Same-Sex Couples Could File Joint Customs Declarations Under New Proposal
Key West, Fla., realtors Rudy Molinet and Harry Hoehn filled out a joint Customs declaration form to use to re-enter the country after their vacation on the French Riviera last fall. The couple who has been together for 19 years and married in Canada in 2003 presented the document to a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
"He basically ordered me back into line and said you know you’re not a couple; we don’t recognize you," recalled Molinet "I just refused to do it."
Molinet told EDGE that the armed Customs agent was "rude" and "really aggressive" towards him. He said he remained calm.
"I am an American citizen, that’s what my passport says," said Molinet, further recalling the incident. "I have the constitution behind me and I am not going to [go back into line.] So either you’re going to have to arrest me or let me through. Those are your two choices."
Current policy allows members of a family who are related through blood, marriage or adoption and live together in the same household to file a single Customs declaration form. A proposal that the agency and the Departments of Homeland Security and Treasury is slated to unveil on Tuesday would expand the definition of "members of a family living in one household" to include long-term companions, domestic partners, same-sex couples and those in other relationships where "the partners share financial assets and obligations, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else."
A Customs spokesperson declined to comment on the specific proposal, but LGBT activists quickly applauded it.
"Separating families in the customs line was a waste of government resources and a painful symbol of the double standard LGBT families face at the federal level," said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. "This proposal ends that insult. It sends an unmistakable message that the administration and the United States recognize gay families as ’real families,’ too."
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, welcomed the proposal as another step towards recognizing LGBT families.
"President Obama and this administration have recognized the need to modernize forms and regulations to reflect the reality of today’s American families and we applaud them for that," she said. "We look forward to the day when LGBT families are recognized, respected and protected by all laws and policies."
Molinet said Customs officials at other points of entry had previously allowed him and Hoehn to re-enter the country as a couple. An agent challenged the joint Customs declaration form that the men had filled out to re-enter the United States after their wedding.
"We were married in Canada and when we came back in we were all excited because we got married," said Molinet, adding the agent who had refused to accept the couple’s form called a supervisor to calm him down. "I just refused to go to the back of the line."
Molinet welcomes the proposal as another step towards equality for LGBT Americans. The self-described "lunch counter moment" he had with the Customs agent in Houston, however, continues to upset him.
"There were people in line that were clearly heterosexual couples, many of whom weren’t even American citizens, and they were allowed to go in together," said Molinet. "I as a citizen didn’t have that same right. How can we allow that in this country?"
Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.