In the fall of 2011, Brandon Perlberg had to make a heart-wrenching choice. He could stay with either the country he loved or the person that he loved.
He had been in a relationship with a man from Britain for nearly seven years. His partner’s employer-sponsored visa had expired. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that prohibits federal marriage benefits from being given to same-sex couples, prevented him from sponsoring his partner’s green card.
“I was faced with this horrible and totally un-American decision,” he told NewsNation’s Tamron Hall Wednesday from London, his new home. “While I don’t regret that decision at all, this has been the most difficult and humbling period of my entire life.” His story was outlined in detail by The New York Times.
As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the future and the constitutionality of DOMA, Perlberg's story is a reminder of the severe consequences the law has already had on the lives of many bi-national same-sex couples. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates there are around 40,000 LGBT couples in the United States who cannot take advantage of the immigration procedures that are available to straight people.
Before they moved to London, Perlberg, an attorney, felt like he was finally achieving professional success. The couple built a life together in New York. Perlberg had to pick up and leave his career, adjust to a new country, and face significant financial costs; it took him 11 months to find another job.
The process was tumultuous, but “we’re the lucky ones," Perlberg said. "There are so many people who don’t have an England or a Canada or a Holland or a country like that to go to. Families are split apart. You can imagine when there are children involved what that means, and the financial implications of what that means.”
The initial bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal does not specifically mention LGBT couples. The White House, however, has said its wants final immigration legislation to allow U.S. citizens to be able to sponsor a visa for their same-sex partners.
Current guidelines at the Department of Homeland Security tell agents to take LGBT relationships into account in deportation proceedings, but there is no guarantee.
Cases could also be resolved if the Uniting American Families Act is included in a comprehensive immigration package. The legislation lets American citizens or permanent residents, regardless of sexual orientation, sponsor their foreign partner’s legal immigration to the country.
But the future of immigration rights for LGBT couples also hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court considers gay marriage cases.
If the court strikes down DOMA, Perlberg says he isn't sure whether they would immediately move back to the United States and live as a married couple back in New York.
“You can’t just snap your fingers and get your life back,” he said. “This wasn’t a blip. This was a major, major hardship and sacrifice that I’ve had to endure and that so many other people have had to endure.”