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John Kerry

John Kerry

Posted March 24, 2009 | 07:25 PM (EST)

No Time to Wait for Justice


Justice may be blind, but it sure ain't always swift.

That's why I have asked the Obama administration to help me speed up reuniting two of my Massachusetts constituents, Tim Coco and his husband Genesio "Junior" Oliveira, who have been separated through no fault of their own.

The case of Tim and Junior has attracted a lot of public attention - and rightly so. Their dilemma illustrates just how important it is to inject some justice and compassion into our immigration system and how important it is to overturn wrongheaded laws like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and pass legislation that guarantees gay couples the same legal protections heterosexual couples are afforded. But in the meantime, I'm asking Attorney General Eric Holder to lend a hand to get Junior back home with Tim in Massachusetts as quickly as possible.

Tim and Junior were married in Massachusetts in March 2005. Two years later, Junior was forced to return to his native Brazil because of his expired immigration status. Immigration laws allow spouses of American citizens to obtain legal permanent residency. But even though Tim and Junior were legally married under Massachusetts law, federal law does not recognize their marriage.

But there are even more immediate humanitarian issues looming in Junior's case. He was forced back to Brazil under orders from the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, which had denied his application for asylum status. Junior had applied for asylum in 2002 based on a brutal rape and attack he suffered at the hands of government officials in Brazil.

It is astounding that Immigration Judge Francis Cramer, who presided at Junior's asylum hearing, found that Junior's testimony was "credible" and his fear of Brazil "genuine" but nonetheless denied the asylum claim and said that Junior "was never physically harmed" by the rape. The Immigration Appeals Board upheld the ruling in 2007, at which point Junior returned to Brazil and has been separated from his spouse ever since.

Some critics (including Emma Ruby-Sachs, right here on the Huffington Post) have rightly suggested that repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Congress passed in 1996 in an effort to prohibit same sex marriages, would solve Tim and Junior's problem. But Tim and Junior don't have time to wait for that to happen before they can be reunited. That's why I've asked Attorney General Holder to take a closer look at Junior's asylum claim and reunite this loving couple.

I believe Tim and Junior should be reunited based on their legal marriage in the state of Massachusetts. I believe that all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be assured equal protection under the law.

That's why I am trying to win passage of the United American Families Act so that partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents can obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens. That's why I voted against DOMA. That's why I am supporting the suit filed by several couples in Massachusetts to overturn parts of DOMA.

But when you cut to the chase, I don't believe Tim and Junior, or any other couple in a similar situation, should have to wait for Congress to come around to the truth that laws like DOMA are discriminatory and wrong.

No couple should have to wait. And no United States Senator should take off the table the immediate steps a compassionate government can take to reunite two law-abiding, loving people today - not tomorrow.