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Defense Of Marriage Act Forces Gay Couple To Live An Ocean Apart

By Candice Leigh Helfand
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A picture of Philippa (left) and Inger Knudson-Judd, taken with a camera phone before Philippa had to fly back to the United Kingdom. (Credit: Philippa and Inger Knudson-Judd)

A picture of Philippa (left) and Inger Knudson-Judd, taken with a camera phone before Philippa had to fly back to the United Kingdom. (Credit: Philippa and Inger Knudson-Judd)

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS Las Vegas) – When Inger Knudson-Judd leaves her job working as a massage therapist and settles in at home for the evening, she often finds herself turning to make an offhand comment to her wife, Philippa, while preparing dinner or doing chores.

It’s when she turns to find no one there to answer that she remembers Philippa is presently an entire ocean away in the United Kingdom.

“I keep forgetting,” Inger admitted to CBS Las Vegas. “And then it comes rushing right back.”

The reason for their separation is the Defense of Marriage Act, which does not recognize their marriage on a federal level.

As such, even though Philippa is willing to give up her life to move in with Inger and their soon-to-be-teenage daughter, Inger cannot legally sponsor her as her spouse for American citizenship.

“The longest we have been in the same place is 89 days in over four years,” Inger said. “That’s less than three months.”

The Defense of Marriage Act is a nationally recognized law signed by former President Bill Clinton and enacted in 1996 that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

DOMA, a particularly sore point of protest for equal rights activists, also bars same-sex spouses from receiving health insurance, Social Security and tax benefits heterosexual couples get.

The couple has so far been careful to adhere to the law, ensuring Philippa does not stay past the federally mandated 90-day limit on the Visa Waiver Program and visits infrequently enough to stay off the radar of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“Obviously I have to fit these trips into vacation time from work,” Philippa, who presently works three jobs, told CBS Las Vegas.

Inger and their daughter have also made multiple trips to visit Philippa in the U.K. – all at great expense for the family.

The couple first met online in a forum for tattoo enthusiasts, then forged a deeper connection when Philippa’s mother fell ill and subsequently passed away. Inger’s constant support throughout her mother’s illness inspired Philippa to visit her in thanks – a meeting that led both of them to find the person with whom they wanted to share their lives.

They held a commitment ceremony in 2009, then legally married in Iowa – one of six states that recognizes gay marriage, along with Washington, D.C. – just last month. Neither gesture was enough to give them the long-term home and happiness they desire, though.

“If we’re lucky, we get six weeks [to spend together],” Inger said. “Frequently, we’re not that lucky.”

Both Inger and Philippa have spoken with countless immigration lawyers, and looked into options such as student Visas and H-1B employment Visas, but so far, they have not found a workable and lasting solution.

For now, the couple takes some solace in the community of supporters surrounding them, comprised of loved ones near and far, as well as those who sympathize or empathize with their predicament.

And Inger and Philippa have not been afraid to get political, to stand with the wave of opposition for DOMA. Their open discourse on the matter even helped news of the situation go viral after a picture (shown above) captured just before Philippa’s most recent return to the U.K. spread like wildfire throughout the Internet.

“I have been overwhelmed by the amount of messages … we have received,” Philippa said of the publicity garnered by the image. “[But] … with the amount of positive responses our family has had … [why] is DOMA still present and enforced?”

Their 12-year-old daughter, Inger’s from a previous marriage but who considers Philippa as much a parent as Inger, is also blindly supportive of the couple’s love and passionately opposed to their forced separation.

The couple proudly considers their daughter’s advanced awareness of inequality, as well as the support of a sea of faces familiar and foreign, to be bright spots for in an otherwise dark situation – as has the deepened appreciation for every moment they spend together, from the monumental to the mundane.

All the same, normalcy is not something easily achieved for the couple whenever they are apart.

“I suffer from sleep deprivation when I am away from my wife. I can’t settle,” Philippa said. “I still haven’t managed to be there for any of my daughter’s school performances. We have to make trips around special occasions which inevitably means other special occasions get missed. These are events that cannot ever be replaced and it really does hurt.”

“It does shake you to your foundation,” Inger added. “The reality of not having [her] around … sometimes I think I can hear her, or smell her, but I turn around and it’s not real. It sucks.”

The poignancy of everyday life without one another fuels them both forward in the fight for equality, and the pursuit for a solution to their ongoing issue – for them, the love is worth the fight.

“Our marriage is not about politics … [and the situation is] private, but someone has to speak out,” Inger noted. “If baring our lives for general consumption is what we have to do, then we will – being quiet isn’t helping.”

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