DOMA ruling could impact Tampa immigrants - WFLA News Channel 8

Marriage ruling could impact Tampa immigrants

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Wednesday's Supreme Court decision will likely have a massive impact on a Tampa couple's relationship. Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez and his husband Juan have been in a bi-national same-sex marriage not recognized by the United States federal government.

They believe the U.S. Supreme Court decision changed that when five out of nine justices agreed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is unconstitutional. The act, originally passed during the Clinton era, blocked federal marriage benefits to same-sex spouses.

"Today is the day we can finally have security in our family," Felipe said. "When you have to live under the fear of deportation ... we can't build a family like that."

Felipe is a native of Brazil; Juan a Colombian native. The two are in the process of finding an immigration attorney. Juan will become a U.S. citizen in 5 weeks and hopes to be able to petition for his undocumented husband for the first time. In simple terms, it's much like the Green Card process straight couples have gone through for years.

"We've been living with the daily fear that he could get deported any day ... taken away from me and there was nothing I could do to stop it," Juan said. "Now I can actually say 'that's my husband, you can't take him from me' and that's a beautiful thing.'"

The two have been together 5 years, live in the Bay area and married in Massachusetts a year ago.

"The Supreme Court has finally said what we have been saying for so long: That we have equal love and we deserve equal rights," Felipe said. "When the laws of the country acknowledge your existence - that makes you feel like you belong."

Still, same-sex couples can't marry in the State of Florida. Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2008 defining marriage between one man and one woman. About 62 percent of voters voted for it. Terry Kemple, a Bay Area Christian activist and founder of the Community Issues Council, believes voters voices are important and that the Supreme Court over-stepped its bounds.

"The control over the reshaping of our social fabric in our country has been squarely placed in the hands on the judiciary ... most of whom are unelected and unaccountable to the people," Kemple said. "It's not the people anymore."

He fears that leaving what's ultimately right or wrong up to 9 justices is a slippery slope.

"Quite frequently the decisions that they make are really fabricated out of nothing," Kemple said. "They're finding ways to rationalize and justify making decisions that have tremendous implications across the board for people throughout the country."

The ruling also surprised gay rights activist R. Zeke Fread but in a different way. He didn't think the court would look beyond certain sections of DOMA.

"When they came up with the decision that DOMA was unconstitutional - I cried," he said. "I did not see that coming."

Fread helped organize a rally Wednesday night on the steps of the federal courthouse in Tampa.

"It is the most historic decision we could've expected and rights wise it's monumental," he said. "Our gay military heroes will immediately get their benefits which includes on-base housing for their spouses."

Fread says there is a push to overturn Florida's 2008 amendment, but that it could take time to do so. Although he and other activists would like to see a repeal on the 2014 ballot, it's a midterm election and most of the voters who show up for those are senior citizens and socially conservative. He says the best chance for getting it on the ballot could be the Presidential election in 2016.

"I'm 61; I may never see gay marriage. But a lot of young kids today feel good about who they are," Fread said. "Us old activists may not see the day where we could marry. But to know that the younger kids are coming up in a society that's more accepting ... makes every moment worthwhile."

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