Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is it Time to Focus on Repealing DOMA?

by Kathy Drasky

The story in this video was first brought to our attention last week on Facebook. It is a story not unlike so many of ours. Josh, an American, married Henry, who is from Venezuela, in a state that recognizes gay marriages (Connecticut) last year. We all know the drill - if Josh was "Jane", he would have been able to petition the federal government to sponsor his husband for a green card. While there may be a waiting period and even an "investigation", the couple would not be looking down the barrel of being forced apart, and would most likely end up living happily ever after in the US.

But Josh is a man and so is Henry, and as another Congressional session comes to a close with more co-sponsors of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) than ever before, but still no debate, much less a floor vote and our secure inclusion in Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) as "iffy" as CIR as a whole, where do we go from here? What do we do in 2011 if neither UAFA nor a truly inclusive CIR passes in the lame duck session of Congress after next week's election?

Repealing DOMA seemed like more of a long shot back in 2006 when Out4Immigration was founded than passing UAFA, but times have changed. Back in early 2006, in the throes of the Bush-Cheney years, our heads were still reeling from the backlash of the 2004 election, when gay marriage was used as a scare tactic by Karl Rove and company to re-elect Bush. We did not mention "marriage" or talk about "repealing DOMA" in the same breath as UAFA and same-sex binational couples. I know - I helped launch O4I and carefully crafted each message we sent out to clarify that we were not advocating for marriage. In fact, back then UAFA was known as the "Permanent Partners Immigration Act" - emphasis on "permanent partners", terminology the American public could handle.

But times have changed. Polls now show a majority of Americans today support gay marriage. The shift in public opinion in the last four years has been monumental. Earlier this year, parts of DOMA were ruled unconstitutional (the federal government is now appealing this decision, not so much in opposition to gay marriage, perhaps, but more in keeping with "following the laws of the land.") Chances are good that if this challenge to DOMA doesn't stick (and there is no reason to believe that it won't), the next challenge will, or the next one, or the next one. More are going to be coming forward. Attorney Lavi Soloway has started a group representing same-sex binational couples who are legally married to spearhead the challenge from "our side" (it's called "Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project"). If you are a legally married same-sex binatinal couple, I encourage you to make contact with this project.

Putting all our hopes on a lame duck Congress right now to move UAFA and/or inclusive CIR seems a bit more "pie in the sky" than working toward repealing DOMA and achieving equal immigration rights through that avenue. We've been dealing with a "stuck duck" Congress for 2 years, one we had such high hopes for back in early 2009 when UAFA was re-introduced yet again by our Congressional champions Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Patrick Leahy. We scaled the heights in June 2009 with a Senate Judiciary hearing and the compelling testimony of Shirley Tan. We rang Rep. Luis Gutierrez's phones off the hook when he left us out of his immigration reform bill last December which led him to say he would include UAFA-like language going forward. When we heard Sen. Robert Menendez was about to release a Senate version of this bill, we called and emailed his staffers relentlessly for nearly a week, resulting in our inclusion in his bill from its start.

Out4Immigration, an all-volunteer grassroots group has worked tirelessly on a letter writing campaign to this Congress (80 weeks in total) urging co-sponsorship of UAFA. Our volunteers have canvassed the country from coast to coast raising awareness about the need for this legislation by getting more than 30 cities, municipalities and the state of California to pass resolutions in support of equal immigration rights for same-sex binational couples. Our mission, first and foremost is to "raise awareness" about the immigration inequality gay and lesbian American citizens with foreign partners face in this country. We have sought to gain access to just one of the 1,138 federal rights a heterosexual couple is entitled to when their marriage is recognized by the US government - the right to sponsor a foreign partner for a green card.

I know that Out4Immigration has always pushed the issue from "all sides". The time may be right to push a little more from the DOMA side. What do you think?

(For more on the DOMA angle, please see Glenn Greewald's "Inhumane Impact of DOMA" in the October 26, 2010 online edition of Salon.)

Kathy Drasky is the communications director for Out4Immigration.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

I think we should begin to OR join in with a group that is working for the repeal of DOMA. I believe that DOMA is unconstitutional and if we can push that point forward, perhaps we can make some headway.

I think that CIR is going to be very difficult to pass because the average American has such a negative view on immigration due to the stilted view of immigrants by the news media. When do ordinary Americans hear any good stories about undocumented immigrants? Answer is never, because they are living under the radar. All people hear is when something bad happens that involves an undocumented immigrant. This is going to be a very difficult stereotype to dispel. The other problem is the economy... people watch tv and think that immigrants are coming in and taking all the jobs from Americans--- ridiculous thinking, but this is what we are up against when we try to pass CIR.

Bottom line, lets start focusing on repeal of DOMA -- we still should work on UAFA support, which helps us with getting the word out about our issue... that is still a big problem for us -- people don't know about our issue until the issue hits their home.