Saturday, September 3, 2011

DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) at USA international airports no longer in effect it appears, at least as this American gay married coupled experienced it yesterday for the first time since 2008

By Steve Parelli
Executive Director, Other Sheep
Bronx, NY
September 3, 2011

Every year since 2008, upon re-entry into the USA after traveling abroad during July and August in Africa or Asia, Jose Ortiz, my live-in partner since 1997 and legal husband since August 25, 2008, has been immediately escorted to a separate room, out of sight, without any explanation except “Follow me” or “Come with me.” I would be told I could not follow. I would be separated from him without any explanation. As we were expecting, it happened again yesterday for the fourth year in a row – his being escorted away that is – at the JFK airport in New York City upon our return to America from Nepal. Only things were surprisingly different this time around: I was not separated from my spouse!

In 2008, when this unhappy event suddenly occurred for the first time, “it was traumatic: the feeling of law officers separating us without being able to communicate with each other and without being told why we were being separated,” so I wrote the following year, in 2009, feeling again the embedded emotions when retelling the happening. (It turns out that “Jose Ortiz” is a “John-Smith” common-enough name so that he is listed with law officials as a suspect of some sort and his name must be cleared before he can enter the USA. This also happened once in Beijing, in 2009, where we were making a connecting flight to the USA – he was pulled aside for a name check before clearance was given to continue with his flight.)

This time around – yesterday – while waiting in line to present our passports to US officials, we laughingly “reframed” the whole (expected) ordeal by calling it one of our time-honored “rituals” (a term we use to designate events we routinely observe together which we value as important to our relationship).

However, on the contrary, we were pleasantly surprised. Yes, Jose was escorted away at the point of entry, but we were not separated as in the past. We were being treated with the same dignity other heterosexual marriages receive. As per policy (so I had observed in 2008), spouses and families are not separated when one of the spouses is escorted away for background check. (It appears only friends travelling together are separated – but not families.)

In 2008 I had refused to be separated and was accorded permission from the officer in charge to stay with Jose. I entered the restricted area with Jose and observed other spouses and families who were kept together while only one member of their party was undergoing screening for clearance.

In 2009, when I refused to be separated on the basis of my August 25, 2008, marriage to Jose in California, the officer laughed at me and said, “You’re not married here!” Then, unlike 2008, we were separated. The officer was right, of course. International airports are under Federal jurisdiction. DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) is a Federal regulation that does not recognize same-gender marriages performed by states. According to DOMA, in JFK I’m not married. As soon as I step out of the airport I’m married. Because of DOMA, the US officials regarded me as a mere friend, and not the legal spouse, of Jose (though legally married by the State of California), and so, unlike other spouses of heterosexual marriages, I had no right to remain with Jose my legal spouse.

In 2010 when we were routinely separated at point of entry, I made no fuss and simply went to the luggage area as instructed and waited patiently for Jose to compete his background check (by then I knew what to expect). It didn’t feel any better in terms of our dignity as a married couple, being treated differently than heterosexual couples, but at least I wasn’t a nervous wreck wondering what was happening to my spouse by federal officials.

But yesterday was different. I was treated with the same dignity afforded heterosexual couples. It appears that Obama’s policy to not honor DOMA is alive and well at our international airports. What a pleasant surprise. Yesterday, for the first time since 2008, Jose and I were treated as human beings upon re-entry into the USA after traveling abroad: we were not separated when Jose was escorted away for name check and eventual clearance. Yesterday, in spite of DOMA, Federal government officials at JFK recognized us as a legally married couple – as “husband and husband,”as we like to call ourselves. What a wonderful welcome home surprise that was!

1 comment:

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