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Steve Ralls

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One Family Divided, Under Law

Posted: 06/06/11 04:40 PM ET

In just one week, Bradford Wells could lose the person he built his entire life around.

Wells, an American citizen, has been with his partner Anthony Makk -- who is Australian -- for 19 years. The couple married in Massachusetts seven years ago. They have a built home, and a life, together in San Francisco. As Wells's health has declined, Anthony has become his primary caretaker, ensuring his husband makes his doctors' visits and takes his medication on time.

When it comes to U.S. law, however, none of that matters.

On June 13, Makk's visa will expire, and the couple will face heart-wrenching choices about the future. Unlike straight Americans, who have the ability to sponsor their spouse for residency, lesbian and gay couples in the same situation have few legal options for remaining together. Many are forced into exile, leaving the United States entirely. Others are forced apart, splitting their families. Of the more than 36,000 such couples, nearly half are raising young children -- themselves American citizens -- who face the very real possibility of losing a parent, or losing the only country they have ever called home.

For Wells and Makk, it could mean the end of two decades spent with only one goal: To live their lives together.

"We're at the end of our rope," Wells told The San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday. "Ever since we met, all we've tried to do is be together. The focal point of our lives, everything we've done, is just so we could be together."

"It's devastating, the idea of him leaving in a couple of weeks and not being able to get back in," Wells, who has suffered a massive heart attack and is unable to care for himself, added. "I don't know how I'm going to manage," he told the paper. "My stomach is in knots."

The couple has turned to the legal team at Immigration Equality for help, but their legal options are limited. The group, which provides legal counsel to couples facing similar circumstances, has asked California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein -- and Wells's Representative, Nancy Pelosi -- to intervene on their behalf. Immigration Equality has called on the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security, to hold green card applications filed by LGBT couples while courts determine the fate of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

So far, the Obama administration -- which has deemed DOMA so unconstitutional that it will no longer defend the law in court -- has declined to do so. Instead, both DHS and DOJ have told a coalition of lawmakers who also pressed for a hold on green card applications that they will continue to enforce DOMA, though they do retain the right to exercise discretion in individual cases. The lawmakers, led by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), had called for a moratorium on the deportations of LGBT spouses.

"Right now the department's position is that they can't defend [DOMA] because it's unconstitutional," Lofgren told The Los Angeles Times. "If that's the case, then that leads you to the conclusion that you should not be enforcing it."

According to an Associated Press report on Sunday, the Administration currently has 10 - 20 green card petitions, filed by lesbian and gay couples, pending. A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services told AP that "authorities are denying" those applications.

As those denials continue, more and more couples -- like Wells and Makk -- face imminent separation under a law the White House has said cannot survive constitutional scrutiny.

As the legal fight continues, however, Makk is preparing to leave life with his husband behind. Barring Congressional intervention, or a display of the "discretion" administration officials have said they maintain, he will be forced apart from Wells.

"If nothing is done, I will be departing," Makk said. "I won't stay illegally."

Wells, however, will not leave with him, as he is now too ill to travel. Instead, he will be forced to watch as his spouse, and his caretaker, is torn apart from him ... all under the guise of discriminatory federal laws.

For more information on Wells and Makk, and the situation facing other couples like them, visit www.immigrationequality.org.