Meet Wisconsin Families: Salud Garcia and Pam Kleiss • Madison

Salud-and-PamSalud, 50, and Pam, 49, have been together 18 years. They live in Madison with their 12-year old daughter. They met when they were both working for the American Association of Retired Persons, Pam in Seattle, and Salud in California. A co-worker of Pam’s, who was also a friend of Salud’s, would forward funny or interesting emails from Salud to Pam. Eventually, Salud met Pam at a meeting in Seattle, and Pam said excitedly, “You’re Salud from the emails!”

Pam recalls: “The moment I met her, I was totally smitten, just whacked out in love.”

Salud says of Pam, “She’s an astonishingly supportive person. You couldn’t ask for a better sidekick in any adventure.”

Later that year, Salud moved to Seattle, and within a few months, she and Pam started seeing each other. In 2001, they decided to have a child, and Pam gave birth to their daughter in October. Their daughter was born 14 weeks early and weighed just over two pounds. She spent the first months of her life in the Neo-natal ICU.

Just after the birth, Pam also experienced complications, and Salud asked for a family I.D. bracelet that would allow her to enter the NICU and care for their child. A nurse told Salud that those bracelets were only for family. Salud felt as though she was being treated like a stranger to her family at their most vulnerable moment.

saludpamPam’s brother-in-law later got the nurse to relent and give Salud a bracelet. Salud later adopted their daughter in Washington State where second-parent adoption is available. But in the hospital in the early days of her child’s life, Salud realized that if Pam had died during childbirth, Salud could have lost both her partner and her daughter, because the law did not protect her relationships with them. Pam and Salud describe their daughter as a “normal tween” with an active social life. She is well liked by her teachers, and the only thing that gets her in trouble at school is talking too much. She contracted a hospital-acquired infection when she was just two weeks old that resulted in some physical disabilities. Despite this, she is an accomplished athlete who plays basketball, skis, swims, and loves a physical challenge. Salud describes her daughter as a “smart jock.” As for the law that keeps her parents from getting married, Pam says their daughter “just doesn’t understand why anyone would object to our marriage.” Pam and Salud have lived in Madison since 2002, and they registered as domestic partners in Wisconsin in 2010. Pam works part-time as the executive director of the Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin (“PSR Wisconsin”). Salud works as a merchandiser for a baking company, but for ten years she worked as for the State Bar of Wisconsin. PSR Wisconsin has been supportive of their relationship, covering half of Pam’s individual health insurance premiums for the past five years, and paying half of the family health insurance plan for six months after Salud left her job in 2013.

When Salud worked for the State Bar and Pam was staying at home taking care of their daughter, Pam became ill. At that time, Pam had a very limited health insurance policy that did not pay for regular doctor visits, so she delayed seeking medical care for her symptoms. Had Salud and Pam been an opposite-sex married couple, Pam could have been covered under Salud’s employer-provided health insurance from the State Bar. Salud asked her employer several times whether they would consider providing health benefits to domestic partners, as they did for different-sex spouses. For nearly 10 years, the Bar refused to do so. As a result, Salud and Pam had to shoulder the costs of a separate insurance policy and pay out-of-pocket for Pam to address her health needs.

Pam and Salud want to marry so that their relationship and their family will be accorded the same esteem and the same protection that different-sex married couples enjoy. In addition to wanting the public acknowledgment of their commitment that marriage would bring, Pam wants the assurance that the law will always treat her, Salud, and their daughter as the family they are. Pam and Salud could leave the state to marry, and in that way access some of the protections that the federal government provides to same-sex spouses. But if they do, they face the possibility of arrest and prosecution in Wisconsin, and they feel that is much too great a risk for them to take. Only marriage in Wisconsin can give them the full range of protections that married couples enjoy and the peace of mind of knowing that they are free from the risk of criminal proceedings. They are entitled to both.

CLICK HERE to sign the pledge supporting marriage for same-sex couples in Wisconsin.
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