Same-Sex Couples Are Families Too

New guidelines could impact the way gay and lesbian couples travel abroad

Photo by Think Stock

This week, the Obama administration took a small, but important step in recognizing same-sex couples. The Federal Register website reports that the White House proposed a change that would allow same-sex couples to be listed as families on customs forms. It states:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is proposing to revise its regulations regarding U.S. returning residents who are eligible to file a single customs declaration for members of a family traveling together upon arrival in the United States. Specifically, CBP is proposing to expand the definition of the term “members of a family residing in one household” to allow more U.S. returning residents to file a family customs declaration for articles acquired abroad. CBP anticipates that this proposed change will reduce the amount of paperwork that CBP officers would need to review during inspection and, therefore, facilitate passenger processing. CBP believes that this proposed change would more accurately reflect relationships between members of the public who are traveling together as a family.

For gay and lesbian couples, this would mean being able to fill out a joint customs form (compared to two, which is the current rule) by taking a step toward recognizing the validity of same-sex relationships. Even though DOMA prohibits the federal government from officially recognizing same-sex couples as such (even the ones who are legally married in states and countries that allow it), steps like these are expected to make international travel a more positive experience for same-sex couples and families returning to the U.S. The guidelines would also include children of gay and lesbian parents.

The current policy already allows members of a family who are related through marriage, blood or adoption – and who live together in the same household – to file together. Admittedly, even if the move is more symbolic than anything, it counts for many LGBT families who travel abroad together and who are forced into second-class status when coming home.

EDGE Boston reported of an incident between a gay couple who returned to North America after vacationing in the French Riviera last year. Even though they were legally married in Canada – and have been together for almost 20 years – Rudy Molinet and Harry Hoehn were told by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol that the U.S. didn’t recognize them as a couple.

“He basically ordered me back in line and said you know you’re not a couple – we don’t recognize you,” Molinet told the website. “I just refused to do it.”

Stories like these are why LGBT advocates are applauding this week’s proposal.

“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,” says Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council. “We look forward to the day when LGBT families are recognized, respected and protected by all laws and policies.”

As for Molinet – the experience still haunts 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,” he told EDGE. “I, as a citizen, didn’t have that same right. How can we allow that in this country?”