Tom Knutson and Phan Datthuyawat have been together for 20 years and got married in 2008, but Datthuyawat, from Thailand, hasn’t been able to visit his ailing 84-year-old mother because he can’t leave the country and return legally without a green card, according to The Sacramento Bee.
On Oct. 15, however, a United States Customs and Immigrations Service official approved giving Datthuyawat a green card, making him and Knutson one of the first binational gay couples to have their marriage recognized by federal government officials. Officials denied Datthuyawat’s petition for a green card in January.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, foreign-born gay and lesbian partners of American citizens had legal ground to petition for a green card. The fear of deportation is justifiable for immigrant same-sex couples who don’t have their papers. The Sacramento Bee reported Luxembourger Pascale Fusshoeller was ordered to be deported after a traffic stop earlier this month and is battling to stay in the U.S. with her American-born wife.
The USCIS said it is now processing same-sex marriages the same way as opposite-sex unions and does not differentiate by orientation. However, length of marriage remains a factor. If a couple has been married for less than two years, the government will subject them to more scrutiny to ensure there is no marriage fraud. That can work against same-sex couples who could not marry legally or were reluctant to come forward and publicize the nature of their unions.