As they look for alternate financing to meet their closing date next week, the VA administration is still tweaking how it’ll interpret DOMA ruling
BEDFORD — Alan Rodriguez and his husband are scrambling to find new financing this week after the Veterans Affairs Department denied them a housing loan after pre-approving them.
Rodriguez said his husband, Earl Rector, qualified for the loan because Rector is a former Army sergeant with eight years of service. But he said his husband is between jobs, so the loan is based on his income. Since the VA office count doesn’t the income of the non-veteran spouse in states where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized, the couple was informed Monday, Dec. 9, that they wouldn’t receive the loan.
“We understood that the VA was going to recognize same-sex marriages and underwrite VA loans,” Rodriguez said. “People thought with the DOMA ruling that all of these federal agencies now would recognize these marriages. It’s not that simple.”
Rodriguez and Rector have been together for 13 years, during which they’ve each been out of work and helped take care of each other. But now that Rodriguez’s income isn’t being considered because his husband is the veteran who’s out of work, he said the entire application process is faulty because the VA knew their circumstances when they applied.
“That’s what it means to be in a relationship is you take care of each other,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what this is all about is the fact that we can’t function in society like normal people.”
They sold their Bedford home in November and got married later that month in Seattle before signing a contract on a new home in Oak Lawn. Their closing date is Dec. 18 and while their lender is dealing with the VA to ensure the loan will be issued, time is running out.
“We’re scrambling right now to see if we can put pressure on the VA to approve the loan but we’re about to switch to conventional financing,” Rodriguez said.
“At this point, we have nowhere to live.”
With alternative financing options, he said they’d end up paying at least $200 more a month with a higher interest rate, resulting in thousands of dollars more for their home.
If financing doesn’t go through by next week, the couple will be in breach of contract, so the seller can later come after them for money if he sells the home to someone else for a lower price.
The couple reached out to U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, for help resolving the matter since she has a VA liaison. Johnson is a longtime LGBT champion.
Johnson spokesman Cameron Trimble said her office is aware of the situation and is working to help resolve the issue.
“It’s something that the congresswoman is very aware of,” Trimble said. “She fights for equality and fairness and at the end of the day, especially with her history of being a VA nurse, she holds veterans in the highest esteems and she’s always going to fight as hard as she can for any veteran that is being denied any of their rights or anything that was owed to them or promised to them for service for their country.”
This isn’t the first instance where a non-marriage-equality state has denied a veterans home loan to a same-sex couple. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., asked the Obama administration to change its income rules after a Colorado couple had a similar situation.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is currently considering legislation that would order the VA to recognize same-sex couples in every state instead of the state’s definition of marriage.
But while the U.S. Department of Defense has released new standards for processing same-sex spousal benefits after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the VA hasn’t announced how the ruling will affect it.
Ken Upton, senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, said the VA is more complicated than other federal agencies because VA benefits are handled under a different part of the federal law. Congress set the law that requires VA benefits be available to opposite-sex couples who are legally married where they reside.
“They really weren’t affected by the DOMA ruling because they already had restrictions built into the congressional law about veteran benefits to begin with,”
Upton said. “And so that’s an area that’s still kind of not resolved that the Department of Justice and Veteran’s Administration is working on.”
He said the opposite-sex part is no longer being enforced after the DOMA ruling but the residency part is still being considered.
As for why the couple was pre-approved and then later denied, Upton said he didn’t know what error occurred before someone caught the mistake.
“I don’t know how they got that far without someone raising it,” he said. “It’s probably just they process a lot of applications and this is still an area that’s kind of confusing and being resolved, so whoever did it probably didn’t know would be my guess.”
Rodriguez and his husband are known in Dallas for taking on the Tom Landry Fitness Center in 2011 after the gym refused to give them a family membership because they are a gay couple.
They filed a complaint under the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.
The gym, owned by Baylor Health Care System, claimed it was a private religious organization and not a public accommodation, but the city attorney’s office found them at fault.
Baylor ended up settling with the city last year to avoid legal action by eliminating all family memberships.
If the VA doesn’t give them the loan and they can’t find another financing option in time to close on the home, Rodriguez said he’d likely leave Texas, especially after the welcoming treatment he and Rector received in Seattle when they married.
“I’m absolutely done with this,” he said. “Why would you deal with all of this garbage when you can go live somewhere where the marriage is fully recognized? “
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 13, 2013.