Newlyweds Jamelle and Karane combat DOMA while serving their country and city

By the time Jamelle Thomas and Karane Williams met for their first date, they felt like they had already known each other forever. They had hit it off as soon as they first met a couple of weeks prior, but it seemed like both time and individual circumstances were immediately meant to put Jamelle and Karane to the test. Jamelle was traveling for work at the time, making it impossible for them to meet again in person for a long period of time.

But Jamelle knew there was something special about Karane, and she made it a point to talk to her on the phone as much as she could until they were able to see each other again. They’d had conversations lasting for hours almost every day while Jamelle was gone, and in that time, they learned about their shared aspirations, compatible personalities, and similar relationship goals – Jamelle serves in the U.S. Air Force as a Reservist, and Karane serves with the Washington, D.C. Police Force.

The date began at a sushi restaurant and led to live music at a jazz club, followed by conversation that eventually had everyone at the coffee shop involved. “The thing, I think, that impressed me most about her is how closely our ultimate goals aligned and how much we both valued commitment,” Jamelle said.

“We hit it off and had a lot in common,” Karane agreed about that first date. “It progressed naturally from dating into a relationship. We had similar goals and were very much into each other, so we made it official.”  

Jamelle and Karane dated for about two years, moving in together at the one-year mark of their relationship and buying a home in D.C. in 2010. In March 2011, Karane surprised Jamelle with a proposal by convincing Jamelle to dress up and enjoy a fancy dinner at an elegant restaurant.

“I thought it was a regular old dinner until it was time for dessert,” Jamelle said. “The waiter brought out this beautiful wooden tray with a poem and a candle in it and instructed me to read the poem aloud. By the time I finished reading the poem, Karane was beside my chair, down on one knee with a ring.”

Jamelle, of course, said yes, and the entire restaurant congratulated the beautiful couple, who were greeted outside the restaurant with a limo that Karane had chartered for them. The driver took the women around to several sites downtown, where they snapped some pictures, and then to the club where they had first met. The DJ gave Jamelle and Karane a shout-out and proceeded to play a few songs for them. “I was completely surprised,” Jamelle said of the modern fairy tale night out. “The proposal was amazing.”

Jamelle and Karane married on October 11, 2012 in a mansion just outside of Washington, DC, with about 100 guests in attendance. “Everything fell into place,” Karane said of their wedding day. “It was magical. Everything went really smoothly, and Jamelle was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better wedding.”

“Our wedding was absolutely perfect,” Jamelle agreed. “The weather was beautiful - not a cloud in the sky. Everyone had a wonderful time.” The two are now actively planning to expand their family by having a child.

Although Jamelle and Karane are legally married in Washington, DC, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents their family from receiving the same federal respect as different-sex married couples.

Jamelle and Karane are uniquely confronted with the challenges of DOMA because of Jamelle’s employment through the U.S. military. Because of DOMA and outdated Department of Defense policies, Karane does not receive the same protections as other military spouses – meaning that she is denied essential protections like a military ID card, the ability to share Jamelle’s health insurance, and survivor benefits in the event that something happens to Jamelle.

“She’s doing the very same job as people in heterosexual relationships, and I’m denied those same protections,” Karane said. “I think it’s completely wrong. I’m there when she needs me, and I try to be flexible when she has something going on. We make it work in the best way we can. In the grand scheme of things, we are doing this for each other. But it could be better.”

Jamelle said that it’s upsetting that as a federal employee, she has to jump through many hoops just to take care of her wife. She worries about health insurance for their future child and how to ensure that their wills are properly handled.

Because of DOMA, we are not protected by any federal mandates for spouses and, if we don't do it right, we could lose our house, or a lot of money if something happens to one of us,” she explained.

She voiced particular concerns about protections for the future children that Jamelle and Karane hope to have. “Overturning DOMA would make such a huge impact in our lives and in the lives of our future children,” Jamelle said. “I want to make sure our family is protected when I deploy. With DOMA, there is just so much left to chance, and that’s scary. I’m crossing my fingers that our kids will be born in a post-DOMA United States and that our family will be federally recognized.”

Despite the difficulties that Jamelle and Karane face because of DOMA, both women know that marriage has made their relationship stronger.

“Marriage is society’s way of saying they recognize our union - that Jamelle is my wife, in everybody’s eyes,” Karane reflected. “Being able to be married is a freedom and should mean that the law treats us equally, and not as second-class citizens. We’re committed to each other and we have a marriage certificate. We’re together, period.”