The Spousal Diaspora

More and more Americans are being forced by the US government to emigrate because the Defense of Marriage Act will not allow their legal spouses to remain in America. Why? Because the spouses are not US citizens. For ever, the US has acknowledged, perhaps excessively, that marriage and family trump everything in immigration law. As long as the marriage is valid, and sincere, no questions are asked. Why? Because we collectively acknowledge something profound about the decision to commit legally to one other person for life, and respect it. We do not force someone to emigrate from the US because he fell in love with a woman from, say, Spain or force the repatriation of an American because she swooned for a Russian.

But for gay couples, it's so different. It is difficult for a government to express more contempt for a citizen's human dignity than asserting that it is completely indifferent to his or her being able to live in America with the person he or she loves. And this inhumanity is compounded by the fact that in some states and the capital city, Americans can lawfully wed someone of the same gender but of a different nationality. So they are lured with the chimera of equality only to discover that, if they are to remain together, they will have to leave the country.

No other civilized Western country treats its own gay citizens this way. And yet it appears clear that the law will not change on this in the foreseeable future, as a more and more radicalized Republican party exercizes a veto over any equality for gay people, and as the Democratic party continues its defensive crouch in the face of religious intolerance and cultural panic.

This is not, in my view, a minor matter. In fact, very few issues demonstrate so starkly the inequality between gays and straights in America than this. Has any heterosexual American citizen ever doubted for a mili-second that he has a right to marry the person he loves and remain in the land he was born in? It is unthinkable. And yet what is unthinkable for 98 percent of citizens is mandatory for the tiny minority.

It hangs over a binational marriage like a sword; it eats away at you like a cancer; it terrifies and enrages and demoralizes. And, for so many, it is not going away.