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.