HOUSTON – A gay illegal immigrant is fighting to stay in the United States after marrying his partner in California in 2008.
After fleeing Costa Rica eight years ago, the man is still reluctant to identify himself for fear of retaliation at work. He preferred to be called only “Mr. Gonzalez” during his interview with KHOU 11 News.
Gonzalez said an abusive boyfriend who worked for the police in Costa Rica threatened his life and even raped him.
He flew to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2003. When it expired, he stayed in California illegally.
"The United States, right now, to me, it means protection, it means freedom," Gonzalez said.
In 2005, he said, he met his "soul mate" -- a U.S. citizen. Three years later, they were married in Los Angeles. Soon after, the pair moved to Houston.
"Better job opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “Better housing opportunities."
But before he left California, he crossed a checkpoint near San Diego, where federal authorities noticed he had overstayed his visa. Since then, deportation proceedings have dragged on.
Gonzalez argues his same-sex marriage should allow him to apply for a green card just like any heterosexual couple.
"We're not asking for anything different,” he said. “We're not asking to be treated different. We're asking to be treated equally."
That argument has picked up steam, since earlier this year the Obama administration questioned whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional.
Just last week, a San Francisco judge postponed the deportation of a Venezuelan man married to a male U.S. citizen.
"I think it's an embarrassment for the United States in that there are 21 countries in the world that recognize the ability of their citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for residence in those countries," said John Nechman, Gonzalez’s attorney.
But there's plenty of opposition -- both on legal grounds and religious ones.
"Yes, he may have been married in California,” said Linda Vega, an immigration attorney. “And it may have been legal in California. But in Texas, it's not recognized."
Meanwhile, religious leaders are fighting to protect the Defense of Marriage Act -- especially in the wake of New York's recent legalization of same-sex marriage.
"You can't ask for equality when you're going against nature's rules,” said Pastor Hernan Castaño with the Houston Area Pastor Council. “You can't ask for equality when you're going against God's creation."
Gonzalez is preparing for another immigration hearing on August 31. His lawyer is seeking to delay his deportation just in case the Defense of Marriage Act faces legal challenges and crumbles within the next few years.
"We understand their position,” he said. “We're asking for an open mind to understand ours."
If that doesn't work, Gonzalez is also asking for asylum, since he fears for his life if he were to return to Costa Rica.