Written by: Ally Bolour, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee
The last decade has brought unprecedented advancement in LGBT equality worldwide. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South Africa are among the countries that now recognize LGBT equality, including the right to marry. In the United States, eight states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. State laws discriminating against same-sex relations have been overturned and/or deemed unconstitutional at record levels. Barack Obama recently became the first sitting U.S. President to support full equality for the LGBT community, including marriage rights. The President also dismantled other similarly discriminatory regulations, including the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Public sentiments on the issue of LGBT civil rights have dramatically shifted in the past decade. A May 22, 2012, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 54% of Americans would support a law in their state making same-sex marriage legal, with only 40% opposed. Private corporations and local governments have taken their own initiatives where they feel the federal government has been inadequate. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies now provide health insurance benefits to domestic partners. One hundred and seventy three state and local governments do the same.
These advancements are welcome but continue to be overshadowed by the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA). DOMA prohibits same-sex couples from attaining federal benefits that would normally be available to opposite-sex couples; even if they live in a state that allows same-sex marriage.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), there are 1,138 federal benefits contingent upon marital status that are denied to same-sex couples. These include: exemption from taxation of retirement savings and estates, surviving spouse Social Security benefits, over 170 tax benefits including child rearing credits and deductions, rights under the family and medical leave act, and obtaining a visa for a non-citizen spouse.
DOMA is unconstitutional. It has devastating effects on all sectors of our economy. The following are just some examples of the destructive nature of this law.
In the housing market, bi-national couples are more than twice as likely to buy their own home as their opposite-sex counterparts; 66% of bi-national and 75% of naturalized same-sex couples own their own home. In a world without DOMA, an increase in demand for housing by LGBT families would directly help our struggling real estate industry.
In the employment sector, non-citizens in bi-national same-sex relationships have an extremely low rate of unemployment at just 2%. Without DOMA, the expansion of such high employment levels would infuse much needed tax revenue to both the federal and state coffers.
Adoption by gay parents has increased by 100% in less than a decade, from 8% in 2000 to 19% in 2009. Currently, same-sex bi-national couples are raising an estimated 17,000 children. Though same-sex parents who adopt tend to be more affluent and educated than the general population, they still face discrimination in some states. DOMA provides a rationale for keeping antiquated laws to discriminate against LGBT citizens and consequently it elevates societal costs associated with children living in foster care as opposed to stable and loving homes.
Within the immigration arena, bi-national married couples have instant access to U.S. residency. DOMA prevents gay bi-national couples from enjoying the same. Craig Kenneth and Gary Gates of The Williams Institute state in their recent report that approximately 40,000 people are prevented from applying for immigration benefits because of DOMA. The estimated annual loss in revenue to the U.S. Treasury in the family context alone is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This blatant disregard for equality carries over to other immigration-related benefits.
For example, an E-2 non-immigrant visa is generally approved if the applicant invests his/her capital in the U.S., creates several jobs, and otherwise stimulates the U.S. economy. If the E-2 visa applicant is married, the same visa is afforded to his/her spouse and children. The spouse is authorized to work, pay taxes, and the children may attend school. If the principal E-2 visa holder is gay, DOMA is cited in denying the visa to his/her family.
Similar issues arise in virtually every visa category. DOMA diverts foreign capital, talent, business, and tax revenue to other nations that recognize full civil rights for their LGBT citizens.
Presently, DOMA is in a state of flux. Since February 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice has stopped defending DOMA. In the U.S Congress, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-NY) have introduced legislation to repeal DOMA. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. House of Representatives is spending precious time and treasure in a losing and senseless fight to keep DOMA on the books.
DOMA is divisive and discriminatory. It’s time for us to come together and dismantle DOMA, not only to recognize the civil rights of all our citizens, but also as one important component in modernizing our immigration laws for the 21st Century.