By Stephanie Siek, CNN
(CNN) – Lawyers representing five same-gender couples are suing the federal government over the Defense of Marriage Act, which they say unfairly denies same-sex married couples the right to sponsor their noncitizen spouses for permanent residency in the United States.
Immigration Equality, an advocacy group that supports the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and HIV-positive immigrants, filed the suit April 2 in New York district court. It names as defendants Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas and two other immigration officials.
The suit alleges that the federal government is violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by denying rights to one set of legally married couples while preserving the rights of another, based on gender and sexual orientation.
“The five plaintiff couples are like other married couples,” the suit states. “They met, fell in love, and chose to build a life together. They too committed themselves to one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. They have honored and kept that commitment to one another. They have chosen to be together and to make the United States their family’s home. However, because they are married to someone of the same sex, they are denied the federal immigration benefits to which different-sex married couples are entitled. They are at constant risk of being forced apart or forced to leave the United States to stay together.”
Each of the couples are in marriages legally recognized by the states in which they reside.
Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda, of Vermont, married last April after living together for 11 years. Takako, a Japanese national, has been in the U.S. on a student visa since 2001. Herbert filed the application for Takako’s permanent residency a few months after their marriage, but it was denied last December. Since then, the couple has lived with the threat of Ueda’s deportation. But they say the filing of this lawsuit, Blesch v. Holder, gives them hope.
“Because of Immigration Equality’s effort and our dedicated team, I feel so positive and optimistic that I can stay here,” Ueda said. “It’s a huge event… I feel I am doing something good for those who are part of a binational same-gender couple.”
“Our private life has shrunk, but it’s worth it,” Herbert said. “It’s humbling to be involved in a significant action towards changing the definition of family on the books. It’s already changed in reality, we all know that. Our family is precious and broad and there are many other families that deserve the right, the chance, to celebrate the core essence of who they are. And to be part of this change is sometimes overwhelming, but also very inspiring.”
The Senate passed a vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act last November, but it is seen as unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House.