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DOMA Stories:
Federal Marriage Discrimination Hurts Families

GLAD is in court challenging the federal government's discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. In Gill v OPM and Pedersen v OPM, we represent couples and widowers who are harmed in various ways by DOMA. But DOMA hurts many more people than we can represent in these lawsuits.

In these stories, loving couples, widows and widowers, from all walks of life, describe how DOMA hurts their families.

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Border Crossings

Photograph of Judy Paiva & Sandy Ansell

Judy Paiva & Sandy Ansell

May 1, 2008. Judy Paiva and her mother-in-law waited nervously in the office of US/Canada border crossing while Sandy, Judy’s wife, was interrogated by the US immigration agent.  They made that trip, not for a vacation, or a family visit, but because the only way for Sandy to remain in the US was to pack her belongings, leave the US, and apply for a TN visa at the border.

Sandy is Canadian and has been living in the US since 1999 on a work visa. Even though she currently has a visa and has never been out of status, the mood was tense.

The immigration agent studied all the papers Sandy gave him, checking the details, making sure the documents are originals.  If he found anything missing from her application, or if there were any inconsistencies Sandy could have been told that she can’t re-enter the US, and can’t return to the home she and Judy share.

Thanks to DOMA section 3, Sandy and Judy’s life together is marked by anxious border crossings, certification deadlines, the aggravation of constantly changing rules and regulations, and the perpetual threat of deportation.

At the border station the US agent eventually cleared her application.  Sandy let out a sigh of relief.  Her legs were wobbly.  Judy and her mother took her by each arm and walked her out to the car where she was still so shaken she couldn’t drive.  She handed the keys to Judy, “You’ll have to drive,” she said, “I’m still shaking.”

Sandy and Judy met in the spring of 2003 on the ice rink in Marlborough, Massachusetts playing on a women’s league hockey team.  “It made perfect sense,” Judy says, “given that hockey is a fairly unusual activity for adult women, that Sandy and I should fall in love on the ice.”

Judy, who is 53, and Sandy 46, continue to play for the same team, playing side-by-side with women considerably younger.  “Hockey is what keeps us young,” Judy says.  “We play with an amazing group of women—most in their twenties, just starting out in their lives.  They don’t care how old we are or if we’re gay or straight—they just accept us as teammates.”

Sandy works as computer systems analyst for a small software company; Judy is lab/office manager for a small recycling company.

In August of 2006, Sandy and Judy were married at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover.  Guests included friends, family, kids, and dogs.  A dear friend of theirs led the ceremony, and Sandy’s father read a poem he’d written for them.

Shortly after their wedding, Sandy began the green card process and the two of them moved in with Judy’s mother to save money for attorney fees.

Given their bi-national status, they knew they were taking a serous risk getting married.  But both were convinced that they wanted to be together no matter what.

“Judy is the most thoughtful and kindest person I know,” Sandy says.  “She will go out of her way to help a family member or a friend.  We have a deep trust in each other and our commitment to our relationship.  I consider myself the luckiest girl in the world.”

“We’re so compatible because we’re so much alike,” Judy says.  “We share the same view of life, the same loyalty to our families and friends.  We are both hard workers.”

If their life weren’t hard enough, Judy was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in October, 2008—just months away from Sandy’s visa expiration in May 2009.  After only 5 years together, the bliss they shared with each other appeared to be quickly unraveling.

“We really didn’t know what to do,” Judy says, “so much was happening at once.  It was a very long winter.”

After months of chemotherapy Judy had a clean scan in March of 2009—the cancer was in remission—and in May, Sandy was given a two-year extension on her visa till May 2011.

Through all their hardships, these two women are buoyed by their love for one another and the support they get from family, friends, and their three loyal golden retrievers.

Now, Sandy and Judy face another long winter not knowing where they’ll be next year.  Sandy’s visa expires next May and she must wait for an available visa number to file for Consular Processing (final step in Green Card process).  If a visa number does not become available before May of 2011, or DOMA is not overturned, Sandy will have to reapply for a new visa and pray that it’s approved or face the reality that she will have 10 days to pack up her life in the US and return to Canada.

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