DOMA Unconstitutional: Binational LGBT Couples Can Now Come Home, With a Purpose

We've come a long way, baby.

Last week the Supreme Court handed DOMA an unqualified smack down. What's more, it did so with language that exponentially strengthens future arguments for marriage equality. Between holding that DOMA "writes inequality into the entire United States Code," that it "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples," and that "the Constitution protects" the "moral and sexual choices" of gay Americans, the Supreme Court gave us a ton of ammo for fights against similar marriage-banning laws in the states.

This is our moment, guys. And there's a new lot of soldiers on its way. They're called the love exiles.

For the tens of thousands of Americans in binational, same-sex relationships, the Supreme Court's decision means the right to sponsor foreign-born partners for visas. The long-elusive green card is finally within our reach. For those of us who were forced into exile in order to remain with the foreign partners we love, we endured arguably the most severe and cruel consequence of DOMA's enforcement. That the Supreme Court's decision brings the freedom to repatriate opens the door to once unthinkable possibilities. The timing, on the other hand, could have been better.

For me, the Supreme Court's decision came about a year and a half too late. Having been prevented by DOMA from sponsoring my same-sex British partner of seven years for immigration status, in January 2012 we were compelled to pack up our home, quit our jobs and leave the U.S. for an uncertain new life together in the UK. The cost, both financial and otherwise, was enormous. It didn't help that we knew next to no one when we first arrived. Or that it took me 11 months, 200 CVs and a considerable amount of retraining before I finally secured employment.

Having uprooted our lives once already, for us the DOMA ruling brings another round of impossible decision-making. It would be different if the Court had somehow undone all of the damage that DOMA caused. But that's not what happened. Sure, we can board a plane bound for New York tomorrow, but when we arrive we'll find someone else living in our home, our jobs having long since been filled, and our emptied-out savings accounts still, well, looking frighteningly bare. And of course, there's all that returning to the U.S. would force us and people in similar positions to leave behind: new careers, properties purchased, relationships developed...

Worse still, many of the exiles courageous enough to return home will arrive to states where the relationships for which they sacrificed so much will remain the subject of legally sanctioned ridicule and disgrace. While the DOMA decision surpassed many of our greatest expectations, it seems there's a lot of injustice in justice having been served. It would be wrong for us not to do something about it.

Accepting our DOMA-imposed circumstances and building new lives from them took a giant dose of humility. But it also required a showing of mettle and guts that a lot of us never knew we had. For all of us living in exile, the Supreme Court's ruling forced us to pause and reflect upon where we are and who we've become. We've weathered one hell of a storm, and without realizing it, became the Old Guard along the way. The Supreme Court's decision may have come late for us, but we're just in time for America.

There are 37 states in need of a nudge. No one is better suited to undertake that work than those of us who are at long last returning to them. Having had our lives stolen from us precisely because of anti-gay legislation, this fight courses through the veins of the love exiles like it does for no one else. From a legal perspective, we're as sympathetic as plaintiffs come. From a schoolyard perspective, no one is scrappier. From Amsterdam to Wellington and beyond, there are Americans with unfinished business to do. We may not ever get our lives back, but we're in an uncanny position to fundamentally change America just like it fundamentally changed us.

It's off in the distance, but if you squint you can just about make out the finish line. On your mark. Get set. Go.

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Brandon Perlberg

Brandon Perlberg is a lawyer and consultant. He and his partner lived together in New York for seven years before being impelled by DOMA to emigrate to the UK. His story has been featured in publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today.com, CNN.com, New York Magazine and the Washington Blade. He has also been interviewed by CNN, MSNBC and BBC World Service Radio, and is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and Advocate.com. He presently resides in London and very much wants a dog.

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