Tim Smulian, who is from South Africa, has been married to Edwin Blesch, who has U.S. citizenship, since 1999. While the couple’s marriage is recognized by the state of New York, none of the same federal immigration benefits apply to the couple as those given to heterosexual couples.
Before Blesch’s illness, the couple made do by getting tourist visas so they could travel with each other to spend six months in South Africa and six months in the United States. However, since Blesch has recently suffered a series of mini-strokes, healthcare officials have deemed him unhealthy enough to make the long plane trip to Africa.
While originally fearing he would have to leave his ailing spouse for six months because his tourist visa was running out, Smulian was recently granted a one-year reprieve from U.S. immigration officials so that he could take care of Blesch.
According to the Huffington Post, Smulian and Blesch are one of the first gay couples to be granted this type of reprieve. California couple Anthony John Makk and Bradford Wells were granted a similar reprieve, with Makk, whose citizenship is in Australia, finding out in January that he could stay with his Wells, who suffers from an advanced form of AIDS, for two more years.
Both couples have struggled to stay together because of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Signed into effect in 1996, the law prevents all same-sex couples from acquiring the same benefits as heterosexual married couples. Fiance visas are also restricted mainly heterosexual couples, with many U.S. citizens in same-sex partnerships not able to secure one for their foreign partner.
However, many government officials believe DOMA is outdated. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times featured an article by former U.S. House of Representative Bob Barr, one of the main writers of DOMA, stated that even he agrees that the law should be repealed.
“The heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws — including, immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veteran’s benefits — has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions,” stated Barr in his Times article.