Customs Service proposes changes to give same-sex couples equality — and save money

Posted on 28 Mar 2012 at 3:21pm

Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute

Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute on Tuesday released a proposal to expand joint Customs declarations. The proposal would allow same-sex couples to file one form at ports of entry — saving time, making borders safer and saving the government money.

Yes, sometimes discrimination is just plain expensive.

“The proposed update addresses when members of a family residing in one household and traveling together on their return to the U.S. may make a joint declaration for all members of the family,” Lute wrote in a press release sent to Dallas Voice. “We anticipate that expanding the definition of ‘members of a family residing in one household’ will reduce the amount of paperwork and time that CBP officers would need to review during inspection and, therefore, facilitate passenger processing.”

Streamlining the procedure could result in $2 million in savings.

With the time saved, officers could pay more attention to people who pose actual threats.

In a Facebook discussion of the new proposal, one gay man said he already files joint Customs declarations with his partner and their two children and has had no problem entering the country as a family.

Filing separate customs declarations is a minor inconvenience but can be costly to gays and lesbians. If one person is allowed to bring $400 worth of merchandise into the country and two people can bring $800 into the country, there’s normally not a problem — unless there’s one item valued at more than $400. Then it depends whether the agent counts the item as something brought in by the couple or by just one person. If an item is valued at $800, a gay person would pay duty on $400 even if he bought it with his partner. The straight couple would pay nothing.

Personally, screwing with Customs has been one of my favorite travel activities since I returned to the country with a partner after a long trip to Asia more than 20 years ago. Because we had done quite a bit of shopping, we packed our things however we could fit them in our joint bags. Upon arrival in Honolulu, customs officials wouldn’t let us go through together. But we were declaring quite a few items, and we each had half the bags. We were not trying to sneak anything into the country. We just didn’t pack separately since all the bags were destined for the same house.

After a few minutes of answers like, “It’s in his bag over there …” and “I don’t know. He has the receipt over there,” the agents, exasperated, gave up and checked us through together.

Ever since then, I have made it a point of mixing up everything with my partner (whether domestic partner or travel partner) for our convenience, not theirs — like all the dirty laundry stuffed into one bag — and to hell with Customs if they’re going to treat us differently than heterosexuals entering the country. They can either check us through together or hold up the lines as long as they like and check us through separately.

And part of the fun of coming through customs for me has always been explaining to people in line behind me that discriminatory laws are what’s holding up the line.

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