As the days tick down until the end of October, Mike Williams and his partner, Bart Hoedemaker, are getting more worried about the future of their life together in the United States. Hoedemaker is a Dutch citizen currently employed in the country as a horse trainer. He's on an O-1 visa for extraordinary ability, but since he's losing his job at the end of September, his visa will expire at the end of October and he'll have to return to the Netherlands.
Williams and Hoedemaker currently live together in Connecticut. They're not married (although same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut), but even if they were married, Hoedemaker would still have to leave the country at the end of October.
"We're not married, but if we got married, we wouldn't have the ability to sponsor Bart for a spousal green card," Williams told The Bilerico Project. "Even though Connecticut has marriage equality, it's not recognized by the federal government, so there would be nothing we could do based on our relationship to help him get a visa."
Williams and Hoedemaker are victims of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of marriage equality, although six U.S. states (and Washington, D.C.) have legalized marriage equality.
An Issue of Fairness
For the past few months, Williams has been speaking out about the personal impact that DOMA has had on his relationship and family. He is a Democratic politician running for Congress in the 5th congressional district of Connecticut, and much of his national media attention has been focused on his DOMA story. That differs from his campaign platform in Connecticut, which centers on creating jobs, protecting the environment, and investing in education. LGBT issues are not his top campaign priority - after all, in Connecticut, marriage equality is the lay of the land and in May, the state approved a trans-inclusive non-discrimination bill.
But that hasn't discouraged Williams from speaking out on the evils of DOMA; his story, he reasons, puts a personal face on a sometimes hard-to-grasp issue.
"There's no reason why two adults in a heterosexual relationship should have the ability to sponsor their partner for a visa whereas two people in a homosexual relationship wouldn't have the same right," Williams told The Bilerico Project. "I pay taxes, I abide by the law, and I'm supposed to be treated equally. Clearly, I'm not. There's a real fairness issue in DOMA, which privileges one type of relationship over another."
Williams acknowledges that the immigration and visa system in the United States need to be retooled, remarking specifically on the challenges that talented people from other countries face while immigrating to the United States.
"There is definitely a larger visa and immigration issue here," Williams said. "But I think this one aspect is very simple to address: DOMA is wrong, and it should be repealed or stopped being enforced entirely."
The Obama Administration's DOMA Actions
In August, President Obama revealed plans for an updated immigration policy that would "limit" the number of non-criminal deportations, including cases of same-sex couples where one partner is facing deportation. Before this announcement, the number of non-criminal deportations was 25 percent higher than the number of criminal deportations.
Williams said that while Obama has been a positive advocate for gay rights since his inauguration, the president's statement that cases involving binational same-sex couples will be "low priority" does not go far enough.
"I appreciate that the White House is trying to limit DOMA - that they're making deportation not a top priority," Williams said. "I understand what they're doing. But it's still completely inadequate to say that for a same-sex couple to stay together that they should break the law. In order for Bart to stay, he has to break the law, and all that the Obama administration has asked is that it is not made a top priority. That means that the law is still being enforced."
"It's a bit callous to say that putting it as a 'low priority' for enforcement is a solution," he continued. "It's not."
A States' Rights Issue
Many marriage equality opponents return to a familiar chorus about the importance of states' rights with regard to the marriage equality issue. But it's hypocritical to simultaneously argue that marriage equality is a states' rights issue while also opposing the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which directly undermines states' rights with regard to marriage equality.
"Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example, have marriage equality," Williams explained. "And the federal government is preventing them from defining marriage equality as they see fit. So while Im in favor of marriage equality nationally, I'm not asking the government to put a blanket marriage equality law in place [by arguing for DOMA repeal]. I do, however, support the removal of DOMA so that those states, who are doing the 'right thing' by their citizens, have the ability to protect Connecticut citizens."
Williams continued: "I'm making a very basic argument: that the federal government is violating the right of the government of Connecticut to define marriage the way it wants. And that's wrong. The lack of equality [in general] is wrong, but this is also a basic constitutional issue."
The 2011 edition of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in March, and it received President Obama's endorsement in July. Just this week, the bill received its first show of support from a Republican representative when Ileana Ros-Lehiten from Florida signed on.