Same-sex spouses find being married can't stop deportation

 

USA

Kelly Costello and Fabiola Morales had a storybook wedding in the summer of 2011, with white gowns and 12 bridesmaids.

Their fathers gave them away at a Unitarian ceremony here, and both extended families were on hand for dancing and champagne afterwards.

But because of a law that denies federal rights and benefits to same-sex spouses, the Potomac, Md., couple could soon be forced to live 4,000 miles apart. Morales, a registered nurse with two U.S. academic degrees, is a native of Peru. If she were a man, Costello could automatically sponsor her for a green card. But because they are both women, Morales could become deportable as soon as her student visa expires next year.

"We love each other. We want to share our lives and raise a family and be happy like everyone else," said Morales, 39, who came to the United States six years go and has since been hopping between work and student visas. "Our families are very supportive. We are good people, and we have worked hard to make a contribution. We deserve equality."

Morales and Costello, 30, an elementary school teacher of English as a second language, are among a growing number of binational gay couples who are caught between state laws that allow them to marry and federal laws that bar the U.S. citizen spouse from sponsoring the immigrant spouse for legal residency. Advocates estimate that more than 36,000 such couples are in the same situation.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, defines marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman. It denies gay spouses a long list of federal benefits, including access to pension and inheritance funds after their partner dies, and it blocks their right to immigrate through marriage.

However, 10 states and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize gay marriage since DOMA was passed. As the concept of same-sex legal unions has gained more public acceptance, a legal and political movement against DOMA has grown. Lawyers for the Obama administration have found that portions of the law are unconstitutional, and federal courts in eight cases across the country have agreed.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments on the law's constitutionality this spring, based on a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union in which Edie Windsor, a widow whose same-sex spouse died, was forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes that a husband would not have had to pay.

If the high court rules in favor of Windsor, it will wipe out the same section of DOMA that denies immigration rights to gay foreign spouses. In the meantime, a coalition of national rights groups and some lawmakers have asked the Obama administration to defer all pending green-card petitions for gay spouses until the Supreme Court rules.

"This law hurts same-sex couples in many ways, and immigration is one of the cruelest," said Ian Thompson, a legal adviser at the ACLU in Washington. He noted that when DOMA became law, it was mostly symbolic, because no states allowed same-sex marriage. "Today, you have thousands of couples whose legal marriages are not recognized by the federal government," he said. "Now the harms are tangible."

Maryland residents legalized gay marriage in a referendum last month, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a supporter of the measure, met with Costello and Morales recently. Last week, he sent an open letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking that the couple's green-card application be set aside pending the high court's decision.

Van Hollen described the two women as a hardworking couple who have "contributed greatly to our community." Forcing Morales to leave the United States, he wrote, would create special hardship, in part because Costello is expecting twins and in part because Morales suffers from multiple sclerosis and is receiving experimental treatment at Georgetown University. "The emotional trauma they would face is both extreme and obvious," he said.

Somewhat surprisingly, conservative leaders of Maryland's movement against illegal immigrants have not criticized the effort to extend green-card rights to gay spouses. Brad Botwin, who heads Help Save Maryland, a group that strongly opposed Dream Act legislation for undocumented immigrants, said his group is content to wait and see what the Supreme Court decides on DOMA.

"Every situation has opportunities for abuse, but this is not really an immigration issue," Botwin said. He noted that his daughter is engaged to a man from England and will probably apply for a green card for him. "The question is, which should have more legal standing: that a person got married, or that the person is an immigrant? We need to let the legal process play out."

On a national level, more than 50 organizations — including gay- rights groups and Hispanic and Asian American advocates — appealed this month to President Barack Obama to allow all pending immigration petitions for gay spouses be "held in abeyance" until the high court rules.

Immigration Equality, one of the groups, filed the green-card petition for Morales and Costello and also filed suit on behalf of several other gay binational couples, arguing that DOMA violates their rights to equal protection under U.S. laws.

"Pablo and I have been together for more than 20 years. We never wanted to break the law or create any problems. We just want what's fair," said Santiago Cortez, 57, a retired school psychologist in the New York borough of Queens whose partner, Pablo Garcia, 52, is a native of Venezuela. The couple married last year in Connecticut. "We fulfill every requirement for his green card but one," Cortez said. "We are both men."

Despite its own stated concerns about DOMA, the Obama administration appears unlikely to grant the requests for a blanket abeyance on green-card applications. Although U.S. officials have leeway to suspend individual deportations on humanitarian grounds, they say they are required to enforce DOMA and do not have the same legal flexibility to tinker with such federal benefits as green cards.

In a statement Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security reiterated that "the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect" and that the department "will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it, or there is a final determination that it is unconstitutional."

For Costello and Morales, who met through friends in 2007, life has been good in many ways. Their immediate families have embraced their relationship and rallied to their cause. Both women have built solid careers, and Morales, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from Georgetown University, has been able to parlay her studies and skills into a string of work and student visas.

The two live a quiet life in Maryland, staying with Costello's parents to save money. Morales' Peruvian relatives, who live in Miami, often visit for Christmas and other holidays. The women love to show visitors their wedding album and the sonogram with the twins Kelly is carrying, due in July. But now, their excitement is tinged with tension and worry for the future.

"We were made for each other," Morales said, taking Costello's hand nervously as they sat on a sofa in the family's spacious home. "She is my best friend, my motivation in life. Our future as a family is here, together. Why should I have to choose between her and another country?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'