Erwin de Leon’s short trek from DOMA to green card

Erwin de Leon: ‘It happened so fast.’

Erwin de Leon: ‘It happened so fast.’

By Maricar CP Hampton

The demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would be the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Erwin de Leon — writer, activist, and happily-wed gay man fighting for recognition of his marriage.

“Now we can finally start our lives with security and stability,” said de Leon in an interview with The FilAm Metro D.C.

‘We’ is Erwin and his partner of 15 years, John Beddingfield, an Episcopalian rector. They met Labor Day weekend of 1998 in New York City, eight years after Erwin arrived in the U.S. They got married in 2010.

Theirs was not exactly a case of love at first sight but of love that has blossomed into a mature, supportive loving relationship as equals. Erwin and John got married before a justice of the peace and applied for domestic partnership twice — one in New York and another in Washington D.C. As a married couple, they did not have the same rights as heterosexual couples while DOMA was in effect. Until last year, de Leon was carrying a student visa which allowed him to work part-time as he pursued his master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

And then it happened. DOMA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which repealed Section 3 containing a narrow definition of ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse.’ This specific provision prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Erwin with husband John Beddingfield (center) and their lawyer Lavi Soloway.

Erwin with husband John Beddingfield (center) and their lawyer Lavi Soloway.

It took less than five months from the time DOMA was repealed in June 2013 to the time Erwin got his green card in November. Erwin and John can now enjoy the many benefits of a federally recognized marriage, such as receiving inheritance, co-ownership of property, joint tax filings, and hospital visitation rights.

“It’s like a huge burden off my back,” said Erwin.

Here is a timeline of Erwin’s journey:

• June 26, 2013: Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

• July 25, 2013: John filed a petition with the Citizenship and Immigration Services
(USCIS) to sponsor Erwin as his spouse.

• August 13, 2013: Erwin’s biometrics were captured by USCIS.

• September 23, 2013: Erwin received his employment authorization card in the mail.

• October 23, 2013: John’s petition was approved.

• November 2013: Erwin got his permanent, not a probationary, green card.

It helped that Erwin and John were prepared and ready with their paperwork as early as April, on the advice of their lawyer, Lavi Soloway. By the time DOMA was nullified, they were among the first in line.

As an immigration advocate and a research associate at the Urban Institute, Erwin was well aware of the developments concerning DOMA. He kept tabs of its status every step of the way.

“We have friends, that’s the thing about living in D.C. you have insiders who know what’s going on and you have analysts who have been doing this for years. So when DOMA was on its way to the Supreme Court there were talks among those who know and people we trusted that actually know the law and the Supreme Court. Nothing was certain but everyone was expecting the outcome,” he said.

During the interview with USCIS, the couple presented in a thick binder their photos, letters and evidence of their life as a couple of 15 years, but as Erwin recalled bemused, “the adjudicator didn’t even care.”

“He just looked at the pictures of the actual wedding and some key documents. So it was sort of anti-climactic in a way and you couldn’t believe how easy it was.”

Their lawyer said he was not at all surprised because adjudicators have seen all kinds of couples and can tell who are faking it and who are legit and have truly been together for a long time.

What questions were asked? In their case, just birthdays and how they met.

“The adjudicator asked John how did we meet, then when is my birthday and then he looked at me and asked me when is his (John’s) birthday and that’s it.”

Erwin said he would not recommend a marriage for convenience arrangement for couples, but would strongly urge getting a good lawyer.

Five months into receiving his green card, Erwin said life has become so much easier.

“I am working full time since I got the green card. I love my job it’s working very well, unlike some immigrants who are tied to their working visas even under onerous conditions. Another plus is I can travel,” he said.

The binder: Photographs and memories of Erwin and John as a couple for the last 15 years.

The binder: Photographs and memories of Erwin and John as a couple for the last 15 years.

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