In The Wake of DOMA

By Ben Schock
Edited by Christopher Heide

At the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, as we stood in line waiting to be received by the ticketing agent, I scanned the nearly empty hallway: nearly five o’clock in the morning and the only airport occupants were servicemen and -women, their spouses, kids, pets caged in their crates, and enormous amounts of luggage—their families. What made their journey to their future duty stations different than my husband’s and mine?

“You’re on unaccompanied orders?” the ticket agent asked as we walked up to the desk.

“Yes,” my husband, Matthew, answered as he reached into his folder and revealed a copy of his orders, which stated his future two years of service in Japan would be officially alone and without his family. All the while wearing his wedding band and, unbeknownst to the ticketing agent, keeping two or three official copies of our marriage license in the same folder of his orders, medical records, and other important documents necessary for living abroad.

The polite agent printed out tickets for one passenger, Matthew, and explained to him his itinerary. I tried to peer over his shoulder and overhear his schedule; the agent either intentionally ignored me or honestly didn’t know I was there. In her defense I didn’t warrant any attention: I had no luggage let alone orders telling me to report abroad the next day. I was a nobody—Mr. Cellophane!

As Matthew had his luggage weighed and checked, my attention went back to the other various patrons with their luggage, sitting on the floor, waiting. One woman was trying to calm down her dog whimpering in a large crate. I felt sorry for the poor creature having to traverse such long distances in a confined space. Then again he or she wouldn’t be subjected to the inevitable screaming of babies and at least his confined space would be his own.

This reminded me of a story earlier that year where we ran into a colleague of Matthew’s and his wife. Being both military families, small talk inevitably shifted to where we were being sent to after our current duty station. We told them Okinawa, Japan, and how excited we were to live abroad, but we knew it wouldn’t be easy since—at that point—the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) hadn’t been repealed yet. They told us they completely understood: living Japan would be hard for them, too, because the country doesn’t allow the breed of dog they own to enter the country.

Wait, what?

“All set,” said Matthew, snapping me back into the present. This would be our first time as a married couple to be separated over long distances. Granted, it was only going to be for a day or so, but the fact that we were arriving at same destination but via different routes made me feel uncomfortable, sad even. We’re married, great distances to exotic lands are supposed to traveled together!

What’s scary for us is that we don’t know if this would be the first of many long distances traveled separately. A month prior to our departure, the Supreme Court decided that DOMA was unconstitutional and that same-sex marriages performed in states allowing it were recognized by the federal government. That very same day, the Department of Defense made a statement recognizing the new change as law, and that it would soon create policy for servicemen and –women with same-sex spouses to be treated equally. How soon, though, was the question. A few weeks? Six months? A year?

I kissed my husband goodbye and watched him while he was checked in through security. After one final wave, I headed to the car and drove to my brother and sister-in-law’s house where we were staying. There I began organizing my things for my own 6,000-mile voyage to start our new life in Japan.