The Obama administration’s enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act is threatening to tear apart the seven-year marriage of a binational gay couple in San Francisco. Bradford Wells, a U.S. citizen, and Anthony John Makk, an Australian national, have lived together for 19 years and were among the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Massachusetts. Anthony is also the primary caretaker for his husband, who has HIV/AIDS. Makk is facing deportation this month after the Obama administration denied them the same immigration benefits routinely given to opposite-sex couples. The decision is based on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law known as DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. The Obama administration has said it would no longer defend DOMA in the courts, but the law still remains in effect. Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk join us from San Francisco. We also speak to Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: The seven-year marriage of a binational gay couple in San Francisco is at risk of being torn apart. The Obama administration has denied the same-sex couple the same immigration benefits routinely given to opposite-sex couples. The decision is based on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law known as DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Bradford Wells is a U.S. citizen. Anthony John Makk is Australian. They’ve lived together for 19 years and were among the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Massachusetts. Anthony is also the primary caretaker for his husband, who has HIV/AIDS.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration said they would no longer defend DOMA in the courts, but it’s still on the books. Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese urged lawmakers to back DOMA’s repeal.
JOE SOLMONESE: DOMA means that the many protections the federal provides for the health and security of American families remains out of reach for same-sex couples and their children. It keeps, for instance, gay and lesbian Americans from sponsoring their spouses for immigration to the United States, forcing binational couples to choose between love and country.
AMY GOODMAN: With DOMA still in effect, Makk and Wells’ nearly two-decade-long relationship now risks coming to an end. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has ordered Makk to leave the country by August 25th.
Well, Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk are joining us now from San Francisco, and here in New York we’re joined by Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. the organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive individuals.
We welcome you all to Democarcy Now! Let’s go first to San Francisco. Bradford and Anthony, welcome. Bradford, why don’t you start off by talking about when you got married and what you’re facing today?
BRADFORD WELLS: We got married on July 22nd, 2004. It was really the most momentous day of my life. I had never imagined that I’d be able to get married. And when the opportunity came to me, I realized that I was with the man I had looked for my whole life. I had never felt anything towards someone the way I felt about Anthony. And I didn’t think about us being torn apart in the future. We had been able to keep within the law and get the proper visas. And being together, although it was a lot of work, it was possible. It was only at the end of last year that we ran out of options. Now we find ourselves in this position.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk exactly about what has happened over the years. You got married. And what would happen with a opposite-sex couple that come—where one of the members—one of the couple is not American? How does it work for them?
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: Well, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Anthony?
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: If we were an opposite, heterosexual couple, we would have actually been able to apply for fiancé visas or done something many years ago, even probably before we could have married, because the opportunity is there, even before marriage, for same-sex—for opposite-sex couples, you know, for heterosexual couples. So, we’ve been living the visa shuffle and planning for many years. We’ve had to work very hard just to stay together.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel Tiven, talk about this issue, what this means, where gay couples who are binational stand in the United States. President Obama has said they will not defend DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, in courts, but of course it’s still on the books.
RACHEL TIVEN: It’s still on the books, but the government has the power to keep families like Bradford and Anthony together. They have the ability to take green card applications for married couples and just put them aside. What we are asking, what we are recommending the government do is, when a law that bars this family from the recognition for which they are completely qualified is unconstitutional, which is the case here, that instead of denying an application, which is what happened to Bradford and Anthony, they should just put it aside while DOMA is being litigated.
AMY GOODMAN: At a daily White House briefing in February, Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration will no longer defend Defense of Marriage Act.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: The President’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act has been consistent. He has long opposed it as unnecessary and unfair. The Attorney General recommended that the higher level of scrutiny be applied and, under that higher level of scrutiny, deemed or recommended that it be viewed as unconstitutional. The President reviewed that recommendation and concurred. Therefore, again, because of the court-imposed deadline and the necessity that this decision be made, our announcement was made.
AMY GOODMAN: Press Secretary Jay Carney then went on to say President Obama must still enforce DOMA.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: It is also important to note that the enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act continues. The president is constitutionally bound to enforce the laws, and enforcement of the DOMA will continue.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jay Carney, White House spokesman, speaking in February. Rachel Tiven, talk more about what this means and what President Obama could do.
RACHEL TIVEN: Sure. Well, arguably, what should happen is couples, they should get a green card. But the administration has taken the position that granting them the green card, for which they are legally qualified as a married couple that has been together 19 years, can demonstrate how committed they are to one another, and how bona fide and committed their relationship is—they should be entitled to the benefit. But if the administration takes the position that giving them a green card would be a violation of DOMA and it has to continue to enforce this unconstitutional law, then what they should do is wait. They should put the application aside and not separate this family, because this is a family that is facing an extreme deadline.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about this deadline right now. Let’s talk about, Anthony, when you expect to be deported to Australia and also what this means for the two of you. What have you been told, Anthony?
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: I’ve been told that I should—I have to leave the country by the 25th of August. And at this stage, I have no plans. I’m where we have avenues of appeal that the lawyers at Immigration Equality are looking at. And so, we would like to explore those, obviously, those avenues. And hopefully, they will put my application aside until the decision about DOMA has been made, and so I can stay here under a legal, lawful status. And this has been very important to us. So, when the time comes and DOMA is repealed, that it will make it easy for me to actually apply to become a resident or citizen.
BRADFORD WELLS: That is one of the things that we’re looking at right now. We are looking at filing an appeal and a motion to reconsider on our applications. We know that if things just continue to go like they’re going, that appeal will be rejected. But DOMA has a very big constitutional question right now. The President himself said he believes it is unconstitutional. When DOMA has gone to court, it has been declared unconstitutional.
What I want, what I’m asking President Obama and Secretary Napolitano, is to give me the benefit of the constitutional doubt. If DOMA withholds benefits from federal employees, those benefits can always be given to those employees when DOMA is settled. But if my marriage is destroyed because of DOMA, I can’t get that back when DOMA is finally considered unconstitutional. I’m asking the President to please hold our appeal, if we file one, in abeyance until the DOMA issue is settled.
AMY GOODMAN: Bradford, Anthony is not only your husband, but he’s also your primary caretaker. Talk about what that means for you, what it means for you in your health.
BRADFORD WELLS: He’s also the man I looked for my whole life. I’ve never found anyone that I feel such a comfortable fit with as Anthony. He does help me out quite a bit. I have good days, I have bad days. Something that I was remembering last night is, there have been several times when I’ve left the house, and I haven’t been able to get back home. I have pretty bad arthritis in my hips. And I found myself maybe a block away, half a block away, and unable to make it home. I’ve had to sit down on the sidewalk. And I’ve called Anthony, and he’s gotten the car and come over and picked me up and brought me home. If Anthony wasn’t here, there would be no one else to do that. I’d probably end up calling city services, having an ambulance or the fire department come. And they’re not going to take me home; they’d take me to the hospital. And that would end up costing the American public a lot of money, eventually. So I think that it is really in the interest of the country that I have someone who’s willing to provide the care and support I need, who isn’t looking for a paycheck for it, but doing it out of love.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel, are there any other considerations the government can make related to, well, the issue of Anthony being a primary caretaker, aside from the fact that they are a married couple?
RACHEL TIVEN: Unfortunately, the total nonrecognition of their relationship under American immigration law is a huge impediment. And this is—you know, this is a family that, as they express so beautifully, have played by the rules, have been completely within valid status for all of the time that they have been a family in this country, and, you know, their options at this point are very few. But that shouldn’t be, because they are a married couple. An American citizen, who wants to keep his family together here, is being discriminated against. And the administration has the power to stop that. They have the power to give this family the opportunity to stay together, to keep this family together.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of marriage was one of a number of topics discussed at last night’s Republican debate in Iowa. I want to play a sampling of the candidates’ responses, beginning with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
MITT ROMNEY: Marriage is a status. It’s not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state. And as a result, our marriage status relationship should be constant across the country. I believe we should have a federal amendment of the Constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, because I believe the ideal place to raise a child is in a home with a mom and a dad.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you, Governor. Next we’ll go to Governor Huntsman.
JON HUNTSMAN: I believe in traditional marriage, first and foremost. I’ve been married 28 years. I have seven terrific kids to show for it. But I also believe in civil unions, because I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to equality. And I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to reciprocal beneficiary rights. And I believe that this is something that ought to be discussed among the various states. I don’t have any problem with states having this discussion. But as for me, I support civil unions.
MODERATOR: All right. Congresswoman Bachmann, quickly.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Thank you. I support the federal marriage amendment, because I believe that we will see this issue at the Supreme Court someday. And as president, I will not nominate activist judges who legislate from the bench. I also want to say, when I was in Minnesota, I was the chief author of the constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man, one woman. I have an absolutely unblemished record when it comes to this issue of man-woman marriage.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican Congress Member Michele Bachmann at last night’s debate. Before her was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. Rachel Tiven, your response?
RACHEL TIVEN: Well, I mean, it’s just sad, because the American public is speaking very clearly on this, and there is a majority of support for equal marriage rights. And, of course, people who believe that states should have the ability to make their own choices about family law matters and other important states’ rights issues, you would think would be consistent about states’ ability to make those choices. But what really matters is for the federal government to treat every family equally. And we are closer and closer to the time when families will be treated equally by the federal government. The Defense of Marriage Act is not long for this world.
And in the meanwhile, there is precedent for the government to provide relief for families like Bradford and Anthony. They’ve done it in the past. They’ve done it in a circumstance where there was litigation pending—legislation pending and litigation about the status of widows whose husbands had died while their green card applications were pending, and the government decided that rather than deport all of those widows, they would allow them to have their applications placed on hold while the issue was negotiated. Now, surely, a living beloved spouse, like Anthony is to Bradford, is worth at least as much to this government as a spouse that has already passed away.
AMY GOODMAN: Bradford, what are your plans right now? You have what? A week or two?
BRADFORD WELLS: Yeah. The time is—I get sick to my stomach. I don’t like to think about it. We are looking at our options. And like I said, the option I’m looking at right now is filing an appeal and pleading with President Obama and Secretary Napolitano to please hold our appeal in abeyance. Please do not destroy my family while this unfair and unconstitutional law is being used to tear us apart.
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: And as Rachel said, they do have the power to do something.
BRADFORD WELLS: They can.
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: And they’re just not doing it. They’re just not giving—and there’s thousand of couples in our situation. It’s not just us. And something needs to be done. And they can do it. And it’s clear—it’s clearly discrimination. And our relationship, as long as the other thousands of binational, same-sex couples—we have committed relationships, and they are just as committed as heterosexual relationships. And it is very discriminatory, what they are doing. And it’s—and I’m sure that the people will see it, and someone’s going to step in before I either have to leave or stay illegally. And this is something that we have tried over the years so hard not to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Could Obama take individual action in your case?
BRADFORD WELLS: Yes, he could. We would be very grateful for that.
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: We’d be very grateful for any assistance, whatsoever.
BRADFORD WELLS: I wouldn’t mind an—I wouldn’t mind an executive order.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you for being with us. We will certainly continue to follow your case. Again, the date that you will be deported by, Anthony, unless something changes?
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: Sorry, the—August 25th is the day I have to leave, the day I have to leave by. After that, then the possibility of deportation, actually being deported, comes in after that date.
BRADFORD WELLS: That’s something else—
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: My grace period is over on August 25th.
BRADFORD WELLS: That’s something else we’re looking at, is deferred action. But under deferred action, Anthony will get a deportation order, and then they’ll defer that order.
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: We’re trying to stop it before it gets to that level.
BRADFORD WELLS: I don’t want my family to live with an order of deportation hanging over us. This man has been a good man. He’s worked hard. He’s obeyed the law. He should not have to live here under an order of deportation. He should have the same dignity that everybody else has when they come to this country. He’s done nothing wrong. He’s followed the rules. He should be given his dignity and allowed to stay here not under an order of deportation. That order could always come later, if for some reason DOMA was found constitutional and this was settled not in our favor. But if Anthony is under order of deportation, that’s going to add a lot of stress to our relationship, and it’s going to put a lot of unnecessary stress on me. It’s not good for my health, it’s not good for anybody’s health, to live under unnecessary strain. There’s no benefit to anybody.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Anthony John Makk and Bradford Wells, a married—
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK: Thank you.
BRADFORD WELLS: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: —binational couple, married for seven years, together for 19 years. Bradford has HIV/AIDS; Anthony, the primary caretaker. Thank you also to Rachel Tiven, who is head of Immigration Equality here in New York.