Supporters of Proposition 8 in California argued that it didn’t take away any rights from same sex couples, and couples could still get domestic partnerships. This was of course little comfort to the 18,000+ couples that already married in California after the California Supreme Court made same sex marriages legal in 2008. While same sex marriage in California didn’t provide the ability for same sex partners to sponsor a spouse for immigration to the United States, there was hope it would bring that possibility one step closer to reality. This week that hope faded for one California Bay Area couple. Jay Mercado and her partner Shirley Tan were informed that Shirley would be deported on April 3, separating her from her partner of 23 years and their 12 year old twin boys. It wasn’t due to lack of trying on their part. The couple had started petitioning for Shirley, a citizen of the Philippines, to stay in the U.S. in 1995, and had married under California’s short-lived summer of marriage, but without same sex marriage recognition under federal law, the U.S. government ordered Shirley’s deportation.
It’s tragic enough a couple of 23 years is going to be split apart, but I can’t even imagine how it’s affecting their 12 year old twin boys who have known Jay and Shirley as their two parents for their entire lives. Congress is considering changing immigration laws to allow “permanent partners” apply for residency, but it’s too late for this couple, and it still faces an uphill battle before it becomes law.
If you can’t tell, I’m an avid supporter of same sex marriage, and not only because of immigration rights. I’m in a same sex marriage with my partner of seven years and we have a daughter that we brought into the world together who is fast approaching four years of age. Our own status is in limbo with Proposition 8, but even without it, I have plenty to worry about.
Every time my partner goes on a trip with our daughter, I wonder if they’ll get harassed at the airport, if they’ll even be able to get on the airplane together. We have yet to take our daughter on an international trip, but already I wonder if we’ll be able to make it back into the United States. In an attempt to reduce travel hassles, I make them travel with a copy of our daughter’s birth certificate, which lists me as the father, and my partner Lars as the mother (in California, surrogacy allows same sex parents to be the “parents of record” on the birth certificate, but unfortunately the certificate itself is a bit outdated).
Under current U.S. law, you cannot take a minor outside the U.S. without the consent of both parents. International travel is actually easier if only one of us travels with our daughter, as that parent can carry a notarized page from the other stating it was okay for the two to travel outside the U.S. I know of another gay couple who are both legally the parents of their kids, and on coming into the U.S. from Mexico were repeatedly harassed by the immigration personnel asking the two women, where the “father” of the children was. In the end they got back in the U.S., but you have to wonder what their kids thought through the entire ordeal. Because of harassment like this, I’ve even heard it recommended that if you travel as a family, that you go through customs separately, one parent with a notarized letter with the child/children, and the other parent by themselves.
Updated immigration laws to recognize same sex relationships wouldn’t solve these problems by itself, but it would help establish equal recognition, and perhaps reduce cases like Shirley and Jay’s, where no one has argued, it’s the children who have suffered the most from outdated laws.