Wednesday saw a binational same-sex couple in California get a temporary reprieve from the deportation proceedings that would split them up because the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage as valid.
Married binational couple Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol have been told that they will not be split up after Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter ruled that Alex should not be deported back to his home country of Venezuela simply because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars American-born Doug from sponsoring his partner.
Pointing to the ongoing debate over the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, Judge Teeter laid out two courses of action. She gave the government 60 days to decide whether to drop deportation proceedings against Alex in the same way that the administration chose to drop proceedings against Henry Valendia, another foreign born man married to a same-sex American-born partner. If the government will not do so she has said she will return to the case in September 2013, thereby enjoining that Alex is protected from deportation until that time.
This is good news for Alex and his spouse Doug, with whom he is raising two children, and is one in a series of recent instances where immigration officials have decided to halt proceedings against binational same-sex partners.
“Today the Immigration Judge demonstrated compassion and understanding for Doug and Alex as a married binational couple, granting them a reprieve from deportation by postponing further proceedings to September 2013,” said Lavi Soloway, lawyer for Doug and Alex, and founder of Stop the Deportations. “The Judge also gave the government 60 days to inform the court whether it will agree with our request to terminate these proceedings pursuant to prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued June 17 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. We will continue to advocate for termination of these proceedings and a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.”
“Today’s victory is yet another sign that when we engage the system and demand full equality we encourage those in power to find reasonable interim solutions that protect LGBT families, even as we fight to bring about an end to DOMA. Doug and Alex showed tremendous courage standing up for all binational couples as they insisted on fighting for an end to the government’s deportation proceedings against Alex. After the hearing the couple went for a celebratory lunch and looked forward to spending time with their extended family including Doug’s two children who consider Alex to be their step-father. They are very relieved to have been given a two year reprieve and they will continue to fight for an end to DOMA deportations, Soloway said.”
At a recent rally in support of the couple statements by Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) were read. Rep. Lofgren’s statement reportedly said:
“Legally-married couples are being torn apart today in America because our laws unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex marriages. Each and every day, American spouses are being forced to make unacceptable choices: live their lives separated from one another by thousands of miles, abandon their lives in this country and move someplace else, or break the law and go into hiding. This is a heartbreaking situation all across the United States. I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the government should respect legally-married same-sex couples. I am confident that DOMA one day will not be law. The whole country will look back and understand it was simply discrimination.”
While individual judges acting to prevent binational couples being separated due to DOMA is an obvious positive, it does not override the need to retire the federal Defense of Marriage Act because, without doing so, same-sex couples will continue to be vulnerable.