One half of a bi-national same-sex couple that could face separation under current immigration law will attend the upcoming State of the Union address, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.
Kelly Costello, who’s 30 and lives in Potomac, Md., with her Peruvian native spouse Fabiola Morales, 39, received a ticket to attend the speech on Tuesday evening from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Speaking with the Blade, Costello said she’s “grateful and excited” for what she called a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” — particularly in the wake of Obama’s call to include bi-national gay couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
“This is something that we have been fighting for a long time,” Costello said. “People before me have fought for it. I feel like, right now, we are living in an important historical moment where the president has already addressed providing equal rights for us, and I think it’s really come to forefront.”
The couple, who married in D.C. in 2011, is in danger of separation because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits Costello from sponsoring Morales via a marriage-based green card application for residency in the United States.
Initially, Morales was able to stay in the United States via student visa, which enabled her to obtain a bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University. Following graduation, she worked at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda under temporary work authorization. When that authorization expired, Morales returned to study at Marymount University on her student visa, which is still valid.
However, that visa expires after her program concludes in May 2014, which could force her to leave the country at that time if current law remains in place.
Morales would face difficulty if forced to leave the country because she suffers from multiple sclerosis. She receives medical treatment through a clinical drug trial at Georgetown Multiple Sclerosis Center at Georgetown University Hospital.
Being able to stay together in the United States is particularly important for the couple because the two are expecting children. Costello is pregnant with twins due July 4.
What President Obama will say during the address — or even whether comprehensive immigration reform will be addressed — remains to be seen. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he doesn’t have a preview of the remarks.
Costello noted Obama has called for the inclusion of families like hers as part of comprehensive immigration reform, but said she’d welcome another shout-out for LGBT couples during the speech.
“I’m hoping that he’ll continue to shed light on the fact that not everyone is included in the immigration reform unless families like ours are included as well,” Costello said. “We’re proud of him for including gay families in his proposal, and he’s already done so much, so an additional shout-out would be awesome.”
Immigration reform is currently under debate in Congress and while it remains to be seen whether the final legislative package will include language for bi-national same-sex couples, Costello said the opportunity for legal relief is exciting.
“Right now, we have a rare opportunity to fix the immigration system, and with that, I think it’s important we should fix everything to make it include all of us,” Costello said. “And so, I think, the time is right, the time is now, and people are coming around to see that we are just like every other family.”
Another option for legal relief for the couple would be for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional. Litigation is under review and justices are expected to make a ruling before their term ends in June.
Costello obtained the ticket from Nadler, who as a member of Congress gets one ticket for the State of the Union, after the LGBT group Immigration Equality recommended that she receive the honor. It’s unclear at this time where in the House gallery she’ll be seated.
Nadler, who sponsors standalone legislation that would address the issue known as the Uniting American Families Act, said in a statement to the Blade he’s “extremely honored” to present Costello a ticket for the State of the Union.
“Kelly brings important visibility to the issue of immigration inequality,” Nadler said. “The president has admirably included the LGBT community in his principles for comprehensive immigration reform, and advancing the Uniting American Families Act should be a central priority for this Congress. Kelly and her family, and bi-national LGBT couples across the nation, are awaiting justice.”