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Topics In the News
DOMA-created Gay Diaspora
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/18/13
Last updated on: 02/18/13
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The diaspora of gay and lesbian Americans who have had to uproot their lives and leave the country to continue to live with their foreign partners is highlighted in a New York Times feature by Julia Preston that focuses on an American lawyer and his British partner. The plight of binational gay couples is a significant but too often unacknowledged aspect of the debate over the proposed overhaul of immigration laws.

Preston's article, which is accompanied by a slideshow and audio file, focuses on Brandon Perlberg and his British partner Benn Robert Storey. The couple had to leave the United States in order to remain together after Storey was unable to obtain a visa as a permanent resident.

As Preston points out, "Americans with a foreign-born spouse of the opposite sex are able to get them resident visas, or green cards, with relative ease. But federal law does not allow Americans to petition for green cards for same-sex spouses or partners. Eventually, they face a choice of remaining in the country with the immigrant here illegally or leaving the United States."

The article emphasizes how the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has a direct impact on Americans with foreign-born spouses or partners who want to live in the United States.

As Rachel B. Tiven, the executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal advocacy group, explains, "A straight couple living in the U.S. can apply for a green card based on their spousal relationship," but, thanks to DOMA, "Gay couples simply can't do that."

President Obama's blueprint for immigration reform gives citizens, and also immigrants who are legal residents, the ability to petition for a green card for a same-sex foreign partner, if they can show they have "a permanent relationship."

However, Republicans who are working on a bipartisan immigration overhaul have expressed disdain for including such a provision in the bill. "There are so many other, bigger issues the Congress has to resolve in immigration reform before we would even get to a point where we would be discussing a change to a longstanding policy like this," said homophobic Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The president's proposal is included in a bill introduced last week in the Senate by Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat who is the Judiciary Committee chairman, and Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives this month.

In order to remain together, Perlberg and Storey decided to relocate to London. Britain approved a resident visa for Perlberg within 48 hours.

Still, the move was wrenching. Not only did they have to find new jobs, but they had to develop new identities since both had come to identify as New Yorkers. Perlberg admits to wrestling with resentment. "It's very difficult as an American to have gone through all that and know that the country just pushed us out for being in love," he said, "and being gay."

Preston notes that gay and lesbian Americans in binational couples have settled in many countries in Europe, which have friendlier laws for them. One American, Martha McDevitt-Pugh, started a group in the Netherlands, the Love Exiles Foundation, to bring gay Americans together.

Speaking by telephone from Amsterdam, McDevitt-Pugh told Preston that she moved to the Netherlands so she could live with her wife, Lin, who was born in Australia. They were married in the Netherlands in 2001.

"So many Americans have met someone from another country," she said. "They fall in love, and they have no idea that anything could go wrong. They assume there must be some way to get your partner to stay in the U.S." She said there were also communities of gay American immigration exiles in Australia, Canada, Germany and Spain.

The wrenching personal stories of binational couples illustrate the destructiveness of the Defense of Marriage Act and the cost it exacts on glbtq people generally.

A slideshow featuring Perlberg and Storey may be found here.

The video below profiles another gay binational couple impacted by DOMA, Yahandel Ruiz and Daniel Zavala of Miami.

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