Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied Anthony John Makk’s application for lawful permanent residence based on his marriage to Bradford Wells. The editorial also mistakenly said that Mr. Makk could be deported by the end of the month. The version below has been corrected.
ANTHONY JOHN MAKK may soon be thrown out of a country he has called home for nearly the past two decades.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Mr. Makk has lived legally in the United States since 1993, but he lost his claim on a visa last October when he shut down his San Francisco architectural art glass business to care for his ailing husband, who is battling AIDS.
Although Mr. Makk applied for permanent residency status as the spouse of an American citizen, U.S. immigration services denied his request after it concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) forbids it from recognizing Mr. Makk’s 19-year relationship with Bradford Wells, whom he married in Massachusetts seven years ago.
“The claimed relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary is not a petitionable relationship,” the decision said. “For a relationship to qualify as a marriage for purposes of federal law, one partner must be a man and the other a woman.” Mr. Makk, who is Mr. Wells’s sole caretaker, is subject to removal proceedings beginning Aug. 26.
Mr. Makk’s case illustrates the profound injustices meted out by DOMA, which was passed in 1996. The Obama administration this year denounced the Clinton-era law as unconstitutional because it deprives same-sex couples equal protection of the law. In April, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. put on hold the deportation of a British man who has lived in the United States since 1996 but who never obtained a green card or citizenship. The man, Paul Wilson Dorman, has been in a committed same-sex relationship for 15 years and entered into a civil union with his partner, a U.S. citizen, in 2009.
Mr. Holder asked an immigration court to determine whether Mr. Dorman should be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law and thus entitled to stay in the country. Mr. Makk’s deportation should also be put on hold, as should those involving anyone in legally recognized same-sex relationships whose only infraction involves immigration status.
It is not easy to win a reprieve from deportation based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. All who make such a claim must not only show proof of their lawful relationship but also that removal would cause an “extraordinary and extremely unusual hardship.” But the law at least allows heterosexual individuals to make their cases; that opportunity should be extended to those in same-sex relationships also. Immigration agents enjoy broad discretion and should make it a priority to remove foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes — not those, like Mr. Makk, who are otherwise law-abiding, contributing members of society. Common sense and common decency will go a long way toward avoiding indignities, but true justice will not be achieved until DOMA is wiped from the books.