An estimated 36,000 immigrant same-sex spouses have been awaiting their green cards since the overturning of DOMA. Among the first to receive a green card was Phan Datthuyawat, 49, who has been with his husband, Tom Knutson, who is 70, for twenty years. Their story has shown the true long-term struggle of binational same-sex relationships in the United States.
They were married in 2008 in Sacramento but it wasn’t until October 15, 2013, that they could finally legalize Datthuyawat’s permanent residency in the US Because he was unable to return to the US without a green card, he has not seen his 84-year-old mother in Thailand in over a decade. But now, at last, he can return to his birthplace, visit his mother and still be able to come home to his husband at the end of his long-awaited trip.
Datthuyawat and Knutson’s struggle with visas has been a long one. Datthuyawat was in the US on a student visa before the announcement he was receiving his green card, and he is currently finishing up a doctorate in communications at California State University, Sacramento. He was unable to work in the US without a green card or a work visa, neither of which he was previously able to obtain.
Their attorney, Mark Kowalewski, told the Sacramento Bee, “Now Phan can travel freely, get a Social Security card and is entitled to Social Security benefits, [just like]any spouse.”
The Sacramento Bee reported that Knutson and Datthuyawat met at the Telephone Pub in Bangkok in 1993. Because Datthuyawat could not work in the United States without a visa or green card, he entered on a student visa, so he could continue his relationship with Knutson. There is no doubt that his life is now in California, alongside his husband.
The issues that DOMA caused for binational same-sex marriages have not necessarily completely disappeared. Immigrant same-sex spouses without papers have always faced a fear of deportation and although the changes will improve many people’s lives, some could have to face the consequences of illegally remaining in the United States to be with their partners.
Many binational couples that are now able to apply for a green card must also be prepared to face deportation if they were working in the US illegally, committing fraud to enter the country, or were living in the US without a visa.