Josefina Ahumada, a member of the NASW Arizona Chapter’s board of directors, is part of a federal lawsuit filed recently in Arizona by Lambda Legal.
The lawsuit, which challenges Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage, was filed on behalf of seven same-sex couples and two surviving spouses who were part of a same-sex couple.
Ahumada, one of the surviving spouses, joined the lawsuit after she was denied an application to be listed as spouse on the death certificate of her wife, Helen Batiste.
Ahumada is currently the Tucson component field coordinator at the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She and Batiste were married legally in New Mexico in 2013. They lived in Arizona. Batiste passed away in January, and her death certificate lists her as unmarried.
“I was just stunned,” Ahumada said, recalling the day she received the news. “I was grieving the loss of Helen and this was like someone left a wound in my heart.”
Although the state of Arizona has a ban on same-sex marriage, Ahumada always thought her union would be recognized as she and Batiste were married in New Mexico. She said it was a blow emotionally to find out her marriage to Batiste would not be acknowledged by the federal government.
“I understand intellectually Arizona defines marriage in a certain way, but I thought a marriage made in another state would be accepted,” Ahumada said.
Ahumada and Batiste met in 1991 as neighbors and quickly discovered that they both shared an interest in gardening. Ahumada said they lived a very good life in a community full of friends who completely accepted their union.
“Being in that kind of supportive community, why wouldn’t you think there would be support for our marriage,” Ahumada said. “Personally, this has been a very painful experience. Helen and I were together for over 20 years and we shared our life together.”
Ahumada feels passionately about the lawsuit and said NASW’s Arizona Chapter has been a great source of emotional support.
The chapter is behind Ahumada 100 percent, said Executive Director Jeremy Arp.
“The cases surrounding LGBT couples are basically a civil rights struggle of the time right now,” Arp said. “We as a chapter absolutely support Ahumada, and we support all marriage equality.”
Ahumada hopes for a positive outcome from the lawsuit, and said it’s a way for others to hear her story, so they can understand the personal impact it has on people’s lives.
“The best-case scenario is that the law changes here in Arizona so LGBT families have the same as everyone else,” Ahumada said. “There is a whole segment of societies not being treated equally or fairly. Straight or gay, it’s important for everyone to be honored and recognized.”
Lambda Legal is a nonprofit, legal organization. Its mission is “to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.”