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Jeremy D. Wells

Standing in the way of love
By Jeremy D. Wells

Authors note: In August, 2016, I wrote the following story for a newspaper in rural southern Ohio, the Scioto Voice. At that time, Bill and Sherri were petitioning the government to change the laws surrounding disability payments, so that they could be married. Two years later, Bill and Sherri still can’t aff ord to get married, the government has still not addressed the issue that impact disabled people like the duo, and Bill is devoted to his faith and will not “shack up” with Sherri. Th is is their love story.

Bill Adams’ and Sherri Daniels’ romance began like many others. Bill had been admitting Sherri from afar, and asking mutual acaquaintances about her.

“When Bill was working at the Carousel Center, his bus would bring the kids over here,” Sherri explained. “He would see me going out this door, and he told people that he had to meet me.” But Sherri was infatuated with another man. They continued to talk, however, and beame friends. When Sherri was nursing a broken heart, dealing with both the death of her father and learning that her crush was more interested in someone else, she learned that Bill had recently lost his mother. She knew what kind of pain he was going through, and wanted to reach out to Bill, and be there for him. Bill was there for her too, and they have been there for each other ever since. Bill proposed in March, 2014, taking the ring he bought her for Valentine’s Day off of her fingers and returning it as he asked the question that had been burning in his heart for so long.

Bill and Sherri would like to make sure they can always be there for each other, but there is a catch. If they get married, Sherri would lose all of her Social Security benefits. Without them, she wouldn’t be able to afford her necessary medical care herself, and Bill’s benefits and paycheck wouldn’t be able to make up the difference.

“Bill gets SSDI and I get SSI,” Sherri explained. SSDI are benefi ts available to those who have worked and paid into Social Security, based on the number of hours you have worked at a job before becoming disabled, and wouldn’t be impacted by their marriage. However SSI is spousal income, impact their available benefi ts. “I would lose all of my SSI check,” she continued. “I make a little bit working here (at Star Workshop), but it’s not enough. If you get married, you and your wife could have both incomes, make a living for yourselves, have kids. But see, neither one of us are able to have kids. So… he’s my baby, and I’m his.”

So they are stuck. They could cohabitate, and each continue to draw their full benef i ts, but Bill is an elder in his church and doesn’t feel this is a choice that his faith allows him to make.

“There’s people here that are living together, because of the financial. They have families, but they still aren’t married. Some of them have had commitment ceremonies,” Sherri told the Voice. “We can’t do that, because he’s an elder in his church… they don’t believe in living together or shacking up.”

Perhaps even more importantly, if they simply cohabitate Bill and Sherri might lose their ability to be there for each other when they need it the most. Without spousal rights, Bill and Sherri wouldn’t be guaranteed the same choices that other couples take for granted in an emergency situation, for example.

“We want to make it legal, because if anything happened to either one of us, if we weren’t married we couldn’t say… what would happen to us,” Sherri said. “He couldn’t say, Well Sherri needs this or she needs that because he wouldn’t have legal rights.”

“She wouldn’t have no say in the matter,” Bill added, speaking through a computerized punch board that allows him to communicate despite his inability to speak clearly due to his cerebral palsy.

“I mean, even though his dad loves me, I would nave any legal say in what could happen to him,” Sherri continued. “Or he wouldn’t have any say in what could happen to me.”

Sherri then turned her gaze toward Bill, a smile crossing her lips and a look of intense longing in her eyes.

“We just want to get married,” she said.

“All we want,” Bill added, “are the same rights as everybody else.”

Bill, a Self Advocacy Specialist at Star Workshop, is no stranger to that struggle. He went to college and obtained a degree in Social Sciences, hoping to as independent and self sufficient as possible.

“I went to Shawnee State, thinking that I could have a good job, making good money,” Bill said. But instead, like many college graduates, he found himself in a saturated job market and soon learned that sometimes, despite all your hard work and eff ort, bureaucracy and outside forces can stand in the way of your dreams.

“All he wanted was a good job, and to marry me,” Sherry said.

Beyond the legal and faith based aspects, they explained, they want to be married because of their love, and the changes that publicly acknowledging their love and commitment through his marriage would bring.

“All I’ve ever wanted is to be married,” Sherri said, “and to be married to him.”

“I would love to live with her,” Bill said, explaining the change that this would make in his everyday life.

Sherri sometimes becomes disillusioned with the whole process.

“I know people want us to get married,” she said, “but the government, they are making it very hard.”

There are times, she said, that she just wants to give up on the whole dream. But then, as always, Bill is her rock, encouraging her to stay positive and not to become disillusioned.

“I never let anything get in the way of what I am wanting to do in my life,” Bill said, “and I guess it is because of my upbringing.”

Part of that upbringing, he explained, is his church family, which is one reason why his faith is so important for him.

“They have encouraged me since day one,” he said, putting the keyboard aside and deliberately, determinedly, forming the words to speak them out loud.

The same determination drives him, and ‘Sherri, in their quest to change Social Security rules. As they explained, this isn’t just something that aff ects them. It aff ects many others, disabled or elderly, who depend on the Social Security system they have paid into as working adults.

“We’re not only fighting for us,” Bill said, “but for everyone.”

While the Social Security system has looked at ways to lessen the impact of their policies on folks like Sherri and Bill, they have not yet made the changes to their rules that would allow them and other couples like them to acknowledge their love for and commitment to one another.

As Sherri explained, they aren’t looking for any extra money or benefi ts, but just to keep what they already have, so they can continue to make ends meet while still maintaining the health care they need.