Battling religious discrimination against same-sex couples
Not too long ago, I experienced the impact of the decision of the US Supreme Court in the case of the United States v. Windsor. While going over my snail mail, I found a handwritten envelope from a certain Eddie claiming to be a member of a church group in Glendale, California. I browsed through a five-page handwritten letter and realized it was not an inquiry letter the likes of which I typically receive, but hate mail—five pages of venomous ramblings, barely coherent, condemning me for being a supporter of same-sex marriages. The letter writer said, “I consider you evil Ms Tancinco because you support and help same-sex marriages, in which God Yahweh don’t accept same-sex marriages and homosexual is a sin.” In addition to judging me as evil, the letter sender declared that “God Yahweh can give you early death” and will “punish you with your future death.”
Should I take this seriously? Maybe not. I respect each person’s right to speak his mind and espouse his own particular set of beliefs. The letter sender may just be expressing his opinion. But after the shooting in Isla Vista, Santa Barbara, such expressions of disgust and malevolence may be accompanied by the infliction of physical harm and violence.
It is easy to say that the letter should be ignored. Being human, however, it is difficult not to take offense at the slanderous insinuations and judgments made for being an advocate of same-sex couples’ rights.
I realize, of course, that in the greater scheme of things, this letter is nothing compared to what most of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community members experience, dealing with these types of individuals day in, day out, going through everyday life.
Religion and civil rights are distinct from one another. There is a reason the Founding Fathers deemed it wise to separate matters of state from matters of religion. Each society must strive toward the ideal that each individual should have equal rights before the law, regardless of race, sex, religion and, yes, sexual orientation.
The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. Back then, no state recognized gay marriage. In the past decade and more so in the past year, several states have legalized gay marriage. Over 100,000 same-sex married couples live in the United States; 36,000 of these couples are binational or partners of different nationalities, and about half of these married couples are raising children. Gay marriage is definitely an immigration issue to binational couples.
The Supreme Court in the case of the United States v. Windsor decided on June 26, 2013, that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. The US government now legally recognizes same-sex marriage. As a consequence of this ruling, binational same-sex couples with partners in the Philippines or of Filipino nationals have filed petitions for immigrant visas or for fiancé visas.
The Catholic Church and other religious institutions condemn same-sex union as a sin and as totally unacceptable. This condemnation of same-sex couples certainly has the effect of marginalizing the members of the LGBT community, even though the Pope, in his public pronouncements, tried to be inclusive, by choosing to embrace and show compassion toward all gays and lesbians. Since it is totally unacceptable, supporting good-faith relationships in immigration petitions becomes challenging.
Proving that the marriage was not entered into solely for the purpose of a green card is key to the approval of spouse petitions. It is the same for same-sex couples: It must be shown through supporting documents that both parties intend to establish a life together at the time of marriage. Considering the culture and religious implications of a same-sex union, admission of sexual orientation may not come easy. When there is no evidence of a relationship with the petitioning spouse, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services most likely would deny the petition.
Like opposite-sex petitions, the noncitizen in same-sex petitions may be petitioned as either fiancé or spouse.
Same-sex marriage is fairly new. Even though it is legal, it takes a while for society at large to completely accept such union, with its rationale, implications and consequences. In isolated cases, there are those whose task is to determine which same-sex union applications should be granted or denied who may not be immune to personal prejudices and bigotry. To assess each same-sex relationship in the same manner and under the same legal paradigm as any other opposite-sex relationship should be our goal. It is important to steer away from hateful speech and condemnation, understand that discriminating against the LGBT community impacts greatly on how immigration laws are enforced and, ultimately, on whether or not marriage equality may, indeed, be truly achieved.
(Atty. Lourdes Santos Tancinco may be reached at [email protected] or (02)7211963, or visit her website www.tancinco.com)
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