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Some readers may know that my own legal marriage in Massachusetts five years ago made no difference whatever to my ability to become a permanent resident, because of my HIV status. The HIV ban is now history (thanks to Bush and Obama). But it's worth recalling that if I had married a woman instead of a man, my marriage license would have trumped the HIV ban immediately, granting me an automatic waiver for permanent residence. When Jesse Helms and then Bill Clinton put the HIV ban into law, they exempted the married and heterosexual. The reasoning was the same as it is for general US immigration policy: family trumps everything. The US government does all it can not to split up immediate families in immigration law. But when it comes to gays and lesbians, we have no recognized family under federal law since DOMA, and therefore bi-national couples are literally strangers to one another in the law.

Readers may recall my time in London fundraising for Immigration Equality earlier this year (I am on the board). At one meeting that was filled with same-sex couples doomed to divorce by deportation, or joint emigration, I looked out at a sea of eyes. The intensity of the pain was a little too much to bear, because I remembered it so well. To fall deeper in love, knowing there is no security for the future at all; to put down deeper roots in the knowledge that one day, they may have to be uprooted; to see your relationship have an expiration date on a visa; to have HIV actually stamped in code in my passport as a final stigma; to stand in separate lines if we re-entered the US, since gay couples were deemed a particular immigration risk, since the USCIS understandably assume that couples in love might be tempted to overstay visas.

Yesterday was the first legal step to ending this injustice. Glenn Greenwald highlights a new lawsuit (pdf):

[T]housands of U.S. citizens are barred from living in their own country with their same-sex spouse. The “luckiest” among them are able to move to their spouse’s country, but that’s a choice available to only a small percentage: for that to work, the foreign spouse’s nation must grant immigration rights to same-sex couples (only a minority of countries do) and the American partner must be able to find work while living outside the U.S.

(I’ve written and spoken previously about how this discriminatory framework forces me to live in Brazil with my Brazilian partner, who cannot obtain immigration rights to live, work and/or study in the U.S.). But the vast majority of same-sex couples in this situation do not have even that limited option: instead, they are faced with the horrifying choice of (a) having the foreign partner live illegally in the U.S. (which means they face the constant threat of deportation, cannot legally work or study, and cannot ever leave the country to visit their family back home), or, worse, (b) living thousands of miles apart — continents away — from the person with whom they want to share their life.

Glenn downplays his own strain. But what does it say about a country that one of its brightest intellectual stars has to live thousands of miles away from his own country, because he is committed to another man for life? As Western countries increasingly allow for these immigration rights, a diaspora of gay Americans and their spouses is growing around the world. For the rest, the agonies of separation and family destruction endure.

Why is the US government actively attacking family life in this country? And doing so by some of the cruelest punishments imaginable – the choice of divorce from the person you love and exile from the country you were born in?

(Photo: Tens of thousands of same-sex couples in the United States live under the threat of separation because federal law prohibits immigration authorities from treating them the same as married opposite-sex couples. Joy Hayes, right, and Lujza Nehrebeczky were married in Connecticut last year. On the advice of an attorney, Nehrebeczky won't attempt to travel to Hungary to see her mother, who has cancer. She fears her student visa might not be renewed. By Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT via Getty Images.)