Citizenship? Tough luck under DOMA

Written by Joe Girton, Winter/Spring intern, Freedom to Marry.

We like to think of marriage simply in terms of love, commitment, and happiness. Except when we're forced not to because the government gets in the way.

Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol of Cathedral City, California are fighting for the right to stay together in America. They've been a couple for six years and got married last summer in Connecticut. Alex is an immigrant from Venezuela, and in this country on an expired visa. Doug can't sponsor an application for a green card because the federal government won't honor their marriage because of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," or DOMA.

Doug and Alex's story isn't unique. It sounds like it should be, though: "A loving couple torn apart by federal law." Doesn't that sound antiquated? Didn't that stuff stop happening a while back?

No. Research from the Williams Institute at UCLA shows us that a shocking 36,000 couples are in situations just like this committed California pair.

It's not hard for some to be cynical about marriage. "It's not that big a deal." "It's outdated." I'd beg to differ.

This fall, I took a seminar course called "French Cultural Workshop." We spent a class talking about the state of marriage in France. An increasingly heated dialogue between my professor and me culminated in him blurting out something along the lines of "Marriage? That's what you're fighting for? Marriage sucks." I don't want to get into the intricacies of my teacher's midlife crisis, but I think his statement speaks to the way a lot of people think about married life in America.

This country takes the framework of rights surrounding marriage for granted. I'm an idealist, though. I'd like to think that most people don't get married expressly to save on health insurance or taxes. People get married because they fall in love, and expect their right to live comfortably and happily to be protected – not ripped to shreds.

Sometimes I forget that marriage is about more than just love, struggles, and family, too. I'd like nothing more than to be able to take hospital visitation rights and joint tax filing for granted. But we don't have that luxury yet.

The United States has accepted fear of persecution based on sexual orientation as grounds for granting immigration asylum since 1994. And yet, immigrants in bi-national couples (even those like Alex who try to do the right thing and get a green card) are being deported back to countries they may have left for that exact reason.

The freedom to live with your life partner isn't some radical agenda. In fact, it's one of the most traditional values I can think of.

Because of DOMA, families are either forced far from their family and friends to stay together, or are tragically broken apart. Lives are devastated. Well-being is shattered. I'm pretty sure that's not what our founding fathers meant by "the pursuit of happiness."