Photo credit: Robert Rexach, Wikimedia Commons

Many of us have been in this situation: Returning to the U.S. from a family vacation abroad, we stand in the customs line with partner and kid(s), only to be separated when it is our turn and the customs agent only allows “one family at a time”—meaning “only one federally recognized family.” Suddenly, all of our vacation relaxation is gone.

That will soon change.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency announced that it is today introducing a proposed new regulation that will allow any family, including ones headed by same-sex couples, to file a joint customs declaration.

The agency explained:

CBP is proposing to expand the definition of the term “members of a family residing in one household” to include domestic relationships, which would allow more U.S. returning residents to file a joint customs declaration for articles acquired abroad. “Domestic relationship” would be defined to include foster children, stepchildren, half-siblings, legal wards, other dependents, and individuals with an in loco parentis or guardianship relationship. CBP would also include within the definition two adults who are in a committed relationship including, but not limited to, long-term companions and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships where the partners share financial assets and obligations, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else. . . .

CBP believes that this proposed change would more accurately reflect relationships between members of the public who are traveling together as a family.

According to CBP’s estimate, the proposed change would reduce the number of customs forms by 1.1 million per year, and save customs officials nearly 73,000 hours of labor.

The Family Equality Council led the drive for the proposed rule, working with a coalition of partners including Immigration Equality.

The regulation is not yet a done deal, however. It must first go through a mandated comment period, which ends May 26, 2012. (Interested parties may submit comments as explained on the CBP Web site). After that, there will be some additional period of time while the comments are analyzed and incorporated.

Is this as good as full marriage equality? No. But it’s a step in the right direction. Happy travels.