A federal trial judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Californian binational gay couple who sued over being denied a marriage-based green card under the Defense of Marriage Act, but the ruling has been criticized for relying too heavily on a 1982 case that, some argue, no longer applies today.
Indonesian Handi Lui, who married his American-born spouse Michael Ernest Roberts in Massachusetts in 2009, sued after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied his marriage-based petition for permanent residency. The lawsuit argued that this denial violated the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions banning sex discrimination and is unconstitutional.
In a five-page order issued Wednesday however, U.S. district judge Stephen V. Wilson dismissed the complaint saying that the court is bound by a 1982 Ninth Circuit ruling that decided against allowing a gay couple a relationship-based immigration pass.
In his opinion Wilson wrote, “While Plaintiffs and Defendants point out the alleged deficiencies in the reasoning in Adams, this Court is not in a position to decline to follow Adams or critique its reasoning simply because Plaintiffs and Defendants believe that Adams is poorly reasoned. The Court feels bound by Ninth Circuit precedent, and believes that those precedents are sufficiently clear.”
While giving the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) its first lukewarm victory since taking up defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, this ruling has been heavily criticized because it is based on the Adams v. Howerton case, a ruling that LGBT immigration rights groups and indeed the Obama administration have argued is outdated and no longer applies to today’s legal landscape.
Roberts, wrote in an order issued on Sept. 28, “To the extent that Plaintiffs Challenge Section 3 of DOMA on equal protection grounds, that issue has been decided by [the 1982 case,] Adams [v. Howerton].”
As Metro Weekly reported on Sept. 6, DOJ — which announced on Feb. 23 that it was stopping defending DOMA in court challenges — faulted BLAG in a filing in the case for relying ”[t]hroughout their brief” on Adams — a case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes the California federal court where Lui and Roberts’s case is being heard. The appeals court held in the case that “Congress has determined that preferential status is not warranted for the spouses of homosexual marriages.”
The DOJ lawyers argue, however, that ”[t]he reasons the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of immigration benefits in Adams are no longer valid today,” citing changed laws — at the time of the opinion there was a statutory exclusion in the Immigration and Nationality Act for “homosexual aliens” — as well as “intervening events and changing legal and social understandings.”
As such, Lavi Soloway of Stop the Deportations issued the following statement lambasting the trial judge:
“Judge Wilson’s ruling dismissing this challenge to DOMA by a gay binational couple is a setback in the fight to win equality for all lesbian and gay Americans married to foreign citizens and a rejection of the Obama administration’s strong arguments in support of the plaintiffs in this case. Crucially, it sets up a likely appeal to the Ninth Circuit on the question of whether lesbian and gay binational couples in that jurisdiction have the right to challenge DOMA in federal court.
“The Judge, a 1985 Reagan appointee, relied on nothing more than the 30-year-old case of Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams, and refused to consider compelling arguments that the court must consider DOMA’s constitutionality based on current legal and social context. Wilson essentially states that no married same-sex binational couples should be allowed to challenge DOMA in federal court in this jurisdiction, a proposition that should concern all Americans greatly. Conservative judges must not be in the business of blocking access to the federal courts because of outdated decisions.
“Judge Wilson’s poorly-reasoned decision is an important wake-up call that the momentum toward full equality cannot be taken for granted, even with the Obama administration coming into court on the side of lesbian and gay plaintiffs. We must keep up the fight to end DOMA through the legislative process, in our federal courts, and most importantly in the court of public opinion. Unless DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court, lesbian and gay binational couples will not achieve equality.”
President Obama, responding to a question about DOMA issues this week during an open-table question and answer session, has said that he believes the DOMA issue will be settled “fairly soon” given that there are a number of federal cases challenging the law. Read more on that here.