The struggle with immigration laws and what bi-national same-sex couples should know
By Meghan Russell
Dylan breached the idea of marriage to his family and they’re on board. Armando playfully took Dylan’s last name on Facebook even before he ever says “I do.”
But they can’t legally marry. Not in California, not in Iowa, not even in Massachusetts, which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in that state. Unlike U.S. same-sex couples who currently fight for gay marriage where they live, these 22-year-olds must fight to even live in the same country first.
“I feel like even in our own community, there aren’t really enough people who know about this,” Dylan Perry says. “Marriage is a really big deal, and they don’t realize at least they can be together and not be torn apart. We can’t even be together.”
Dylan and his Peruvian boyfriend, Armando Solìs Paredes, met in the spring of 2009 when the Oklahoma native prepared to visit Cuzco with some friends, with a layover stop in Lima. He says he met Armando through social networking sites while trying to make contacts in Peru. Armando met him at the airport and although the layover was brief, both say they felt some instant chemistry, and Dylan was able to extend his flight home so he could spend three days in Lima with his foreign crush. The rest, as they say, is history.
Armando, who calls Dylan his “Prince Charming,” says it has been difficult to maintain the long distance relationship—Dylan stayed with him for three months last fall and, because of money and Dylan’s work, that was the last time he saw him—but they talk every day and are both ready to make a long-term commitment. “I love Dylan because he is honest, loving, intelligent, beautiful on the outside and inside, and I know he loves me unconditionally,” he says.
As a bi-national same-sex couple, however, Armando and Dylan must fight to be able to legally marry in either of their countries. Dylan says they considered having a ceremony in Peru and living there, “but it wouldn’t be anything that’d be kept in the book. He wouldn’t be able to sponsor me either. It’s about the same situation as here except for the fact that I could at least gain citizenship very easily there.”
Currently, Dylan plans to relocate to Colorado, where he hopes they will both be able to find work, which would be a valid reason to get Armando into the states. Because of DOMA, the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, federal marriage benefits such as sponsoring your partner for a green card are only granted to heterosexual couples, even if they lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriage.
“That happens for bi-national heterosexual couples but not for gay bi-national couples, which I think is an injustice,” Armando says.
ImmigrationEquality.org even discourages same-sex couples from challenging DOMA on principles of immigration laws because the subject is such a hot-button issue it may in fact have a reverse effect: “The Supreme Court has held many, many times that Congress has the power to regulate immigration however it sees fit, and we believe that a challenge to DOMA in an immigration case would most likely be unsuccessful and could actually strengthen DOMA.”
Essentially, if a bi-national same-sex couple isn’t willing to move to a country that will grant them citizenship and marriage benefits, they have two options. One is that they put marriage aside and apply to be cohabitating partners. That is the only context under the U.S. immigration law in which same-sex partners receive recognition, Immigration Equality states. In that case, the foreign partner must first obtain a temporary work visa, as Armando will try to do this month.
“Even if it’s not marriage, I would be happy with separate but equal for now,” Dylan says.
Then the U.S. citizen can apply for a B-2 visitor visa for their partner, however, the partner must prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services that his or her intent is not to permanently reside in the States. In other words, foreign partners must have strong ties to their home country through family, property or work. The initial B-2 visa lasts one year, and after that, the partner must apply for an extension every six months.
The second option is hope. It may sound cliché, but the Uniting American Families Act, formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, is well underway. If passed, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents could sponsor their foreign partner for immigration benefits under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
While Armando feels optimistic that the bill will pass soon, Dylan says he won’t get his hopes up. “It’s moving very slowly,” he says. “Every year seems like it’ll be the year, and I mean back up to 10 years ago. People keep thinking they’ll be able to sponsor their partner, and it just keeps getting left on the backburner.”
“It makes me sick,” he adds. “I look and Mexico has more rights than we have. Paraguay. All these places, very conservative Catholics. Argentina recently. All of these places are allowing gay marriage and to not even be able to get it, it just blows my mind.”
Compared to other bi-national same-sex couples—some who have had children together and been together for more than 15 years—Dylan understands that his battle with U.S. immigration benefits has just begun. “Now we have a very long, rough road ahead of us. It’s very frustrating.”
For now, they do what they can to get Armando to the States and also do their part to gain support for their situation. Armando created a Facebook group to spread awareness for the issues bi-national same-sex couples face. The group currently has more than 2,400 00 members.
Armando also loves using Dylan’s last name on the social network—a gesture he calls “a symbol of a future marriage” that both still one day plan to have.
“It feels like a real family,” Dylan says. “Just to marry someone to get them to move here sounds awful. But I feel like I’m at the point in our relationship where I’m ready for marriage. And if that were a possibility—absolutely.”