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DOMA Ruling Ends Immigration Nightmare For Tallahassee Couple

Elizabeth Ricci

This week’s court ruling overturning the Federal Defense of Marriage Act means different things to different people.  For a Tallahassee woman and her South African spouse, it means the end of a long legal nightmare that included the threat of deportation.

Nowadays, many romantic stories begin online.  Heather Faye Grant says that’s how it was with her and Cindy Elliot.

"We met through Facebook.  Social media.  And playing Zynga poker and we started chatting at the table and made Facebook  poker friends first, then Facebook friends, then texting.  We started calling."

There was the minor matter of geography.  Heather was in South Africa.  Cindy was in Tallahassee, Florida.

"And she paid my ticket to come and visit from South Africa, which we did in September of 2010.  And we spent six weeks  together and knew we were absolutely meant for each other."

Cindy and Heather were married last year in New York, one of thirteen states in which same-sex marriage is legal.  Then they settled in Florida, which does not recognize the legality of their union.  But the real problem, says Tallahassee Immigration Attorney Elizabeth Ricci, was not the state, but the feds.
 "There's a long case history here from a denied visa to being put in a deportation and in between having been denied a green  card because it was a same sex marriage."

For Cindy Elliot, every day was filled with fear and foreboding.

"It was numbing from one day to the next not knowing when the day will come and whether it's going to be good or bad news."

The problem, says Attorney Ricci, is that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act denied Cindy and Heather a right that other couples of mixed citizenship routinely obtain.

"And that was the case with this couple.  They had done that, they had filed just like any other couple would have who was legally married and they were denied that benefit.  But as of today (June 26) they can re-file and receive that benefit and we can see Heather get her green card as a result of Cindy's petition as a U.S. citizen."

For Cindy Elliot, it’s time to settle down and look ahead to a happy future.

"She gets to stay in the United States; we get to stay in Florida.  We may have some repercussions on benefits here.  But  our main goal was for her to stay in the United States.  I was born and raised in Tallahassee, my entire family's here so  there's no plans to leave.  I don't see that happening.  We're pretty optimistic."

And for Heather Faye Grant, it’s the ability for her and Cindy to do essentially the same kind of things that any other married couples do.

"I have a whole new family and they are so supportive and so loving.  And now I want them to meet my family.  It's been what  I've wanted all my life, to find a partner and fall in love and it's almost like a dream life."

A celebration now shared by untold numbers of couples in the United States whose previously non-existent marriages suddenly became real in the eyes of the federal government.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories. here.