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Five gay, binational couples file suit challenging Defense of Marriage Act

Monday, April 2, 2012
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NEW YORK — Five gay and couples on Monday filed suit today in the Eastern District of New York, challenging Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents lesbian and gay American citizens from sponsoring their spouses for green cards.

Edwin Blesch (left) and Tim Smulian are among the five couples represented in the DOMA lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed on the couples’ behalf by Immigration Equality, alleges that DOMA violates the couples’ constitutional right to equal protection.

“Solely because of DOMA and its unconstitutional discrimination against same-sex couples,” the lawsuit states, “these Plaintiffs are being denied the immigration rights afforded to other similarly situated binational couples.”

Were the Plaintiffs opposite-sex couples, the suit says, “the federal government would recognize the foreign spouse as an ‘immediate relative’ of a United States citizen, thereby allowing the American spouse to petition for an immigrant visa for the foreign spouse, and place [them] on the path to lawful permanent residence and citizenship.”

The five couples named in today’s suit are:

  • Edwin Blesch and his South African spouse, Tim Smulian. The couple, together for more than 13 years, were married in South Africa in August 2007. While their marriage is recognized in Blesch’s home state of New York, their green card petition was denied on March 14.
  • Frances Herbert and her spouse, Takako Ueda, who is originally from Japan. Herbert and Ueda have known each other for 22 years, were married in April 2011, and currently reside in Vermont. Their petition for a green card was denied on December 1, 2011.
  • Heather Morgan and her spouse, Maria del Mar Verdugo, a native of Spain. The couple, together 14 years, were married in New York in August 2011 and have a pending green card petition, which is expected to be denied. They reside in New York City.
  • Santiago Ortiz and his spouse, Pablo Garcia, a native of Venezuela. Ortiz, a Puerto Rican American, met Garcia in 1991 and registered as domestic partners in 1993. In May 2011, they were married in Connecticut, and currently reside in New York. The couple have filed a green card petition, which is expected to be denied.
  • Kelli Ryan and her spouse, Lucy Truman, a native of the United Kingdom. The couple, together more than 11 years, entered into a civil union in July 2006, and were married in March 2010 in Connecticut, where they currently reside. Their petition for a green card was denied on March 27, 2012.

“The families in today’s lawsuit meet every qualification for immigration benefits, with the sole exception that they happen to be lesbian or gay,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality.

“Solely because of their sexual orientation, they have been singled out, under federal law, for discrimination and separation. That’s not only unconscionable; it is unconstitutional. We know DOMA cannot withstand careful review, and we know we will prevail on their behalf,” said Tiven.

On Feb. 23, 2011, the Obama administration sided with a July 2010 ruling that declared DOMA unconstitutional, and announced that the Justice Department would no longer defend the law in court.

Since then, the Republican-led U.S. House has intervened in a dozen cases to defend DOMA in court — former Solicitor General Paul Clement is currently arguing the DOMA cases on behalf of the House on a $1.5 million contract.

House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi on Friday criticized the House intervention in the case of Cooper-Harris vs. U.S., in which an army veteran and her same-sex spouse are challenging the denial of VA spousal disability benefits.

A recent analysis from the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles estimated 36,000 couples — and the nearly 25,000 children being raised by them — are impacted by the United States’ refusal to recognize lesbian and gay relationships for immigration purposes.

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