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Judy Rickard Headshot

Post-DOMA 'Meet the Feds' Round 2: Social Security

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It's been an interesting, trailblazing summer for us since Karin got her green card in late July, following DOMA's fall in late June. The first thing she did was take a five-week visit to the UK to see our family there while I stayed home to recuperate from all the work and stress of our long fight.

Now that she's back, we have our checklist. The first stop on the list, the second agency after USCIS, was Social Security. I applied online for Social Security benefits for Karin, but we knew we would have to go to the office to provide copies of documents and other information they would ask for. We also knew we were in uncharted territory, so we thought we might have to break down a barrier or two. We were right.

The woman who took our case off the online submission called the house phone and requested certain things. We went to see her, and by luck, she recognized Karin's name from the list of people who, like us, had showed up without an appointment and was able to take us, since her 2 p.m. person didn't show up as scheduled.

She was very nice and interested in our situation. She was apologetic that the Social Security computer system wasn't set up for people like us yet. She congratulated us on our marriage and our DOMA win. She now has to find out how to determine Karin's date of residence in the U.S., and we are waiting to return and finalize Karin's records. Is she a U.S. resident since our domestic partnership in 2007? Since our marriage in 2011? Since she received her green card this past July? We are waiting to hear.

She told us that since we were the first such case in our region, a precedent-setting determination has to be made. Pioneers and trailblazers we are yet again, pushing the federal government to take care of us appropriately.

Just as it was when I applied for a green card with the DOMA Project when doing so was against the law, we now have to wait for a federal employee or agency to make a determination on Karin and her status. When they do, she will be enrolled with Social Security and eligible for benefits as my spouse.

Our next stop, unless something else develops, is Medicare. I notified my pension agency, CalPERS, that my domestic partner is now my wife as I notified them that she is now a permanent legal resident. But as gratifying as their reply phone call informing us that her status with the pension agency is now "married," no longer "domestic partner," may have been, they can't do anything about adding her to Medicare without a judgment from Social Security. So there's another thing to do.

I was lucky: I was born in America. I don't have to deal with all this; it came with work and age and retirement. But I am happy to take the time to deal with this for Karin. It's for her, certainly, but it's all about making the system take care of all of us equally too. In this case, what's good for the majority is good for the minority. I am happy to blaze trails to help the rest of the same-sex spouses who have benefited from DOMA's demise. All those who are now benefiting from California's post-Prop 8 same-sex marriage decision are helping by volume, I know, but the smaller group of us U.S. citizens with non-U.S. citizen spouses who are getting green cards are forcing federal agencies to create America's post-DOMA future. That makes me very happy!

While I wait to hear from Social Security and get ready to deal with Medicare, I am going to get that list of 1,138 rights and responsibilities that come with federally recognized marriages in America and see what else we have to do. Stay tuned!