Gay Immigrant Families Challenge DOMA in Lawsuit

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday April 4, 2012

Five gay and lesbian immigrant couples filed a lawsuit this week in the Eastern District of New York to challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. It also prohibits American gay and lesbian citizens from sponsoring their partners for green cards, the LGBT rights legal group that focuses on immigration issues, Immigration Equality, said in a statement.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the organization on the couples' behalf, says DOMA is unconstitutional.

"Solely because of DOMA and its unconstitutional discrimination against same-sex couples," the lawsuit states, "these Plaintiffs are being denied the immigration rights afforded to other similarly situated binational couples." Were the Plaintiffs opposite-sex couples, the suit says, "the federal government would recognize the foreign spouse as an 'immediate relative' of a United States citizen, thereby allowing the American spouse to petition for an immigrant visa for the foreign spouse, and place [them] on the path to lawful permanent residence and citizenship."

A New York Times article points out that some LGBT rights activist say that the case could become the most prominent suit against DOMA because of its effect on gay immigrants who wish to become legal citizens through marriage.

Although immigration laws allow an American citizen to sponsor a foreign spouse in order to obtain a green card, DOMA bars immigrant same-sex couples from doing so even if they were married in a state that has legalized gay marriage.

"I'm a citizen of this country just like anybody else," said Heather Morgan, a plaintiff in the lawsuit together with her spouse, Mara del Mar Verdugo Yaez, who is from Spain. The couple knew each other for 14 years before tying the knot last year in New York last year.

"I'm very proud of this country," Morgan said. "I don't want to feel like I have to leave here in order to be with the person I love. I shouldn't have to choose."

Morgan and Verdugo told the Times that they want start a family and have children but are constantly worried about being separated because of DOMA.

EDGE National News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on call with Takako Ueda, who is originally from Japan, and her partner Frances Herbert, on Tuesday. The couple married in Vermont in April 2011 but when Ueda applied for a green card to stay in the country last September, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security denied her claim because DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing their marriage.

"This is a really good thing to do, and I feel like time has come -- the right time, the right place and I am very proud to be part of this litigation and I believe and I trust that things will work out because we have lots of good energy," Ueda said. "This will move towards a good result. It must be, it has to be. So I am so happy to be here."

Rachel B. Tiven, Immigration Equality's executive director, said that only reason why the couples in the lawsuit are not receiving immigration benefits is because they are lesbian or gay.

"The families in today's lawsuit meet every qualification for immigration benefits, with the sole exception that they happen to be lesbian or gay," Tiven said in a statement. "Solely because of their sexual orientation, they have been singled out, under federal law, for discrimination and separation. That's not only unconscionable; it is unconstitutional. We know DOMA cannot withstand careful review, and we know we will prevail on their behalf."

"These families represent the tens of thousands of others like them who are threatened with, or have already been forced into, separation or exile," Tiven said. "Their victory in court will end the threat that has hung over their families, their homes and their marriages for far too long."