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Paul Wilson Dorman, 50, a gay undocumented Irishman originally from Newtownards, Co. Down who is living in New Jersey with his long term civil partner, had a deportation order against him suspended by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last Thursday.
Dorman, who has been in a long-term relationship with John Paul Frederick, Jr., 48, since 1997, was flagged for deportation when he was waiting to meet his son, who is a minor, at the airport. A member of ground staff became suspicious of Dorman’s immigration status and reported him to the authorities, Dorman’s attorney told the Irish Voice.
On Thursday Holder sent Dorman’s case back to the Immigration Appeals Court, asking it to carefully consider the possible grounds on which the Irishman might qualify for legal residency.
Dorman is legally married to a U.S. citizen through a 2009 civil union in New Jersey, but he still had his application for legal residency denied because the federal Defense of Marriage of Act (DOMA) defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, refusing to recognize same-sex marriage.
Had Dorman been heterosexual and married to a woman his application for a visa would have been granted. U.S. immigration law does not recognize same sex marriages with regards to granting immigration benefits.
For Dorman it all comes down to this -- does he have a legal spouse? It’s a simple question with a surprising number of potential answers.
The answer is yes, if he was married in Connecticut for example. It is also yes if he had a civil union inNew Jersey or in any other state that permits gay unions. But then the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) kicks in.
“New Jersey law is very clear on this and says if you have a civil union in New Jersey you are considered to have a spouse,” Dorman’s attorney Nicholas J. Mundy told the Irish Voice.
“But DOMA is also very clear on this issue and it says that a spouse can only be someone of the opposite sex. That’s the argument between opposing opinions that’s being played out.
“Marriage has always been delegated to the states unless and until the federal government steps in and trumps it. That’s what happened with DOMA.”
Returning the case to the Board of Appeals, Holder asked the court to clarify whether or not -- absentDOMA -- Dorman’s civil union qualifies him as a legal spouse under the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
“For the attorney general to ask the court to clarify this issue, in the wake of declaring DOMA unconstitutional, means that the time has come to resolve this,” says Mundy. “It’s sending an unmistakable message to Congress and the courts to make a change.”
Mundy believes that the groundswell in support of equal treatment for gay unions is unstoppable.
“You have to win the battles in order to win the war. I think we’ve just won a battle. Naturally we would have preferred to have seen the attorney general direct the Board of Appeals on how to answer these questions, but that would have been too much too soon for the GOP perhaps,” he said.
Thursday’s suspension is a read between the lines decision by Holder, Mundy suggests, and the best decision that he could have hoped for. “If the attorney general has made a strong commitment to enforce
DOMA then why ask the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine whether or not he would be considered a spouse under federal immigration law, but for DOMA?”
The next step in Dorman’s case will occur in July, when the Board of Appeals is expected to rule on whether to deport Dorman or not.