Monday, September 30, 2013

Collecting Castles

When I was a kid, I went to visit my great grandmother on Kelly Mountain in West Virginia. Some kids my age lived just up the street, and they had a pet sheep named Roundy. He would come when you called him: Here, Roundy-oundy-oundy!

I have loved sheep ever since.

Completely unrelated, I also really like castles.

So the reason for my recent absence has to do with those who things, seeing sheep and, as my wife says, collecting castles.

We went to Scotland!

The trip was supposed to be our honeymoon. We talked about it long before we got married, because my wife did a year abroad at the University of Edinburgh and just loved Scotland. Of course, when we got married, she had just joined State and I was still a grad student. So we postponed. Then we were supposed to go for our 10 year anniversary. But we had a new Ambassador coming, so our travel got nixed. Then for our 11th. But that coincided with an important visit. So it got postponed again, this time by a month.

So that is where I have been lately.

We spent two full weeks in Scotland, going by train from London to Edinburgh and then by car (side note…driving there is terrifying! Not just because you have to drive on the wrong side of the road but because the roads are REALLY FRICKIN NARROW! Seriously, could you move that stone wall over say six inches?) to Loch Lomond, the Isle of Skye, Inverness/Loch Ness (another childhood fascination: the Loch Ness monster. But I never saw it), Stonehaven, St. Andrew’s, and back to Edinburgh.

And in that time, I “collected” a lot of castles, including one bucket list one!

Edinburgh Castle

Stirling Castle

Castle Eilean Donan
Castle Dunvegan on Isle of Skye

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness (that is the bucket list one)

 Castle Dunnottar in Stonehaven
(there was a bit of fog...we hiked five miles round trip for this view)

St. Andrew’s Castle

and St. Andrew’s Cathedral

And now we are back…just in time for the government to shut down.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

So Much DOMA News!

It is like every time I look at Facebook, I see something else related to the demise of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Much of it is good news. Just the other day, the IRS announced that it would recognize the place of celebration rather than the place of residence for filing income taxes. That means that even if my wife and I were still residents of Virginia, we could file our federal taxes as married.

But of course, we'd still have to file our state taxes separately. I predict some headaches where that is concerned.

Health and Human Services announced that all beneficiaries in private Medicare plans have access to equal coverage when it comes to care in a nursing home where their spouse lives. New Mexico counties willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are popping up like popcorn. Some in Pennsylvania too. The Secretary for Veterans Affairs announced that same-sex spouses would NOT be eligible for benefits, and a federal judge promptly issued an injunction. Even my beloved home state of South Carolina is getting sued to recognize a couple's legal marriage!

But it is not all good news.

The Texas National Guard is still refusing to extend benefits to married same-sex couples despite a Pentagon directive to do so.

And there are still challenges for some of us serving abroad. An article in the Washington Post talks about some of those challenges, such as dealing with antiquated Status of Forces agreements that don't recognize marriage equality. One married couple in Japan is unable to live together because they can't get a visa for the non-employee husband. And work-arounds have proven too cumbersome.

Even for those of us in the State Department, which has been the most forward-leaning of the federal agencies thanks in no small part to the efforts of former Secretary of State Clinton, sometimes have problems. Only about a quarter of the posts where we serve will give diplomatic visas to same-sex spouses of Foreign Service personnel. In the rest, we have to come up with work arounds of be separated for as long as three years. And how hard to push a country to recognize a relationship and give diplomatic status to a spouse can depend on everything from unrelated political issues to the willingness of the leadership at post to be helpful.

My wife and I have been lucky. We have had excellent Ambassadors who recognized our marriage. And even if we hadn't, because we are both officers, we come with our own diplomatic immunity. So we don't have to rely on a country's willingness to recognize our marriage in order to be together (we just have to be able to get tandem assignments...but that is a whole other issue that doesn't relate to our being a same-sex couple as much as to our being married employees...we share that headache with our straight tandem-couple colleagues!).

Did I mention it is bidding season....

Anyway, it seems like each day brings a new thing to be thankful for even if each week shows us there are still battles to be fought.

And they will be fought. And won.