Jason Howe: Married Twice, But Second-Class Status

The passport control agent almost seemed apologetic.

“Sir, he has to fill out a separate family entry card,” he told me, “he” meaning my husband, Adrián. And then, he mumbled “DOMA.”

Jetlagged and groggy after an overnight flight from Dublin, I was not in the mood. But following a silent glare from Adrián, I stood by, fuming, as he filled out a separate card. Even though we’re married — twice — and now have two daughters, we don’t constitute a family to the U.S. government. The reason is the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, passed by Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. That set us up for a decidedly second-class status — the long wait and thousands of dollars we paid an immigration attorney to get his green card, instead of the automatic residency he would have received if we had been a heterosexual married couple; the thousands of dollars more we pay in federal taxes each year because we can’t file jointly; even a tax on the healthcare insurance I receive through his employer. It doesn’t get easier.

So, like other married same-sex couples across the country, we anxiously awaited Sunday’s announcement from the Supreme Court that it will hear two of the marriage cases currently before it. The first, the ACLU’s Windsor v. United States, could finally end the injuries and insults, some grave and some minor, that couples like us endure every day by removing the federal nose from our business and allowing states to determine a marriage’s validity, as in fact has traditionally been the case.

The second, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is the federal challenge to California’s Proposition 8. We’re lucky to count ourselves among the roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who married during the “Summer of Love,” the five-month window in 2008 during which marriage was legal for California’s gay and lesbian couples. A ruling in that case could be narrowly tailored, ending marriage discrimination only in California, or broad, deeming that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A narrow ruling in that case wouldn’t affect my husband and me, but we’d cease being oddities of “marriage island,” one couple among the fortunate few whom California recognizes as a family.

And those words, “marriage” and “family” matter. It’s easy to enumerate the 1,138 federal benefits we don’t receive from the federal government. What’s less tangible are the status and respect that marriage confers — the security agent at Madrid’s cavernous Barajas Airport who stopped questioning me when I told her my marido, “husband,” had packed the suitcase, instead of my pareja, or “partner;” the excitement of our families when they met for the first time at our wedding in his hometown of Alicante, Spain (which had no problem marrying us, by the way); the security and stability our daughters will enjoy knowing that their fathers relationship is respected the same as their friends’ parents. None of that comes with civil unions or domestic partnerships. We’re hoping it comes soon from the Supreme Court.

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