Features & Columns

LGBT Community Awaits
Supreme Court Decision

Congress once again let down the LGBT community, but the Supreme Court could right wrongs with a landmark decision in coming weeks
LGBT Couple Judy Rickard, left, and her wife, Karin Bogliolo, have been fighting for years to get Bogliolo citizenship through their union. Congress, however, would rather avoid the civil rights and iimmigration issue.

The air was cold enough to sting skin. Not at all what Judy Rickard was accustomed to. The 62-year-old sat sickened from food poisoning in the corridor of a bullet train headed toward Paris. Clad in nothing but her underwear, stripped down after vomiting on her clothes, she battled nausea with an immune system weakened by an unusually chilly climate, foreign food and age.

But there was no turning back at this point. Rickard had already traveled halfway around the world to see her soulmate, Karin Bogliolo, a German-born United Kingdom citizen seven years Rickard's senior. Only in Europe could the two peacefully settle down together.

Bogliolo had used up all of her visa allotments visiting Rickard. The two met online five years prior to this train ride from hell, falling in love over the course of several back-and-forth trips to Europe, North America and the Caribbean. Their frequent flying caught the interest of American customs agents, who in early 2010 became suspicious that Bogliolo might overstay her visa because of a romantic involvement. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained Bogliolo at San Francisco International Airport, interrogating her for several hours.

Was it for work? Why the Oregon driver's license? Who's this woman you're pictured with in all these snapshots stashed away in your purse?

"I was traumatized," Bogliolo recalls. "Judy was waiting for me at the airport, not knowing what happened but assuming the worst. They wouldn't let me call her."

In 2009, Rickard took an early retirement from her San Jose State University marketing job, risking a smaller pension and financial instability to make a life with her new partner. Newly unemployed, she became a nomad for her partner, separated by two continents and a federal ban on gay marriage in the U.S., which renders Bogliolo a "legal stranger," unable to immigrate because she's not family and unable to marry as long as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains the law of the land.

When Bogliolo was banned from the U.S. for several months, it became Rickard's turn to visit Europe. Bogliolo took her to France, hoping to escape the usually colder British climes, a plan that backfired when they hit snowstorms and ice-sharp winds across the English Channel.

No Home, No Respite

"It was a nightmare," says Rickard, now 65 and sitting in the afternoon sun outside of Java Cafe in San Jose, her hometown since childhood. "I wouldn't be in that situation if it was legal, under federal law, for me to marry."

For decades, Rickard has advocated for other LGBTQ issues. But it wasn't until 2011 that she put her own story and others' to paper in the book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law. It is part memoir, part call to action, part plea to the public and lawmakers to rewrite the rules that separate same-sex couples. Weaving brief chapters of personal anecdotes and political editorials, Rickard shares the stories of other same-sex families waging the same uphill battle.

"I didn't realize this was a problem until it happened to us," she says. "Then it was like people were coming out of the woodwork, people with stories like ours, even much worse than ours. I didn't want to write about us, but I felt like I had to."

Last month, the San Jose City Council recognized her work after the White House named Rickard a "Cesar Chavez Champion of Change.

United by Love, Divided by Law

An estimated 50,000 U.S. citizens—or more if you count the undocumented or undeclared—face the same problem Rickard and Bogliolo battle, according to advocacy group Out4Immigration. Unlike heterosexual couples that can sidestep the tangle of immigration red tape to pursue life, liberty and happiness—keeping their family intact by right of marriage—gay and lesbian Americans who fall in love with a foreigner can claim no such recourse.

It's a glaring example of one of the 1,138 rights reportedly denied to same-sex couples by federal marriage laws. As the nation's legislators duke out the details of proposed immigration reform, Rickard fights relentlessly for them to include protections for multi-national gay and lesbian families, some of whom are already married under state laws. Rickard and Bogliolo married—or eloped, really—in 2011 in Vermont, doing so legally under the state's purview. But the union remains irrelevant under federal law.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling on the constitutionality of existing federal marriage laws any day now. If the highest court in the land rules in favor of same-sex unions, it would render the fight for same-sex immigration rights moot, as gay and lesbians would then have the option to sponsor their partners as a spouse. If not, it will be another long wait for immigration reform.

"We just don't want to be left out of whatever legislation is put out there," says Rickard, seated across from Bogliolo, the gregarious opposite to Rickard's calm-and-collected. "We're all for immigration reform if it includes us, and that means all of us, undocumented immigrants, other types of immigrants. We support it if we're all in it together, if it's all-inclusive."

Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose), a longtime ally of the gay and lesbian community, has worked closely with Rickard and Bogliolo on the issue. Honda authored the Reuniting Families Act during the last Congress, and re-introduced it this year. The revised bipartisan bill was signed by GOP senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), and up until a week ago it included protections for the LGBT community.

But on May 28, in a 13-5 vote with those three Republicans in favor, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the Senate floor without amendments that would have allowed same-sex, bi-national couples to petition for a green card. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) says he pulled this portion of the bill "with a heavy heart," noting that Republicans insisted they would kill the bill unless the same-sex couples amendment was removed. Democrats took a pragmatic, if not cowardly, approach to the threats.

It was a huge loss for families like Rickard's.

"We were abandoned by those who said they had our backs," Rickard told Metro last week. "Senators who had worked for us did not fight for us in committee. They gave up to threats, possibly a bluff, by Republicans, who said adding same-sex bi-national families to [comprehensive immigration reform] would kill it for everyone."

She sadly added, "I believe our country is better than that. I think we all win together or we all lose together."

Honda, who spent significant time working with Rickard to get same-sex partners in the second-generation bill, sent out a statement Sunday saying that he was "deeply disappointed and discouraged that[ https://iqconnect.lmhostediq.com/iqextranet/iqClickTrk.aspx?&cid=CA17MH&crop=14540.3756537.2719616.7329973&redirect=http%3a%2f%2fthehill.com%2fhomenews%2fsenate%2f301189-leahy-withdraws-same-sex-marriage-amendment-from-immigration-bill ] LGBT partners, siblings, and adult married children are still left behind by their bill." Both he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said they would return to the issue in the future.

The hope over the upcoming Supreme Court decision on DOMA doesn't lessen the blow. "It's not a slam-dunk," Rickard says. "We don't have a guarantee that the court will cover the Senators' actions."

Ken Yeager, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and an openly gay man who's been a longtime friend of Rickard's, admits the inclusion of LGBT issues in immigration reform is a relatively new topic, which will take time to address.

"I don't think many people, even those of us in the gay community, have even thought about it, since most of our partners are U.S. citizens," he says. "It's such a hot political issue for Congress to deal with as they're tackling immigration reform. It frightens a few people away, frankly. It will be interesting to watch on that level. All these stories have so many angles and, you know, it's history being written in front of our eyes."

Difficult Decisions

The last time Bogliolo returned to the States, she decided to stay indefinitely. If she left again, she'd face the possibility of never returning. The couple applied for Bogliolo's green card in January 2012, and went to their first marriage interview with immigration authorities in September last year. Since then, they've been under review, waiting for the Supreme Court's decision on the legality of gay marriage before being granted permission to stay.

"The trouble is, I can't leave the country, because I may never get back again," Bogliolo says. "For two years I've been here, missing my family but happy to be with Judy."

Bogliolo's son married in August—a wedding she had to miss because she feared flying back to England. She hasn't been able to visit her grown children and stepchildren from previous marriages, or her grandchildren. Her daughter underwent major surgery and she couldn't be there to support her during the recovery.

"Heartbreak gets to the point where you grow accustomed to it," Bogliolo sighs. "I hate to say that. It sounds terrible. But when you've been hurt so many times, you start to grow numb."

Undoing DOMA

Guns, gays and immigration tend to be prohibitive topics for compromise in politics. To put two in one bill seemed like a sure way to kill any chance of bipartisan support. It did. Still, Honda remains hopeful something will pass soon, even though his own legislation failed to ultimately include protections for same-sex families.

"The public is more favorable," Honda says. "We stand a much better chance this year and the year after than anytime before."

President Obama said earlier this month that he supports gay people who sponsor their foreign-born partners. But, he added, "I'm not going to get everything I want in this bill, and Republicans are not going to get everything they want."

In the meantime, things have eased up a little. In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to include same-sex couples under quasi-amnesty that staved off deportation of undocumented immigrants—as long as they don't have a criminal past. And immigration authorities can now weigh an immigrant's "ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships" when choosing whether to halt a deportation.

Bogliolo falls under that category.

'Hopefully soon'

Biding time isn't an idle task for Rickard and Bogliolo, whose days are divided by interviews for international publications, gay and lesbian newspapers and TV spots on the topic. They constantly update their website (tornapart.findhornpress.com) with new stories of how existing immigration laws separate those in the LGBT community.

"It's become an extension of my book," Rickard explains. "Sometimes it's hard to keep up with."

And yet she tweets, she testifies, she continues to write. Bogliolo tries to match her energy, no easy task.

"We're just a couple of old broads who want to settle down and retire," says Rickard. "That's just not the hand history has dealt us."

After last week's loss in the Senate, the only hope for Bogliolo to stay in the U.S. legally rests on the Supreme Court's DOMA decision in the coming days or weeks.

"We appreciate that more than a quarter-million LGBT undocumented folks will be helped in the path to citizenship proposed by the bill in process," Rickard says, "but we need and want the ability to sponsor our same-sex non-citizen spouses that DOMA denies."

"All we want is what others have," Bogliolo says. "Nothing special."