Thursday, June 09, 2011

Recent media profiles of same-sex binational "Love Exiles"

Max Oliva, left and Jesse Goodman have left the United States
 in order to remain together

The Los Angeles Times is just one of several West Coast-based newspapers which have been doing stories on the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act recently.

On Monday, the Times published "Same-sex couples find rough road to immigration." A key excerpt:
When Jesse Goodman and his Argentine fiance left the United States in 2006 after an unsuccessful immigration battle, they expected that one day they would be able to return home to New York.

Goodman and Max Oliva had become used to finding temporary ways to be together. They had fallen in love quickly and planned on marrying but soon learned that, unlike similar situations with straight couples, their relationship wouldn't help Oliva stay in the country.

For a time, they relied on a mix of work permits and tourist visas to stay together. When the last permit was set to expire five years ago, they decided it was best to leave the U.S.

"We ran out of options," Goodman said.

While straight American citizens can obtain green cards for their spouses and fiances, the Defense of Marriage Act has precluded same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits.

In February, the couple was encouraged when the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the act in court, saying it violates the Constitution's equal protection clause, a conclusion that two federal district courts had reached in 2009.

The announcement that the Obama administration would no longer defend the law was applauded by gay and lesbian activists.

But the administration has sent mixed signals about its intent to enforce the law, which has led to some confusion among same-sex couples as they try to navigate the immigration system.

Rather than continue waiting for a resolution to that issue, Goodman and Oliva decided to move forward with trying to return to the U.S. by filing a fiance visa petition for Oliva.

The couple expects that it will be denied. But they are prepared to go to court.

"I think we're right," Oliva said. "We're fighting against something that is unfair."
In addition to the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle also ran an article about a binational couple facing deportation. Theirs was titled "Defense of Marriage Act threatens his citizenship."

An excerpt:
Bradford Wells, a U.S. citizen, and Anthony John Makk, a citizen of Australia, have spent the last 19 years together, mostly in an apartment in San Francisco's Castro district. 
Makk gave up his career, started a business in San Francisco and invested in rental property, all to be with Wells and meet various visa requirements. Seven years ago, they married in Massachusetts. 
Starting June 13, Makk, 48, faces possible deportation if he remains in the country illegally when his current visa expires. If he leaves, he would not be readmitted, the couple would be all but permanently separated and Wells, who has severe health complications from AIDS, would be left without his spouse and sole caregiver. 
"We're at the end of our rope," said Wells, 55. "Ever since we met, all we've tried to do is be together. The focal point of our lives, everything we've done, is just so we could be together."

Law denies benefits

They face this quandary because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act denies all federal benefits, including spousal immigration preferences, to same-sex couples. If Wells and Makk were heterosexual, they could apply for an I-130 visa, or spousal petition, which could allow Wells to sponsor Makk for permanent U.S. residency. 
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder said in February that they believe the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and would no longer defend it in court, but the administration is enforcing the law as required until it is repealed or struck down by the courts. It is under challenge in several states and will probably be decided by the Supreme Court. 
"It's devastating, the idea of him leaving in a couple of weeks and not being able to get back in," Wells said. After suffering a near-fatal heart attack and severe arthritis in his hips, Wells said he is unable to care for himself. "I don't know how I'm going to manage," he said. "My stomach is in knots." 
An estimated 54,000 bi-national same-sex couples live in the United States, according to the Williams Institute, a pro-gay think tank at UCLA. Not all of them are married.
Of course, frequent readers know that I myself am part of a binational couple, but was able to become a United Citizen through familial relationships in 2003. I'm on the board of directors of Immigration Equality, the national LGBT immigration advocacy group.

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