Immigrants challenge gay marriage ban

April 3, 2012 at 8:27 AM

NEW YORK, April 3 (UPI) -- Five same-sex couples challenged a U.S. law barring the federal government from recognizing gay marriages, saying its impact is harsh on non-citizens' spouses.

The lawsuit challenging the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, was filed Monday by Immigration Equality in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

"I'm a citizen of this country just like anybody else," Heather Morgan, 36, a plaintiff in the lawsuit with her spouse, Maria del Mar Verdugo Yanez, who is from Spain, told The New York Times. "I'm very proud of this country. I don't want to feel like I have to leave here in order to be with the person I love. I shouldn't have to choose."

Most of the immigrants have been in the United States legally on temporary visas that will expire soon, the Times said.

Under immigration law, a citizen can apply for a foreign spouse to gain legal permanent residency, experts said. However, federal authorities do not recognize same-sex marriages under DOMA, leaving same-sex couples with the choice of deportation for the immigrant or exile for the American.

Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven said the organization urged federal officials to suspend deportations of immigrants in same-sex marriages as court challenges to DOMA worked through the legal system, but the authorities declined, prompting the lawsuit, the Times said.

In February 2011, the Obama administration announced that it considered the key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally discriminatory, and that officials no longer would defend it in the courts.

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