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SCOTUS rulings open green card doors to binational same-sex couples

John Catuara (L) and Shaun Stent at Universal Studios in August 2011
John Catuara (L) and Shaun Stent at Universal Studios in August 2011
John Catuara/Shaun Stent

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Immigration reform and gay marriage have dominated the headlines recently, overlapping with the Supreme Court's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act last week. 

In recognizing same-sex unions, the federal government opened a path for bi-national couples to petition for citizenship. One of those couples waiting for a green card is right here in Redondo Beach.

Shaun Stent is from the UK, and his husband John Catuara is an American. They had been friends online, but met in person 12 years ago when Shaun was on tour in America to ride roller coasters.

"It so happened that in January 2001, and I had a spare afternoon," Stent said. "I invited John to lunch when I was here and we hit it off. So I cancelled the last week of my roller coaster tour to be with him."

The relationship blossomed, along with Shaun's frequent flier miles.

He would spend almost two months in the U.S. at a time on a visa waiver, and then return to the UK for 3 months. 

"Because of the frequent visits, immigration flagged me, once detaining me for five hours," Stent said. "Then I got a visitor's visa, which allowed me to stay six months. But because I was only here for two-month periods, that raised flags, again. So then they would ask why I didn't stay longer."

The couple eventually married in New York in January 2012. "If we were straight," said Catuara, "Then we could have walked out the door and been good right away."

However as a same-sex couple, DOMA prevented them from petitioning for a green card. They tried anyway. Officials decided to accept their application, and interviewed them, but the process was put on hold until the Supreme Court ruled.

That morning, Catuara said, "We were in bed, our iPads on, and chatting with a lawyer friend to translate what was going on. When the decision came down, I just got emotional immediately."

But Shaun, the self-described "pragmatic Brit," was skeptical and wanted to verify what was going on. "Slowly it filtered through that this was a win," he said. 

The couple is now waiting for the green card, and Shaun says once it's physically in his hands, this will be the end to their 13 years struggle. "I now know more about politics in the US than in my own country!" he said.