Editor’s Note: Prerna Lal has been writing since 2007 about the struggle to attain legal residency as a queer and undocumented immigrant in the United States. After the Supreme Court struck down DOMA on June 26, her U.S. citizen partner proposed. A version of this essay originally appeared on prernalal.com.
Why is this radical, anti-marriage queer getting married? Short answer: I share a lifelong commitment with my partner, who is my family, so it is time to put an end to the ramifications of at least one kind of state-sanctioned discrimination in our lives. The injustice of deporting one member of a same-sex couple simply because we could not qualify for immigration benefits is over.
Now for the longer answer. Lindsay and I live together. We’ve been together since last January, and living together in some sort of quasi-marital bliss since last November. She’s a Michigan native, a devout vegetarian (!), loves beaches in the winter, loves to dance and party, and loves people. I eat chicken three times a day, grew up on a tropical island in Fiji, celebrate being a hermit, and allergic to people on most days. Lindsay went to Barnard/Columbia and Harvard. I went to community college and state school. She’s a sweet, tall, Jewish white girl, and the nicest person in the world. I’m a little brown Hindu-atheist, non-gender conforming terror threat. The only thing we have in common is our love for mint chocolate chip ice-cream and our shared political values. Apparently, that and talking about our feelings regularly (and her not leaving dishes in the sink), is all we need to be happy. We make each other incredibly happy.
But none of the above is a reason for getting married. Marriage is a heteronormative, patriarchal, elitist and classist institution. In our minds, we don’t need the state or anyone else to officiate a ceremony to celebrate our love. We consider ourselves married already, even though we dislike the institution. We do like domestic partnerships and civil unions.In our minds, we don’t need the state or anyone else to officiate a ceremony to celebrate our love.
So how do we get regarded as married and entitled to a thousand different federal rights without having someone officiate a wedding ceremony or paying the state money for a license to marry? With a bit of legal research pending, we asserted our legal right to be recognized as married under common law as of July 9, 2013. A common law same-sex marriage is fully recognized in Washington, D.C., and valid for all intents and purposes (and obviously, when the haters realize this, they will try to put a stop to it). I’m fully prepared to take this to the highest court if I need to do so because people with radical queer politics need to have this option available to them.
Why are we declaring our intent to be treated as a married couple? The first and foremost reason is that we don’t want a religious or civil wedding ceremony sanctioned by the state. I don’t believe the state should get involved in our inter-personal relationships and govern what rights people should be entitled to simply because they vow to be together. Sure, I’ll admit I am trying to have it both ways — all the rights of marriage, without any real ceremony or state involvement besides a solemn commitment to one another and co-mingling of assets, but this is the only way we can accept being married due to our political values.
Why now? Because DOMA is dead and we are already coinhabiting and living as a married couple. We may as well be recognized as one and given all the rights afforded to heterosexual couples.
There’s still the big immigration question. We can wait for the Supreme Court to hear Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio and declare that I am a “child” for immigration purposes and should have received my green card three years ago. But should we really wait around for the SCOTUS to pit immigrant families against each other? I do not think so. I don’t doubt that we will win de Osorio, especially with the badass Mark Fleming litigating on behalf of our families.We want to move on with our lives.But I am simply done with the government wasting our time. We aren’t getting married for immigration purposes. The government has begged to terminate removal proceedings against me. I’m not at all scared of being deported to Fiji. There is no need to enter into any sort of union with Lindsay, except, we want to move on with our lives.
We can also wait for the overwhelmingly popular immigration reform bill. I mean no offense and no judgment to those whose lives and livelihoods depend on it, but I cannot, in good conscience, get a green card predicated on building walls across migrant communities. For far too long, the people leading the charge for comprehensive immigration reform have held our same-sex binational families in moral and political contempt, blaming us for being white, elitist and concerned only about our families. They have no moral and ethical ground to stand on, as the path to citizenship will be paved on dead migrant bodies and built through migrant communities.
So marriage, and in this case I am hoping for a common law one, becomes the most socially responsible option, and ironically, the most progressive one, in order to stay together. It’s the only option where we can only end up hurting one another rather than hundreds and thousands of people. No one will build a wall or put a drone on the border because Lindsay and I declare our intent to be treated as a married couple. No one will be get pushed back in line if the Supreme Court restores my place at the front of the line. Most importantly, no one has to officiate and no one has to pay any money to the State.
Prerna Lal is a queer Fiji-Indian (Pacific Islander of South Asian descent) and the first undocumented law school graduate of George Washington University. She has contributed writing to Brave New Films, The Sanctuary, Change.org, and Huffington Post. She co-founded Dream Activist, a multicultural, migrant youth-led, social media hub to help pass the DREAM Act and mend the broken immigration system, and you can find her on Twitter @AQueerDesi.