The Struggle to Gain U.S. Citizenship for Legally Married Couples

judy rickard torn apart

Long distance relationships are never easy, even when two people are in the same country. Living in different countries separated by an ocean makes it even more challenging. Prior to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, another layer of hardship existed for same sex couples because the main criteria for granting citizenship is being a married spouse, child, or relative of a U.S. citizen. Because same-sex couples couldn’t get married, bi-national couples had limited time they could stay in the other spouse’s country.

Since same-sex couples could not get married until rather recently, the issue of getting citizenship for a loving partner was always near impossible. DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996, compounded the problem.

Judy Karin celebration
Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo celebrate their domestic partnership at Billy DeFrank Center

Section 3 of the law defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Thus it explicitly denied same-sex couples all benefits and recognition given to opposite-sex couples, such as Social Security survivor benefits, insurance benefits, immigration and tax filing.

Learning all these aspects of immigration law and how it discriminated against same-sex couples, San Jose native and longtime LGBTQ+ activist Judy Rickard took on the issue by lobbying federal officials locally and in Washington, D.C. She wrote a book in 2011 which shared her story and the stories of others facing this heartbreaking discrimination.

The book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law and published by Findhorn Press, included resources for affected couples and those who were allies. April, 2021 is the 10th anniversary of her book.

She and her wife Karin Bogliolo joined with immigration attorney Lavi Soloway to confront the injustice and seek a legal solution. Years of radio and television and newspaper interviews took the fight to the public, even while Judy and Karin were forced to be out of America to be together.

Judy Karin Lavi
Judy Rickard, attorney Lavi Soloway and Karin Bogliolo at Torn Apart book launch in Los Angeles, 2011

As the amazon.com book listing shared: “The horrors that thousands of lesbian and gay couples face are detailed in this moving political and personal story of immigration and love. As Judy and Karin’s legal battles reveal, when only one half of a gay couple is an American citizen, immigration struggles are confounded by the fact that the partners cannot legally marry in most parts of the United States.”

Publishing the book led to Judy being invited to speak on this immigration issue on a panel at the White House in March, 2013, as the DOMA case was being presented to the Supreme Court. A chance to visit President Obama in the Oval Office gave Judy a chance to remind him of the particular immigration issue she faced. Presenting on the panel one day and demonstrating outside the Supreme Court the next day with Karin, they were interviewed and pressed the message to national media outlets.

Though Judy and Karin were married in Vermont on April 6, 2011, by a Justice of the Peace, their marriage would not be federally recognized until DOMA was struck down. Nevertheless, they still met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials. They were lucky that their officer did not reject out of hand Judy’s application to sponsor Karin for immigration. Instead, he shelved it to be reviewed later.

Judy Karin DOMA
Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo demonstrated against DOMA outside the U.S. Supreme Court, March, 2013

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in United States v Windsor, ruling that DOMA was unconstitutional, thus allowing married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. The ruling meant that married same-sex bi-national couples can now sponsor spouses for immigration and receive all federal benefits other U.S. married couples receive.

When the case was settled by the Supreme Court, Judy’s application flew through the system. Karin received the first green card in California and the second in America for a same-sex spouse. Karin passed the U.S. citizenship test after three years and is now a U.S. citizen. They happily live in San Jose.

Torn Apart is out of print but available on amazon.com and used book stores.

The Debate over Marriage Recognition

city hall recognition

Read how the City of San Jose voted 17 years ago to recognize marriages of all city employees—not just straight ones—that were certified by other jurisdictions so their spouse could receive full city benefits. 

The council chambers were packed on March 9, 2004, with 103 pro- and anti-marriage residents speaking to the proposal by Mayor Ron Gonzales and Councilmember Ken Yeager. The crowd was overwhelmingly opposed. The religious right had hoped it could change minds by saying the council was acting illegally because gay marriages were not allowed in Calif. They threatened a recall against the Gonzales and Yeager. 

Read an account of the nearly four-hour meeting, as well as hear testimony from Councilmember Yeager. In the end, love won, with an 8-1 vote.

Lighting the Way

By Shawn Maxey

From OutNow, March 2004

On March 9th the San Jose City Council chamber was filled to capacity, as people turned out en masse to debate Item 3.5. If passed, the — resolution, co-authored by Mayor Ron Gonzales and City Councilmember Ken Yeager, would grant equal benefits to city employees and their spouses who had same sex marriages certified in other jurisdictions. What followed hours of impassioned comments by more than a hundred local residents was a historic vote to determine if, for the first time, San Jose would legally recognize same sex marriages.

item 3.5 memorandum
Memorandum for Item 3.5

Many who spoke in favor of the resolution said it was simply a matter of equality.

“The broader issue of gay marriage and rights is one of the key civil rights issues of our time,” said local resident Joe Pampicano. “The question is how marriage is recognized by government. The question is equal protection under the law. Councilmember Yeager and honorable Mayor, by bringing this measure forward you make me proud to be from San Jose today.”

Mark Perry echoed that sentiment.

“Are we, as a nation, going to go forth and deny rights to some of our citizens based on the prejudices of another group of citizens? How can the just thing be immoral? How can teaching ok and intolerance be moral? How are the rights of male and female couples lessened by giving those same rights to a minority class? Just as when African-Americans and the women of this country fought for the rights to vote, we now fight for equality with the rest of America.”

Others, like Rod Stone, stressed the importance of separating the religious definition of marriage from the secular.

“Let the churches keep the word marriage, just as long as my government, which is supposed to practice separation of church and state, grants me the same rights as my fellow taxpayers. My partner is a veteran of the Gulf War. He performed eight years of duty in the Marine Corps and he left highly decorated, only to find out he would be treated as a second class citizen because of his love for me.”

Opponents of Item 3.5 hold signs saying "Keep Marriage Sacred."
Opponents of Item 3.5 in the City Council Chambers

Members of the religious community who spoke were largely divided on the issue, with many voicing their support for the resolution.

Said Mary Parker Eaves, “I came today because | feel it’s important for you to know that many persons of faith, many Christians, stand in support of gay and lesbian rights including marriage, My congregation is one of many that have made an explicit statement that we welcome all. Throughout the Bible, love is the primary value. Our cultural context changes, our scientific knowledge grows—love and compassion supersede it all.”

Amidst the philosophical and religious arguments were more personal accounts of the resolution’s importance.

“My name is Don Burris, a City employee here in San Jose. 100 years ago, in 1901, my grandparents were not allowed to marry because mixed race marriages were not legal. The Baptist minister at their Church married them anyway. My grandparents were together 50 years and raised 17 children. I applaud that minister who stood up for fairness and equality. He could see that love and marriage are things that should be celebrated by all in his congregation. The chief issue is not an issue of morality or Christian values. This is a struggle for civil rights, the right for my spouse and I to be treated equally and fairly, not separately and unequal. I applaud Mayor Gonzales and Councilmember Yeager, for they believe that I, the gay employee here in the city of San Jose, should be treated equally and fairly.”

In addition to the usual religious condemnations and moral arguments cited by those who are against LGBT equality, many who opposed the resolution accused the Mayor and Councilmember Yeager of acting with reckless disregard for
the law. In particular, they charged that Item 3.5 violated Proposition 22, which passed easily in 2000 with a resounding 61% of the vote. Upon the completion of the public comments portion of the hearing, Mayor Gonzales invited City Attorney Rick Doyle to speak to that issue.

“What is before you is a motion where you are not passing on or making a decision on the validity or legality of same
sex marriages. The courts will have the final say on that, and whatever this Council says or does doesn’t impact that court decision. However, as a municipal employer, as an employer of a number of employees, you have the ability to provide benefits to your employees and determine who gets benefits and under what circumstances. It is a question of policy. So you do have the right under California law to decide what benefits you want to provide your employees and under what condition. And as such, you can determine to recognize same-sex marriage certificates that are issued by other jurisdictions.”

ken ron outnow
Ken Yeager and Ron Gonzales recognized in the April 2004 edition of OutNow

As it came time to vote on Item 3.5, Councilmember Yeager framed the resolution in a much larger context.

“I know that the only way really to change the minds of people who don’t believe in what we’re doing is when a loved one comes our to you and is gay, and that makes it a personal issue for you, you will then understand the type of love that those people have and how very important it is to recognize that love. I believe we are on the right path, I believe that San Jose has a long history of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.”

And join him they did. In the end, Councilmember Chuck Reed, citing the illegality of same sex marriages performed in San Francisco, was the lone dissenting voice on the Council, With a few simple words and the final official vote, Councilmembers Yeager, Chavez, Gregory, LeZotte, Cortese, Chirco, Campos and Mayor Gonzales moved San Jose to the forefront of communities that are leading the fight for LGBT equality.

Mayor Gonzales: “I am going to have to ask for lights on this item. That motion passes with one no vote.”

To watch the full meeting, click here here.

Before Marriage, a Fight for Commitments

Amy Brinkman Katie Viall wedding ceremony

Same-sex couples who made lifelong commitments to each other never found the occasion printed in the pages of non-LGBTQ publications in the South Bay.

That changed on Nov. 7, 1992, when the San Jose Mercury News began publishing announcements of same-sex commitment ceremonies within the paper of record’s pages — reversing its policy of only featuring heterosexual couples.

Amy Brinkman and Kathleen Viall were the first same-sex couple to appear on the Saturday Lifestyle section’s wedding page, announcing their Sept. 12, 1992, commitment ceremony alongside a black-and-white portrait of the new brides in their wedding gowns.

Prior to dating in 1990, the two knew each other for years while working within the community; Amy worked for Santa Clara County in substance abuse services, while Kathleen ran a residential program for the AIDS Resources, Information & Services (ARIS) Foundation.

Their places of employment and address were left out of the announcement for safety and security reasons.

“It was a challenging thing for me to do, because I wasn’t out and I don’t know that I’m still out,” Amy said, referring to the fact that she is bisexual. “Katy always thought that they blurred our picture on purpose because they thought that it was a big step and didn’t want to shock people too much … but we were just happy that they changed their mind.”

According to Our Paper/Your Paper, an LGBTQ community newspaper in the South Bay, the change brought the Mercury News up to speed with similar-sized papers nationally, including the Oakland Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. By November 1992, the Washington Post was still considering the decision. The New York Times didn’t run a same-sex commitment announcement until 2002.

Amy and Kathleen’s openness about their relationship helped jumpstart conversations – even harsh, dehumanizing ones from her family – that slowly helped educate the American public, one story at a time.

These shifts started to impact laws around the country, including in Santa Clara County where officials were discussing providing domestic partner benefits.

“All these things seemed to fall into line together and push each other forward,” Amy said.

Months of pressure and protest

Reversing the heterosexual-only policy was a focused effort of several members of the local LGBT community and the South Bay Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). In addition to a letter writing and phone call campaign, organizers talked with supportive employees at the paper who could push for the change on the inside.

A Valentine’s Day protest at the Mercury News’ Ritter Park Drive office brought public attention to the policy at the start of 1992, which included GLAAD speakers, members from Queer Nation, previously denied same-sex couples and a vow renewal ceremony.

Mercury News’ then-publisher Larry Jinks defended the paper’s position, saying that “wedding announcements have always been for ceremonies sanctioned by the state.” That’s why Amy and Kathleen originally heard “no” after they first submitted their announcement on October 8, 1992.

Christine Schmidt, a South Bay GLAAD co-chair, said while Jinks’ explanation was plausible, it was wrong, citing other papers’ decisions to print same-sex announcements across the country.

“The Mercury News subscribes to an obsolete, prejudicial and unfair state law as the basis for their discrimination against lesbian and gay couples, when it is in their power to help move society in the direction of a more enlightened view of same-sex unions,” Christine said. “The Merc chooses to ignore the fact that the government won’t let us get legally married. Heterosexual couples can make that choice but right now gay and lesbian couples cannot … basically they are afraid to take a stand for fairness.”

Robert Greeley, co-chair of the South Bay GLAAD, said months of continued pressure and meetings with the publisher ultimately helped move the dial towards fairness in the Mercury News.

“To our great dismay, the more we pressed them, the more they dug in their heels,” Robert said at the time. “I was tickled to see that the Mercury News kept its promise and that our community was now fairly represented on its weddings page.”

Some readers, however, opposed the change and wrote letters to the editor expressing their disagreement: “The implication (of printing announcements) is that homosexual relationships are the equivalent both morally and legally of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe you are wrong;” “Although you may consider yourselves enlightened, we consider your action both tasteful and an affront to our moral and religious beliefs.”

“They didn’t want anything to do with us”

merc commitment
A clipping of Amy and Kathleen’s commitment in the Nov. 7, 1992 issue of the San Jose Mercury News

That social and cultural backlash was why Robert and South Bay GLAAD sent the newlyweds a thank you and a bouquet of balloons for volunteering to publicly acknowledge their ceremony in the paper – a big step personally for Amy.

“It was scary for me. My family is very religious and ultra-right, and they rejected me because I was with Katy. They pretty much said they didn’t want anything to do with us,” Amy said. “Once I decided that I wanted to marry Katy, I was ready to it (publicly come out), because I felt like I joined that community.”

Amy said 175 coworkers, friends and community members attended their wedding at Christ the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in San Jose, a longtime supportive congregation, in a ceremony that combined traditional hymns, prayers and scripture with pagan traditions.

After the festivities, the brides headed to downtown San Jose for an evening at the Fairmont Hotel.

Kathleen’s family was very involved in the occasion, including her mother cooking a big Italian pasta meal for the reception afterwards.

Amy didn’t have the same reaction from her family. After inviting them to the ceremony, she received unsupportive, rejecting letters from her mother, brother, uncle and aunt. It wasn’t all encompassing; her sister and cousin attended the ceremony and another aunt sent a wedding present.

“I lost what I had with my parents as a result of this, but we had a really good group of friends and they were all in our ceremony,” Amy said. “They supported us 100%.”

Kathleen passed away in 2017 from complications of diabetes and heart disease. Amy lives in South San Jose, in a house Kathleen helped her purchase.

Marriage Gallery

This gallery contains many of the first same-sex weddings performed in Santa Clara County in 2013.

If you would like to watch the first ceremonies in Santa Clara County, click here