Bi-national gay couples anxiously wait for marriage law

Thu Dec 6, 2012 3:37pm EST
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Santiago Ortiz was deeply in love and, he believed, near death when he asked Pablo Garcia to leave his native Venezuela and join him in New York. There was no time to bother with a visa. Ortiz was HIV positive and he wanted Garcia with him.

That was 26 years ago. Ortiz, an American, is still alive. He and Garcia were married in Connecticut last year. And Garcia still does not have a visa. The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, blocks federal recognition of same-sex relationships.

"I told him, 'I might die tomorrow, I might die in a month,'" recalled Ortiz, soon to be 57, about that romantic moment in Caracas 26 years ago. "I said, 'Don't wait. Come now.'"

The medical treatment of HIV has advanced markedly since the 1980s. Full legal acceptance of gay marriage still has a ways to go.

Their best hope for getting the same visa a heterosexual couple would be eligible for rests with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear a challenge to DOMA this year in what could be a breakthrough for gay rights in America.

Although the two men were married in Connecticut, one of nine states that allows same-sex marriage, Garcia was denied his application for permanent residence - which is routine for foreign nationals in heterosexual marriages with Americans, even when the foreigner has overstayed his or her visa.

Garcia, 52, a playwright and a doctoral student in Spanish literature, remains in the United States illegally.

"He swept me off my feet," Ortiz, a retired school psychologist, said as he sipped coffee in the couple's colorful apartment in Queens. "For me, it's been easy. I can go wherever I want, I can travel, and Pablo has been there for me. Pablo doesn't have his papers and it's unfair."   Continued...

Same-sex married couple Heather Morgan, an American (L), and Maria del Mar Verdugo, from Spain, ride the subway in Manhattan, New York December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Allison Joyce