SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — From a young age, Arlene Zarembka and her spouse, Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, were activists.
Zarembka had a letter printed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when she was 12 years old calling for equality during the 1960s sit-in movement. Tang-Martinez's parents often told her stories about her advocating for the underdog as a young girl, the Springfield News-Leader reported (http://sgfnow.co/1ArHdyN ).
Now the couple is fighting for their own rights. Zarembka and Tang-Martinez, together for over 30 years, were married in 2005 in Canada. Their same-sex marriage isn't recognized in St. Louis, where they live. The couple is one of 10 same-sex couples who are part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union suing the state of Missouri for marriage recognition. All the couples have been legally married in another state or country. Springfield couple Katherine and Ashley Quinn are also plaintiffs in the suit.
Zarembka and Tang-Martinez were in Springfield this month to speak at the monthly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays meeting at National Avenue Christian Church. They spoke on the history of the struggle for LGBT rights in Missouri and their own reasons for joining the lawsuit. The couple helped form a group in Missouri to advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians in the mid-1980s.
The couple hopes their personal story will show the importance of marriage recognition.
"I think that the whole strides that we made as a community has all been about the personal stories told to people who might not initially be thinking that they would be OK with the gays and lesbians and transgender people. I think the personal story is what it's all about," said Zarembka, an attorney.
Tang-Martinez, now professor emerita, retired from teaching at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2011. The couple does not qualify for domestic partner benefits that were recently extended to same-sex couples at UMSL because those benefits were not in place at the time of her retirement, Tang-Martinez said. Zarembka has also not been approved for Social Security spousal benefits because those benefits are determined by the state of residence. Missouri does not recognize their marriage.
"That was really the last straw, it was so incredibly unfair," said Tang-Martinez.
She said she was involved in the fight to gain domestic partnership benefits at UMSL for over 20 years.
Zarembka cited another reason for joining the lawsuit: "If heaven forbid, I would die or Zuleyma would die, our death certificate would say we were single, like a lie on the death certificate forever. To have that eraser on our relationship to me is just intolerable."
Zarembka said a judgment on the lawsuit will likely be handed down on Sept. 5 in Kansas City, if the case does not go to trial. She expects there to be an appeal from whichever side loses.
"Given what's happened around the country, I'm optimistic, but I never want to predict what somebody's going to rule because one can be surprised," Zarembka said.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013, all but one of about two dozen lower-court rulings have been in favor of same-sex marriage. Currently, 19 states allow same-sex marriage.
The couple said they were surprised how quickly states have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Zarembka said that was something she did not think she would see in her lifetime.
"It's really a generational thing now. As more and more young people are growing up and voting, it's becoming less and less of an issue," Zarembka said.
Zarembka and Tang-Martinez said they are amazed to see how LGBT rights have progressed since they first came out as lesbians, but they are not done fighting for equality for all.
Zarembka said, "I have a lot of optimism for gay and lesbian rights. I think transgender rights is another area that's going to need an enormous amount of work because I think there's a lot of prejudice, lack of understanding. So there's still a lot of work to be done."