Love At Last

Lori Long and Mark Contreras, an inter-abled couple in Salinas, dream about their wedding. “It’s been a crazy ride,” Long says. “Mark and I went from celebrating our love to reading a policy.”

Lori Long describes her dating life in her 40s like many people who turn to online dating: “I had low expectations.” But she was accustomed to informing her first dates about expectations before meeting her in person: When they would see her from the side, the curvature of her spine would be apparent, and she wanted them to know in advance.

It did not bother Mark Contreras, nor did Long’s chronic pain associated with her disability. Rather than limiting their activities, he adapted – they’d go hiking and picnicking, but he’d carry the water.

They fell in love and got engaged and started wedding planning. It was only then that Long learned that if she were to marry someone like Contreras who is not disabled, she would lose her Social Security Disability Insurance.

Long was born with a rare autoimmune disease, hereditary ankylosing spondylitis, which results in tiny fractures to her spine, a painful condition that requires lots of physical therapy and stretching – she describes medical care as a full-time job, in addition to her part-time job at Home Goods. She relies on $1,224/month from SSDI to cover expenses.

More than 1.1 million Americans receive SSDI benefits; they keep those benefits if they marry someone else who is disabled – but lose them if they marry someone who is not.

Long eventually took her complaint to U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, who on Jan. 13 introduced the Marriage Equality for Disabled Adults Act, which includes a provision called “Lori’s Law” that would eliminate the restriction.

“The current law can put people in a position where they are forced to choose between their health care or their happiness,” Panetta says. “That type of marriage penalty is antiquated.”

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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