No Rites, No Rights

Those of us who argue for same-sex marriage typically refer to the 1008 or so rights that accompany state recognition of marriage. The rights most often discussed are concerned with hospital visitation, taxation and inheritance, and those inequities are particularly galling.

But there are lots of other rights that are denied to GLBT folks who cannot marry—and even to those who live in states that do allow same-sex marriage, thanks to the unwillingness of the federal government to recognize those marriages for purposes of federal law. Immigration law is an example.

Back in my days as Indiana’s ACLU director, I had a visit from a twenty-something young man (let’s call him Scott) and his lover, who was from El Salvador (let’s call him Juan). They had met on a student exchange program of some sort, and fallen in love. They wanted to make a life together, preferably in the United States. But the young man from El Salvador was ending the term of his most recent visa, and immigration lawyers had told him there was nothing they could do—that if he wanted to immigrate to the U.S., legally, he would have to go home, apply and wait. If memory serves, his likely wait was something like fourteen years.

Scott’s American parents were supportive. They offered to legally adopt Juan. That didn’t sit well with Juan’s parents, not to mention some pesky legal impediments to what was a pretty creative—or desperate—approach.  At that time—and probably still today—an equal protection lawsuit was untenable. The last I heard, the couple—consisting of two highly skilled workers who would have been valued members of the workforce had they been straight—was living in El Salvador.

Had Juan been “Janice,” the scenario would have been far different.

Thirty years ago, our daughter fell in love with a non-citizen. They married, and as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, he has lived in the U.S. legally ever since. No problem.

Unfortunately, Scott and Juan ran into two deeply-entrenched bigotries: one against same-sex couples, and one against Hispanics.

It is unnecessary to recount the current efforts in Arizona, Indiana and elsewhere to marginalize and harass Hispanics. The rhetoric is all about “illegals,” but the legislative measures are not so narrowly targeted. Meanwhile, my son-in-law has lived in this country for over 30 years without ever encountering anti-immigrant animus. Why? Here’s a clue: He is British, and very white. His accent is considering charming, even “classy.”

People are people. There are certainly undesirables who want to come to America (not to mention our homegrown crop), but they are undesirable for personal reasons: drug habits, criminal histories, contagious diseases, likely inability to find gainful employment. None of these reasons has anything to do with sexual orientation or country of origin.

In our interconnected world, where international travel is easily accessible and growing exponentially, people from different countries will fall in love. It makes no sense to treat those couples differently based upon their sexual identity or birthplace. These distinctions are not based on thoughtful policies, they are not enforced in order to make our country safer or to protect our economic well-being. They are based purely on prejudices that we would do well to discard.

Until we do, the Scotts and Juans of this world will continue to get the short end of the stick.

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