Government Moves to Recognize Gay Couples at Border, Sanctity of Traditional Customs Procedure Hangs in the Balance

Strike one more item off the list of “Rights you probably didn’t know you don’t have as a gay person;” the Department of Homeland Security looks like it’s ready to acknowledge gay couples as families in the customs line. If the changes are passed, the current law which requires that family members who fill out one declaration be related by “blood, marriage, or adoption” will be replaced by more inclusive language that recognizes same-sex partners as well as foster children, stepchildren and half-siblings.

It’s hard to understand what the tangible benefits are for gay couples and even more difficult to figure out if the move signifies anything more than an opportunity to save money at a time when departments all over Washington are cutting costs. The proposed document lists a reduction in the amount of paperwork as a primary reason for the change and estimates that the change will save the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol 72,600 working hours.

But it also says that the Border Patrol “believes that [the] change would more accurately reflect relationships between members of the public who are traveling together as a family.” Various groups are greeting the proposal as a sign of good faith. They think that the document found a clever way to sidestep DOMA and, at the same time, convey support for diverse families. Rachel Tiven, executive direction of LGBT organization Immigration Equality, sees nothing but positive intent when she looks at it.

“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. This proposal ends that insult. It sends an unmistakable message that the administration, and the United States, recognize gay families as ‘real families,’ too.”

Though she’s right that symbolic change can do wonders to sway public opinion, the fact still remains that it will do little to help binational couples who face separation as long as DOMA is upheld. As tiring as it may be for those of us who wait and as distressing as it inevitably is for the families who are fighting to stay together, it’s hard to deny that times are changing. Even if the change is driven by economic forces rather than a thirst for justice, the wind’s still blowing in the right direction. Perhaps it’s finally time for DOMA to set sail.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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  1. This will be supported by any sensible person with a heart made from some material other than stone. But its biggest supporters will be anyone who has had to wait in line at passport control. Anything that moves that line faster is a humanitarian act on many levels.

  2. I’m the Canadian half of a binational couple. We have a recognized domestic partnership in Washington state (which causes the IRS to ask us to file community property at tax time and makes the Canadian government consider the US to be my primary residence regardless of DOMA) and wonder if this passes, could we use it when I have immigration status in the US due to a job or full-time studies?

  3. This may seem like a small thing but I am thrilled! My wife and I travel internationally regularly and it’s always a stab to have to fill out two cards and separate at immigration. It’s the little things and this as a federal move is a BIG thing.

  4. Long story short: My wife and I are legally married. She is a UK citizen and I am American. I was turned around at Heathrow in London trying to visit her. I was detained for 6 hours and questioned. Questions such as “Who is the man in the relationship?” and “Have you always been a lesbian?” were asked. I was sent home and it was incredibly devastating. Any movement on board control makes me all the more hopeful that people will open their fucking minds and treat us like actual human beings.

    • Seriously? I am in a similar situation. I hold a UK green card and have lived here all my life. My fiancee lives in the States and comes to stay with me at least once a year for a couple of weeks. She’s never been stopped at the airport before.

      On what grounds did they detain and deny you? The UK has recognised civil unions for years now (that includes marriage/CP from originating in other countries.) It really seems that border control had no right to stop you from continuing on your trip.

      • They apparently did not believe that I was going to go back to the US and thought I was going to live there illegally. Although I hate to say this, I definitely think the main person that questioned me and ultimately decided where I was going was homophobic, just judging from her questions alone. I filed a complaint when I got back, though nothing has happened with it yet.

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