EXCLUSIVE: LGBT immigration advocates plan DOMA challenge
In the wake of the decision by the Obama Administration that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that they would not defend it in court, many LGBT couples are waiting to see just what effect the ruling will have on their access to federal benefits derived from marriage.
Rachel Tiven, the Executive Director of Immigration Equality, says that the ruling “creates a new opportunity for families facing separation or who are separated,” and that her organization is planning a legal challenge to U.S. immigration law based on the DOMA decision.
Immigration Equality represents LGBT individuals and their international partners who, because of DOMA, are not entitled to the same benefits (like a green card) under federal immigration law as straight couples. The Administration’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA as it applies to federal law means that there is a opening for the organization to build a legal challenge that could directly impact the rights of binational, married LGBT couples and their families to stay together in this country.
Communications Director Steve Ralls told Raw Story that the organization has “no shortage of couples are anxious and willing to be part of a court challenge” and that they are looking at states that recognize same sex marriage rights — like Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and D.C. — to choose couples to participate in the suit. Because most of the states that recognize same sex marriage lie within the First or Second Circuit, Tiven added, “We’re looking very closely at legal questions like which circuit we could file in, which will determine which couples we go to court with.”
Tiven told us that, despite the need for legal relief for families that face separation, Immigration Equality might not file the suit immediately. “We are in the midst of some extremely promising advocacy with different administrative agencies about the treatment of couples who are married or who could be married about what their treatment would be given the Justice Department’s change of heart,” she said.
“We want, obviously, a result as soon as possible because we believe we’re going to win and we want relief for couples,” but “if there’s some relief for some couples based on discussions going on in the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department,” because of the DOMA decision, that might give the organization more time to see how the currently active legal challenges to DOMA play out.
One of those decisions, of course, is whether the Republican-controlled House will choose to step in and defend DOMA’s constitutionality despite the Administration’s decision. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) indicated Monday that he expects the House to step up to the plate in the Administration’s absence, and is facing pressure from many conservatives to do just that. Tiven said, “Who is the defendant is one of the challenging questions” that they face in making a final decision about when — and in which court — to file their suit.
[Photo by Judy G. Rolfe, courtesy of Immigration Equality]