The following post was written on Facebook by one of my longest friends, Sunny, and reposted here by permission. A personal explanation of what unequal marriage laws mean to thousands of couples.
The Supreme Court Of The US (SCOTUS) has today been hearing arguments in an appeal case where 9 lower federal courts have all declared DOMA (so-called-Defense Of Marriage Act, 1996) as being unconstitutional. The President Of The United States (POTUS)’ administration has also argued that it believes this piece of legislation is unconstitutional. DOMA defines a spouse as being a person in a “marriage” between one man and one woman only and it binds the Federal government to use this definition of spouse for all US Federal regulations that confer any sort of rights or privileges to “spouses”. As a result, DOMA prevents the US federal government from recognizing a person in any form of a same-sex “marriage” or any civil or domestic partnership agreement (same sex or even opposite sex) from having a legal recognition as a spouse. Even if an individual state like New York or California recognizes same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships, only State granted rights (like state level taxes) are conferred. Federal benefits are not available to us.
A lot has been talked about Federal benefits like taxation or inheritance rights, but there’s one Federal benefit that most people don’t realize, Immigration. Any US citizen or resident has a federal benefit which allows them to sponsor their spouse to be granted a visa to live and work in the US as a resident. Without this benefit, the US resident or citizen is denied the right to legally have their foreign husband, wife, partner, significant-other, “spouse” to live with them in the US. This is something that is very personal to me and my partner James and it has caused me, an American resident soon to citizen, years of separation from my family and more recently significant financial and emotional burden while we sought a way for us to legally be together in the US.
After my parents, brother and sister all moved out to the US as residents and eventually become US citizens, I was forced to choose to not move here with the rest of my family as I had no way to bring my partner James with me. My choice was to leave James to live with my family or to be parted from my family to be with James. It took 6 years for James and I to get to a position where we could afford to be able to move out here where he had to give up his career and go back to being a student in order to be able to legally come to the US.
The 2 years of him being a student meant us not only going to a single income but also an additional financial burden of having to pay for graduate school from that single income (no grants available and not allowed to work while on a foreign student visa). Even during those two years of school and personal sacrifices made due to available income, we faced the very real possibility that we would have to return to the UK after his school finished or any border protection officer deciding at any time that the “intention to not stay in the US permanently” requirement of a foreign student visa was not being honoured (family ties or even a boy/girl friend relationship with a US resident or citizen can be deemed grounds for determining an intention to stay and thus invalidate that visa).
Even now, after James managed to get a job on his own merits through hard work, professionalism and skills, he is still not a classed as a US resident, only a temporary worker. If his job were to become redundant, his work visa would be invalid and again we would be faced with the immediate need to leave family and friends and anything we have built up in terms of a life here, within 30 days.
Although things are better for us financially now that we are a 2 income household and without having to pay for graduate school, we are up still only up to the same position as other same sex couples in terms of taxation and paying higher taxes for our joint household. We are still not in a position to put down any roots like buying a house or considering adoption, partly due to the financial catch-up we are playing due to the first 2 years and partially due to the still hanging sword of Damocles that James loosing his work visa status is.
Immigration is one of those areas that the ones most affected by it are afraid to even speak up about it as public admittance of a relationship can often lead to a legal battleground over whatever method a same sex bi-national couple have been able to achieve to legally stay together in the US. We have always been extremely careful to stay legal and have been forced to sacrifice in order to maintain that legality.
There’s a lot of talk in the news regarding DOMA about rights and the freedoms or the fairness of equality. Legal debates ask the question about undue burdens placed on the injured party. I’m a US resident soon to be a citizen and I can say for sure that I have been burdened and injured by the presence of DOMA. I believe in the promise of equal treatment and no unjust burdens on citizens (and residents) that is at the heart of the US constitution and its amendments. DOMA is not in line with those core principles. That’s called unconstitutional and thus DOMA should be struck from law.
This is a very long post so a heartfelt THANKS if you have made it this far. My ask of you as a friend is to please give your support to ending the injustice of DOMA. Write your senator, your representative, talk with your friends and family, help change hearts and minds at the one-on-one level.
One of the reasons hearts and minds are changing is that so many of us know folks like Sunny. Sunny came out to me on a school trip, and he was such a close friend, it never occurred to me not to be supportive. I’m grateful he spared me from having to figure it out from first principles. I’ve since met a lot of well-meaning people who try to figure it out and get it all wrong. I wish everyone could have someone in their life like him.