WASHINGTON -- U.S. citizen Kelli Ryan and Lucy Truman, a citizen of the United Kingdom, have been together for a decade and legally married in the United States for two years. If Truman loses her job, though, they face a different obstacle than heterosexual married couples in the same situation: They could be separated because the federal government won't recognize their marriage.
"We really simply want to be treated fairly and equally," Ryan, who was born in the United States, said on a call with reporters Thursday. "I feel as an American citizen that I should be able to have the same rights as all other American citizens and I should not be forced to choose between my country and my family."
Ryan and Truman are now petitioning the federal government, with help from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and LGBT immigration rights group Immigration Equality, to keep them from being torn apart by the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA bans same-sex couples -- even those legally married at the state-level -- from receiving federal benefits.
Blumenthal sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday asking the agency to allow same-sex spouses of American citizens to stay in the country, rather than being deported because of DOMA.
He requested that the Department of Homeland Security withhold its decision on Truman's green card application until Congress makes a final decision to end DOMA. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and 11 other senators asked DHS and the Department of Justice in April to delay decisions on marriage-based green cards until questions over DOMA were resolved.
Both departments told the senators that discretion would be used in individual cases. In his Thursday letter, Blumenthal requested that immigration authorities review Ryan and Truman's case specifically.
"I believe that DOMA will be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional, perhaps even before the United States Congress repeals it," Blumenthal said on the conference call Thursday, hours after voting to repeal DOMA as part of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But in the meantime there are extraordinarily unfair and discriminatory practical effects on couples like Kelli and Lucy."
Ryan and Truman are among the first same-sex married couples to make a public petition to the government for a green card, even though they know that under DOMA it will almost certainly be denied. Another married couple, American Bradford Wells and Australian Anthony John Makk, were denied their green-card application in July under the law.
"We are here to represent the people who have already left and are in exile, the families that have already been separated," Truman said.
Ryan and Truman said their inability to receive a green card for Truman puts them in constant fear that they could be separated. Truman is currently in the United States legally under a work visa for her job at Yale University, where she has a post-doctoral research fellowship. If Truman were to lose her job, she could be required to return to the United Kingdom.
"It's really difficult to do any sort of planning -- even in the short-term, let alone the long term," Ryan said. "It's paralyzing to try to do these things that other people take for granted. ... The prospect of us being torn apart really makes those decisions difficult."