DOMA and what it means for same-sex binational couples

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June is going to be a pretty nerve-racking month for a lot of families.

DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) has been around since 1996 when both houses of Congress passed it with an overwhelming majority and was signed into law by President Clinton. It states that marriage is between one man and one woman. DOMA does not recognize same-sex marriages for federal purposes such as insurance benefits, Social Security survivors’ benefits and in our case, immigration. Thousands of families have been torn apart by this law, families facing an injustice you may have never even heard of.

Let’s talk about same-sex binational couples. These are folks where one partner is American and the other is from a foreign country. Because DOMA deals with federal law and immigration goes through federal law, the American partner cannot sponsor their foreign partner for a green card. My wife cannot even come to the U.S. to meet my family and friends because we are in a relationship. She has been denied a tourist visa twice because our marriage is not recognized in the U.S. It’s nonsense but it’s happening right now!!

I get a lot of people asking me about our situation because they are confused as to why Michele can’t come to the U.S. as my wife. They say, “Wait! But I thought same-sex marriage was allowed in certain states!” STOP RIGHT THERE. Yes. You are correct. Some states allow same-sex marriage. BUT there you are talking about state law so two Americans can get married in that state. Immigration (in our case) deals with federal law and DOMA says no.

By June 24th, we will have a decision by the Supreme Court about DOMA. If they keep Section 3 intact, bi-national couples will not be able to sponsor their partners or legally stay together in the U.S. Unfortunately, this means it may take another 5 years before they even look at the case again. If they repeal Section 3, bi-national couples will be able to bring their partners to the U.S. on a green card. There is one more possibility which would be very unfortunate. The judges may decide to not decide. They can choose not to make a decision on the case at all.

If this is the case, I would say their decision is based on fear. They may be afraid of the repercussions for their decision from conservatives and anti-gay opposition. But their decision would go down in history as a huge disappointment because this is about doing the right thing. This is about bringing families together who have been unjustly torn apart. How are people being torn apart? Same-sex binational couples have roughly three choices:

1) They can live in the U.S. if the foreigner is lucky enough to get a student, work or tourist visa. But all of these are very temporary situations. Not very conducive to building a life together. Where is the structure in wondering if you are about to be deported from the country?

2) They can live in the foreigner’s country. But there are only 14 of those that have legalized same-sex  marriage. And many times the couple has decided that it is not the best country for them to flourish in a number of ways (raising a family, career prospects, quality of life, etc.).

3) The last and worst option (not exactly an option) which is happening to thousands of couples, is to be forced apart, each partner living in their own country. Constantly battling visa expiration dates, loneliness and depression. One must remember we are talking about 36,000 bi-national couples, half of which have children. What kind of justice is our government showing them?

People say that the Supreme Court eventually conforms to what the general public desires. In polls today, we are consistently seeing that over 50% of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage. A far cry from 27% in 1996. I don’t want to wait around for “eventually”. I want justice now. I want the right to live in my own country with my spouse just like a heterosexual couple can. I don’t want homophobia and anti-gay bias to decide who I get to spend my life with. If you fall into this category, it’s frankly none of your business.

Hate and intolerance should never dictate the rights of a minority.

And now for some of the best signs at the Marriage Equality Rally in March:

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