Hickory, North Carolina
Esmeralda Mejia and Christina Ginter-Mejia of Hickory, have been together 19 years, have a 7-year old son, and were legally married in Maryland in 2013. Mejia is a decorated retired Army major who served for 13 years, including in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, and received a Bronze Star, among other accolades.
She left the Army after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Four years later, in 1996, she received a second cancer diagnosis for a tumor in her left lung. She has undergone many procedures, including surgery to remove the upper lobe of her lung and three ribs, and a liver transplant.
“I never know when Esme will have an emergency situation and need me to be there,” Christina says. When Esme experienced liver failure, she was airlifted to Charlotte and hospitalized for 144 days, but Christina was not granted a single day of family medical leave from her job because their marriage is not recognized in North Carolina, forcing her to use paid vacation time. “I don’t know where I’d be without Christina,” Esme says. “She’s my rock and has been through all my surgeries and treatments with me. She is the person I trust to act on my behalf if I am ever unable to make decisions on my own.”
Because Christina is also their son’s sole legal parent, he is not able to receive the family benefits that flow from Esmerelda’s military service, and if Esmerelda were to die before North Carolina recognizes her marriage, he will never be able to receive them.