The Effect of DOMA on Bi-National Couples

On Monday, the DOMA Project and the DeVote Project released a new video featuring the story of Karin and Judy. The self-proclaimed "Golden Girls" have been together for almost a decade and are one of about 35,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States. Karin is a UK citizen, born in Germany during World War II, and Judy was born in San Jose, California. After meeting online in 2005, the two were civilly united in 2007, and married, in Vermont, in 2011. This Valentine's Day, on the fifth anniversary of their civil union, Lavi Soloway, co-founder of The DOMA project, and Brynn Gelbard, founder of the DeVote Campaign, have written an op-ed about them for The Advocate.

The piece highlights two incredibly trying experiences the two women have had, due to the fact that Judy cannot get a green card for Karin the way opposite-sex spouses can. The first came in 2008, when they returned from a trip overseas. Karin says she was stopped by immigration officials, kept in a room for many hours without being given water or a phone call, and told that she was coming into the country too much and would have to leave. "I felt like somebody was taking my life away," Karin said. They released Karin but it made the two women aware that if Karin left the country again, it was likely she would never be able to return. Four years later, in August of 2012, Karin's son got married in Scotland. The two women, known at the wedding as Mum 1 and Mom 2, could only attend via iPad.

The two women did apply for a green card and got farther than most same-sex couples do; they got an interview. At the end of the interview, they were told that, though their marriage was clearly genuine, DOMA prevented their application from being approved. Their case is being held for review until the Supreme Court or Congress make a ruling on DOMA.

These women highlight what is at stake as far as DOMA and the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) are concerned. The UAFA would give permanent resident status to permanent partners of US residents, and it would also protect the children of those permanent partners. The UAFA was re-introduced to the senate on Wednesday by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Earlier this month, it was reintroduced to the House of Representatives. If DOMA is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this year, it is likely that same-sex bi-national couples in the US will start to see improvements in the way their cases are handled under federal immigration laws.  Had the UAFA been approved or DOMA been struck down early last year, Karin and Judy could have been sitting in their chairs at their son's wedding, rather than just attending as faces on a screen.