When Marriage Equality & Immigration Policy Intersect

By Rubén Gonzalez, Deputy Vice President, Resource Development, NCLR

I asked my fiancé to marry me on an Alaskan cruise with my family, at sunset on one of the ship’s decks. We had already been together for seven years, but we had resolved not to get married until we could marry legally.

It was a long time coming and something that, when we started dating twelve years ago, we thought might never happen. In two weeks, Joaquin and I will be married in Washington, DC and will join the thousands of committed gay and lesbian couples who are realizing this dream of marriage equality that so many in the LGBT community continue to fight for so fiercely.

But are our marriages truly equal? Certainly, we share the same love and commitment to the people that we choose to spend the rest of our lives with, and like other married couples we will be surrounded on our wedding day by our family and friends. However, our love and commitment does not grant us the same federal rights and benefits that are guaranteed to heterosexual married couples.

As marriage for gay and lesbian couples becomes more mainstream and less of a wedge issue for politicians to exploit, immigration has, in many ways, assumed that role. And bi-national same-sex couples are caught right in the eye of the storm – affected by two hot-button issues.

Because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits federal recognition of same-sex unions, married gay and lesbian Americans cannot legally sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. To the Obama administration’s credit, they recently unveiled new deportation guidelines that would prioritize the deportation of criminals and would review all deportations on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a person’s family relationships. And while administration officials have said that same-sex marriages will be considered under this family relationship category, they still have not created specific guidelines for these cases.

Unfortunately, as long as DOMA remains on the books, same-sex married couples will not have an equal marriage in the eyes of the law and will therefore need special protections. If federal law doesn’t consider same-sex marriage to be legitimate, an agent reviewing a deportation case might not, either.

Recently, 69 lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice requesting that they design a working group to handle deportation cases. This working group would not only be given specific guidelines in considering LGBT family ties in each case, but would also include a member who has experience working with LGBT immigrants and their families.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) wholeheartedly supports these efforts and encourages those who believe in marriage equality to call the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and request that they follow through with these proposals. President Obama has made it a point to reiterate that the arc of history bends toward justice. Same-sex couples who run the risk of being separated cannot wait for that arc to bend; the Obama administration must bring justice to us.

Joaquin and I are fortunate that we don’t have to navigate through this dilemma. Still, we cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice facing others in the LGBT community.