizing.
"To me, that's just a really simple, dollar and cents (thing), her employer would not add me to the health plan, we couldn't get married and prove that we were that couple," she said. "I don't know, that was so disheartening to me that it made marriage one of the key things that I wanted to fight for."
And fight she did.
"Her employer would not add me to the health plan, we couldn't get married and prove that we were that couple. I don’t know, that was so disheartening to me that it made marriage one of the key things that I wanted to fight for," said Pam Kleiss, of Madison.
Kleiss and her partner joined the American Civil Liberties Union — along with seven other couples — in suing the state of Wisconsin for its ban on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit was filed in February 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Four months later, Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state's ban violated the rights of gay and lesbian couples under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The state appealed the decision, but on Oct. 6, 2014, the ban was struck down when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear cases on the issue from lower courts.
"At the time, it was something that had to be fixed, people were afraid their whole worlds would fall apart, and I think that in Wisconsin and across the country we found that nothing has fallen apart," Kleiss said. "I was really glad to help to serve my government that way, to help them see that this was something that had to happen, and that our country is now better for it."
Kleiss and her partner were married in Madison in 2015.
Now, she's looking toward the future, thinking about the type of world she wants to leave behind for her 16-year-old child.
"The issue that I spend a lot of time reading and discussing with my friends is how we build a world for our children where they can grow up strong, independent and financially stable," she said. "It's increasingly difficult to have good conversations about our future generation because there’s so much divisiveness in the media and in the political climate."
Kleiss said President Donald Trump adds to that divisiveness, and that she hopes those that get elected into office in November will take a different approach.
"I’m looking to our leaders to help find that ground, that common ground, where we are looking forward and not rehashing old, tired political or cultural norms that don’t serve us anymore," she said.