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U.S. may allow same-sex couples to use single customs form

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Monday, March 26, 2012
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WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs and Border Protection is set to publish a proposed rule on Tuesday that will ease the paperwork burden on same-sex couples returning to the United States after traveling abroad.

Under the proposed change, same-sex couples residing in one household who travel together on their return home can make a single joint declaration. Same-sex couples have been forced to fill out two separate forms, even though the customs form states “only one written declaration per family is required.”

The definition of the term “members of a family residing in one household” would be expanded to include domestic relationships, including foster children, stepchildren, half-siblings, legal wards — as well as same-sex couples. Two adults of the same gender in a civil union, domestic partnership or who have shared financial assets and obligations would be eligible.

The CBP statement makes no explicit mention of married same-sex couples — likely because of the Defense of Marriage Act — although they would be eligible as well under different terms if they’re living together in the same household and have shared financial assets.

LGBT groups that had requested the change praised the Obama administration for starting the process to make it happen.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said her organization is “proud to see this change come to fruition.”

“Separating families in the customs line was a waste of government resources and a painful symbol of the double standard LGBT families face at the federal level,” Tiven said. “This proposal ends that insult. It sends an unmistakable message that the administration, and the United States, recognize gay families as ‘real families,’ too.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, hailed the proposed change as a major victory and said the administration proposed the rule because it “recognized the need to modernize forms and regulations to reflect the reality of today’s American families.”

“No child should have to ask their parent if they really are a family because of an arcane customs form,” Chrisler said. “But that is what is happening to LGBT families who are treated differently when re-entering the United States through Customs & Border Protection after travelling abroad. In many cases couples are forced to declare they have no relationship with their spouses and parents are forced to split up their children in order to get through the customs process.”

According to a statement from CBP, the change should reduce the number of declarations, streamline passenger processing by CBP officers and bring down costs. Additionally, CBP states that the proposed change would “more accurately reflect relationships between members of the public who are traveling together as a family.”

Comments on the proposed rule must be received by May 26.

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