Can the U.S. Government Recognize True Love? Married New Yorkers, Brandon and Luke, Join Fight Against DOMA
More Than Just Friends
Luke and I had been best friends for a couple of years when we faced a decision that many gay friends confront: Whether to take our relationship to a romantic level. We soon learned that as a binational couple, we would face even greater challenges.
Luke was the first person I met when I moved to New York from Los Angeles in January 2007. He is South African, and I’m a sucker for a good accent. We clicked instantly. Rarely did I hang out with someone one-on-one and feel comfortable; if there was any lull in the conversation, I felt like it was my fault and my duty to fill it. But hanging out with Luke was effortless. Other friends drifted in and out of my life, but Luke was always there and I could always talk to him. Our lives merged more and more over the first year and a half, despite my moves to that distant region called Brooklyn and our neighbor to the north, Harlem. His friends became my friends and my friends became his. We went to movies and dinner in groups, but more often than not we were meeting in coffee shops and enjoying each other’s company. It was so simple and so… easy.
We grew closer as we talked about everything, called each other out on our ridiculousness, shared our lives and revealed our imperfections with each other. When I came out of the closet, I had no clue how to form friendships with other gay men without making it seem like I was asking them on a date. Half of the time I wasn’t sure myself. I’ve rarely been sure where I stand with people. And I’ve rarely known what I’ve been looking for. Despite this, my friendship with Luke never seemed to get bogged down with such self-doubt. Even when we seemed to run out of things to say it was oddly comfortable. Our friendship became extremely valuable to me.
Luke would make a comment and hold my hand. In doing so, I noticed Luke had a way of holding my hand that seemed so loving and nurturing. I started looking at him differently but I was afraid of our friendship changing, or worse, ending.
The tension built when I was away on a work trip in Atlanta. I was texting back-and-forth with Luke, when our byte-sized conversation hit a lull. That dreadful lull. Then his text came. You know the one.
“Brandon, have you ever thought of us as more than friends?”
I shot back, “Really Luke?? Over text?? While I’m out of town???”
“LOL,” he replied.
I was simply too afraid of our friendship changing, and I told him we would be better off if we did not put it at risk. I made it sound like a very logical and reasonable solution, but still, I was filled with fear. What if we made great friends, but we weren’t compatible as boyfriends? Our friendship would be forever altered. And finally, what if it was true love? What then?
When I returned back to New York, things were different. Everything I was afraid of happening was happening. He would skip out on going to dinner with our group of friends or he would leave early with other friends. He seemed distant. I had never experienced the kind of feelings that overwhelmed me when I sensed him slipping away. I felt a void in my life. I told my therapist and one of my closest friends about our text conversation and how afraid I was of things changing. My therapist said, “When’s the last time you made a good decision based on fear?” I had no response. It was one of the most logical things I’d ever heard. I texted Luke a few days later.
“Have you ever thought of us as more than friends?”
We both LOL’d.
Our first kiss was on my 29th birthday. It was ridiculous how cinematic it was: the two of us desperately trying to get a moment away from our friends the night of my party, finally ducking around a corner as it started to rain. We pulled each other against the side of a building across the street from Sheridan Square and started to kiss. That was more than three years ago.
Our friendship had changed. And nothing collapsed. The ground didn’t open up and swallow us whole. My fear subsided. It turned into a hope that I had never felt before, that sense when you meet someone you can imagine waking up next to and craving a day of doing everything or nothing as long as he is with you.
We already knew so much about each other. We’d seen all of our different moods, unfiltered. He moved in within 6 months. We got a dog, a Dachshund named Andrew. We moved from Harlem to a great apartment in Greenwich Village. We were a family. We started talking about marriage less than a year into our relationship.
We wanted to wait until we could have a big wedding; neither Luke nor I is a man of half-measures. We soon realized it would be years before we would be able to afford the kind of wedding we wanted, but we didn’t want that to stop us.
The day we got our rings, we sat at our dining room table, smiling, alternating glances between them and each other. Andrew was looking up at us, waiting patiently to be fed or played with. There was kind of a healthy blend of shock, fear and excitement between us that was palpable. These days two men marrying can be considered political activism as much as an expression of love and commitment. Neither of us thought that at this point in our lives we would have met the man we wanted to be with for the rest of our lives. For me, there was no question: My best friend made the perfect partner.
I got down on one knee, slipped the ring on Luke’s finger and said “Luke, will you marry me?”
Almost immediately I felt a knot in my stomach. Not because of the question or Luke’s answer (he said yes). I felt like it wasn’t real because it wouldn’t truly be official for all the world to know. It didn’t feel equal. I felt like an imposter in a straight world’s tradition and privilege. I shared these feelings with Luke, who assured me our marriage was just as valid as any other marriage. This was going to be our marriage and our ceremony, he said. We were going to start our own traditions. We understood from the beginning that this decision would cement our commitment to each other. That was the easy part. I was dating my best friend.
When the economy collapsed, I got laid off. Within a few months, I was able to find a new job but Luke’s business slowed down. So we were tight on money. Our dreams of having a big, gorgeous wedding seemed to be slipping further away. So we opted for the cheapest, er, most affordable wedding in history. With our $20 rings from the glamorous Canal Street, we caught a train up to Milford, CT ($50), obtained marriage licenses ($40), and caught a cab to our friend’s house for the weekend ($10). During the ceremony, we smiled from ear to ear and didn’t break eye contact while the Mayor of Milford read the gender-neutral wedding vows and Andrew sniffed around City Hall.
We spent the weekend at our friend’s house and watched the movie “Milk” in honor of our wedding, which also happened to be gay pride weekend.
Our first year as a newly married couple has been phenomenal, though not always easy. We’re moving through the same growing pains as every other healthy marriage. Communication, compassion and humility have gotten us through our difficult times, and will continue to do so as we grow together. We have replaced our Canal Street wedding rings with something more appropriate. But our first rings will always have the most sentimental value.
On our first anniversary, New York joined five other states and the District of Columbia ending discrimination against lesbian and gay couples in marriage. We celebrated with thousands of other New Yorkers, knowing that other couples would no longer be forced to travel like refugees to Connecticut or other states to do what all other Americans take for granted. But winning marriage equality in New York, and watching the euphoria on Sunday July 24 as thousands of lesbian and gay couples married across New York state, is a celebration of a job not yet completed. Marriage Equality can never simply mean winning the right to marry in each state, as long as the federal government denies recognition to those marriages. Each of us, married and celebrating our love and this historic advance, remains unequal. Marriage InEquality will continue until the ruinous and hateful era of DOMA is ended.
And that is how Luke and I decided to embark on a new chapter of our lives together. I will fight for my right to sponsor my husband for a “green card,” a privilege heterosexual Americans take for granted. With President Obama’s recent decision not to defend DOMA and signals from the Department of Homeland Security about protecting LGBT families from being torn apart by deportation, we believe that this is the time to challenge our exclusion from the family-based immigration system that otherwise works reasonably well to keep opposite-sex binational couples together.
We start here today by arguing our case in the court of public opinion. Recently, we joined Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project, and I filed a petition for Luke as my spouse. We know that puts us in a potentially perilous position: unlike an opposite-sex couple my petition will face the insurmountable hurdle of DOMA and unlike all other spouses in our situation, Luke could face deportation if we are not ultimately successful. We do not want to be forced into exile and we cannot imagine life apart. This means we might have no option but to fight this in the courts and in Congress like so many thousands of gay binational couples who have raised the profile of this inhumane and cruel discrimination. Whatever the short-term challenges, we will not allow ourselves to be torn apart by my government.
For now, I’m determined not to let fears about our uncertain future dominate my thoughts. I am not worrying about being forced to leave our home and lives we’ve built in New York. I’m not thinking about saying goodbye to friends and family, or how we’d ever re-build new lives for ourselves half-way across the world in South Africa. I cannot allow myself to think of what would happen if Luke was deported. Instead, I’m trying to channel the uncertainty into the sort of optimism I felt when President Obama was elected: That this is a country in which we judge others by the content of their character. We should not hold anyone back because of who they are or who they love. And, most importantly for us, in the end, we must take on this battle. We will not bring about change by standing on the sidelines.
Can a nation’s immigration laws recognize something as simple as true love? We think so. If change comes, Luke will truly be able to live his life to its fullest potential with his husband and best friend. Which will make it all the more possible to take that honeymoon we have been dreaming of.