For Bi-National, Same-Sex Couples in Vermont, Court's DOMA Decision is a Reprieve | Off Message

For Bi-National, Same-Sex Couples in Vermont, Court's DOMA Decision is a Reprieve



Barely a month ago, Michael Upton's hopes of living in the same country as his partner were dashed.

Since 2008, the South Hero resident had been in a relationship with Jandui Cavalcante, a Brazilian national. But because they're gay — and the federal government didn't recognize their relationship — Cavalcante couldn't apply for a green card.

Their best bet seemed to be an amendment Sen. Patrick Leahy had introduced to comprehensive immigration reform legislation extending new rights to binational, gay couples. But after an impassioned debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Leahy's fellow Democrats bailed on him and he withdrew his amendment. 

On Wednesday, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the point became moot.

"It's very exciting. I could feel the huge sigh of relief 5000 miles away as tens of thousands of people realized this nightmare has a near end in sight," said Upton, who is currently visiting Cavalcante in Brazil. "We were together in Rio de Janeiro, watching SCOTUSblog line-by-line."

Though gay marriage has been legal in Vermont since 2009, Wednesday's decision comes with significant implications for same-sex couples in the state — particularly in the realm of federal tax law. But for those whose relationships are at the mercy of federal immigration authorities, the implications are even more profound — even existential.

"I feel very relieved. Now I can have my basic life in this country," said Takako Ueda, a Dummerston resident who has been fighting deportation to her native Japan since December 2011. That's when the feds denied her a spousal green card, even though she was legally married to U.S. citizen Frances Herbert earlier that year. The two met at a Michigan college in 1980 and had a commitment ceremony in 2000, when Ueda returned to the States on a student visa.

Ueda was granted a temporary reprieve from deportation last summer after Vermont's congressional delegation intervened on her behalf, but she and Herbert said they worried about what would happen when it expired.

The two learned of the court's decision Wednesday morning as they vacationed in Cape Cod.

"Emotions were just pouring out, with relief and disbelief, joy and gratitude," Herbert said. "We're really grateful for so many people who have been out in the open and just not given up. I also feel deep gratitude for those judges who saw the light and finally knew this was the time to make this decision — the honorable decision — to come out and say that discimination isn't okay. It's not acceptable."

Herbert added, "We can just have normal problems now." 

Steve Ralls, communications director for Immigration Equality, a national advocacy group that has fought to see such a day, said Ueda and Herbert were the first people he called when he heard the news.

"They were just overwhelmed with excitement and joy with the news that Takako will soon have her green card," Ralls said. "And it was very emotional for me. It's just extraordinary to be able to deliver the news to these couples."

Early Wednesday afternoon, Leahy took to the floor of the Senate to hail the court's decision, saying, "The ruling confirms my belief that the constitution protects the rights of all Americans, and that no one should suffer from discimination based on who they love."

After losing the fight over his immigration equality amendment in committee last month, Leahy had reintroduced it on the floor of the Senate two weeks ago. But in light of the court's ruling, he said Wednesday he would drop the issue, removing one of the few remaining obstacles to Senate passage of the comprehensive immigration bill.

"With the Supreme Court's decision today... it appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I have long advocated will apply to our immigration laws and binational couples, and their families can now be united under the law," Leahy said. "As a result of this welcome decision, I will not be seeking a floor vote on my amendment."

Ralls, whose organization eagerly supported Leahy's amendment, said that even though the Supreme Court ultimately resolved the issue, he was thankful for the Vermont senator's advocacy.

"Couples across the country are still very grateful to Sen. Leahy, who fought this in the Senate for them for so many years," Ralls said. "He is really a hero to the families that we work with both in Vermont and across the country as well."

Ueda and Herbert, too, were quick to praise Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Gov. Peter Shumlin — along with members of their staff — for going to bat for them over the years.

"Vermont is the greatest state," Ueda said. "I am so lucky to be in Vermont. Otherwise I don't think I would be here today."



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