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Judy Rickard Headshot

Living in DOMA's Shadow, Now Waiting Under the Bus for SCOTUS to Seal Our Fate

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DOMA. One of the worst four-letter words I have ever heard. DOMA threatens my marriage, my wife, my health, my sanity, and my future. And worse, many people don't even know about it and its harrowing control over the lives of thousands of same-sex binational families and married military couples where both spouses are the same gender.

DOMA is a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton. It was supposed to free the U.S. from an impending same-sex marriage tsunami that legislators thought was coming with chatter about such moves in the state of Hawaii. The bill was proposed and passed and signed to keep America the way it was, not the way it will ultimately be. It's been hurting Americans and tearing families apart for almost 20 years.

At the time, I heard of it, but it wasn't the clawing, spiteful life-changer to me then that it has become. It didn't affect me personally, because I didn't have a same-sex spouse from another country. And I am ashamed to say that I didn't know much about it or do much about it, because I didn't know anyone affected, I thought. But I found out I did. I didn't help directly then. Today I spend too much time and money on DOMA, my personal and community enemy since I met my wife in 2005. Because of DOMA, my life has been turned upside down, my pockets turned inside out, my future blurred.

DOMA has made me do some things that no American should have to do.

I have had to choose between my wife and my career. I chose early retirement in 2009 so Karin and I could be together more than apart after she was held for three hours of questioning at the San Francisco International Airport in 2008 when we were returning from Europe together. Being married and being apart more than together is not the life I want.

I have had to choose between my wife and my country. For months at a time, I have lived elsewhere to be with my wife, while our home and cat in California were tended by others. Depending on the imminent outcome of the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, that might be a permanent situation -- one we don't want to embrace.

I have had to choose between my wife and my family. To meet Karin's visa demands, I have left the country to be with her, flying away from aging parents in Oregon, a widowed sister in California, and newly connected siblings whom I have just met in my retirement years after being adopted as an infant in 1948.

I have participated for years in trying to get this situation fixed. So far I have talked to President Obama in person twice, to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano once, and to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and many other federal legislators many times about this issue. The president put us in his proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. Secretary Napolitano assured me that we were in the president's proposal. Rep. Honda, back in 2009, when I shared my impending early retirement, added us (via UAFA, the Uniting American Families Act) into his comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Reuniting Families Act. But so far, I live under the bus with so many others since the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May did not include same-sex binational families in the Gang of Eight's version of comprehensive immigration reform that was sent to the full Senate.

In 2012 I filed for a green card for my wife -- we meet all qualifications, per the officer at USCIS, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services. We are thrilled we weren't denied, but because of DOMA, we have to wait and see if it will be granted. Meanwhile, Karin can't do ordinary things, like go home to visit, attend her son's wedding, or be with her daughter after surgery. And the list goes on.

We don't sit still, passively awaiting our fate, our future. I blog and write articles and speak on panels and at meetings. Karin and I go on camera, participate in online programs, speak at organizations, pose for photos, attend conferences, and get exhausted documenting our life while we live it -- all to help same-sex binational families like us, many of whom cannot help themselves in public. It's draining. Big-time. We have developed a love/hate relationship with our activism.

I am not the poison pill for comprehensive immigration reform. I am not ruining America. I am not diluting or negating straight marriages. I am sick and tired of all this. I am exhausted. I am heartsick. I am feeling betrayed. I am hurting. I am disillusioned. I can barely read the news, and when I do, it makes me feel worse. Enough already!

I was startled recently to find that a friend and ally did not get the major problem Karin and I face: having to leave the country if DOMA stays the law of the land. At a political fundraiser for a gay candidate for the California state legislature, a comment was made that made me remind her that we will find out in a few days whether we will have to leave America or not. She was stunned and speechless. Somehow she had not connected the dots to see that Karin and I might have to disappear from her world, might have to leave San Jose and California and America. It was painful to watch. I comforted her, when it's me and my wife who really need comforting these days.

It's not too late to help me and Karin and so many others. Get out that phone. Call your senators. Call your congressional representative. Tell them you don't want two old broads like Judy (65) and Karin (72) to have to pack up and leave their home and American family and cat because of DOMA. Tell them there are an estimated 30,000-plus such families who only want to be together in their homes, safely and legally. Tell them no American should have to leave America because of whom they love and whom they marry. Tell them no one should have to deny a relationship or tear one apart because of citizenship or country of origin.

I don't want to spend another second under the bus. Thanks.

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