TSA Announced Changes for Gay Couples Traveling Together

(CNN) — On his way home from a trip to Colombia,
marriage equality advocate Hunter Carter discovered another way to fight
for his rights.

Carter and husband Cesar
Zapata stepped up to the American Airlines ticket counter in Medellin,
Colombia, expecting to undergo a preflight security screening together,
just like heterosexual married couples.

That didn’t happen, even though the United States Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in late June, allowing for some federal recognition of
same-sex marriage rights.

The Transportation Security Administration’s rules had not been updated when the couple
flew home from Colombia on January 18, a story first reported in the
Washington Blade. With the exception of husbands and wives, and parents
and their children younger than 13, airlines flying into the United
States from certain countries have to screen travelers individually
under TSA rules.

That appears to be changing. The TSA is updating its language, an agency spokesman confirmed Thursday.

Because they were not a heterosexual married couple, American Airlines agents refused to screen
Zapata and Carter together before issuing their boarding passes, Carter
said. One rudely ordered Zapata back in line, Carter said.

“We knew this had happened to another couple but didn’t believe it could happen to us,”
said Carter, a partner at the New York law office of Arent Fox.

American Airlines confirmed the two men were screened separately. Employees were following
TSA security rules, said Bob Witeck, president of Witeck
Communications, who consults with American on LGBT issues.

Within hours of the incident, the couple took to Twitter and Facebook to report the
incident. Carter also contacted the White House LGBT liaison and two
members of Congress to ask the TSA to update its airline screening
questions.

“TSA is working to make clear any confusion in language included in the Aircraft Operator
Standard Security Program document,” wrote a TSA spokesman, via e-mail.
“TSA policy is for every attempt to be made to accommodate all families
traveling together.” The agency declined to discuss any more specifics
of its security procedures.

“I’m thrilled how quickly people decided this is wrong,” said Carter. “It’s a sign of the
times that American executives at the corporate level wanted to stamp
this out fast.”

The change appears to be immediate at American Airlines, Carter said, citing an e-mail he
received from an airline lawyer: “TSA has communicated to our Corporate
Security folks that they are working on a technical change to its
directive, and that, pending that change, we can immediately begin
screening same-sex spouses together. We are working on communicating
this change in procedures to our stations ASAP.”

American is happy to implement the TSA change, said Witeck.

“For two decades, American Airlines has been a leader in LGBT equality, and now with
DOMA’s repeal, outdated rules that treat married couples differently can
come tumbling down,” said Witeck. “A seemingly small but crucial
equality milestone for all travelers.”