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
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us