After 12 Years, Ari and Nir Fight for a Future Together, File Green Card Petition Based on Their Marriage

Nir and Ari in 2008

I am an American citizen. I was born in this country and mostly raised in Israel. I think of myself as a hybrid, an IsrAmerican. My parents, family and friends live in Israel, but the US is my origin and New York City my life long inspiration, a place I have always considered home.
I spent many of my formative years in Israel. It’s where I went to grade school, high school, and eventually the army, where I fulfilled mandatory military service from the of age 18 to 21. The Israeli army, of all places, is where I became socially open about being gay. I was a very proactive gay rights enthusiast during my service, making a sincere effort to educate my commanders and colleagues of my views about what being gay is and what is is not. The Israeli Defense Force is comprised of almost all of the secular population and some of the religious population of Israel and it allows — as I was surprised to discover — a lot of room for individuality. At least after you finish basic training.

At their wedding, 2009

Soon after finishing my three years of service, I met Nir at a friend’s party held at a friend’s house. Nir, then still in the closet, saw the DJ stand that I had made for myself at the party and he was drawn to see what music I had brought to play. It wasn’t long before I started flirting with him and that night was my last as a single man. Two weeks later, on July 1st, 2000, we made it official to our friends, who needed no announcement. Neither of us had any idea where life would lead us at this point, but over the next eight years we would build a foundation of trust, honesty, comfort, safety, and unending love. As we were building this foundation, I confided in Nir that it was hard for me to imagine living in Israel for the long haul.

In 2008, after graduating from Tel Aviv University with a degree in opera performance and classical conducting, I met a voice teacher who was visiting Israel. He invited me to join the opera program he was managing in Brooklyn as a graduate student. I was unable to refuse. The program began three weeks later.

Nir and I successfully sustained a long distance relationship between August 2008 and August 2010. We each made trans-Atlantic trips two to three times a year, skyped and talked on the phone every day at length (which I personally think is the key to surviving long distance), and stretched out our vacation time from work just a bit more than our bosses wanted. After so many years together, it became clearer than ever that Nir was the person I wanted to grow old with and vice versa. On Nir’s second visit to New York, in the spring of 2009, I asked him to marry me and he said yes. We got married (the filling out papers part) in the Town Hall of Greenwich, Connecticut, and got actually married (the teary family and friends part) in the summer, in my mother’s back yard, in Israel.
After two years of maintaining our relationship over the ocean, we desperately needed to live together again. Nir was lucky enough to find a temporary position with the Israeli consulate in New York in the fall of 2010, which made it easy for him to move here, but the position did not become permanent. He applied for a change of status to a student visa which does not allow him to work.

New York is our home. It’s not easy living here on one paycheck, it sucks not being able to visit friends and family, but there has never before been a time in which we loved our lives as much as we do now.

We are in our mid 30s. Thoughts of starting a family are always on the horizon of our plans, just beyond reach. How can we think of creating a stable environment for a new person when our own stability has been on hold for years?

In Romania, 2005

And so we decided to fight — not wait — for the wheels of justice to turn. After the right to marry came to New York state, we petitioned for a marriage-based visa. On December 7, the momentous day that the Supreme Court made public its decision to take on the Windsor challenge to the so called Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), challenging the constitutionality of a marriage being recognized by New York state but not the federal government, Nir and I received a Notice of Decision in the mail. We were denied because, “Your spouse is not a person of the opposite sex. Therefore, under the DOMA your petition must be denied. We do not consider it necessary to determine whether your marriage is lawful under state law, or whether the beneficiary would be a ‘spouse’ under the INA absent the DOMA…”

We are appealing this decision in our fight for a better and more just future. We urge the Obama administration to put our case on hold, and make a final decision only when the Supreme Court has finished its work. Offensive denial letters like the one we received have no place in America in 2012. This should end now.

I’m not very good at complaining. My friends will vouch for this. I also know how lucky Nir and I are. We have a roof over our heads, food on our table, and friends and family that come to us when we don’t come to them. Most of all, we have each other both in essence of spirit and in physical presence – something many binational same sex couples are not fortunate enough to be able to say. I remain hopeful that “marriage inequality” will not uproot my sense of home and force me to test my optimism in exile. All this said, as long as my government doesn’t treat me as an equal citizen, I have no choice but to live with the constant option of leaving my home. This is something that no American should ever be forced to do.

 We joined The DOMA Project because we believe it is important to speak out. We encourage all who are reading this to become part of this effort. There is no reason to wait, there is no one else who will do this work. This is our time.

Binational Lesbian Couple in New Mexico Fight for the Right to be Together

I had been single for a while and began to feel that i wanted to “step out” again.  I called a colleague and asked her to include me in her socials so i could meet people.  Her response? “Go on the internet.  Lots of people are meeting each other that way these days.”  I was very skeptical at first but finally I decided to give it a try.

I found an international lesbian dating site called the “Pink Sofa” and joined up.  The second day I was on it I saw Deborah’s picture. “Yipes!” I said to myself.  Then I read her bio.  Then I said to myself “this woman is the woman for me!”

I messaged her saying: “All the interesting women are in Australia.”  She replied: “No, they aren’t.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be single, would I?”


Thus began our conversations.  First by e-mail, then by the more immediate instant messaging, and finally, by means of a terrific innovation: video conferencing.  We bridged a nearly 10,000 mile gap with this technology, and we got along better and better. I invited Deborah to visit me in New Mexico, and I was so excited when she told me that she could make the trip that fall.  She arrived at the airport in Albuquerque on Oct. 13, 2007 at 8:30 p.m. (Yes, I remember it, exactly!) and she stayed with me for a month.  In many ways, we were peas in a pod.  We were both musicians – she in the popular mode, me a classical musician.  We had both been educated by the same order of nuns.  We were both feminists.  And the list went on. At the end of the month, it was clear this was a love match.  When she went home to Australia, we were both distraught.

In my naiveté, I thought she could simply come over here and be with me.  I had no idea that I could not fill out a form and make that happen.  I certainly didn’t know much about our immigration laws, but it never occurred to me that I would be treated any differently than any other American who had fallen in love with someone from another country.  You see, I had never felt actual discrimination as a gay person.  Sure, I ran into some narrow-minded people from time to time.  My attitude was – if you don’t like it – that’s your problem.  I had worked in jobs where what you could do was infinitely more important than who you were.  As I investigated our options for being together in this country, I came smack up against a bigotry and hatred I had managed to remain ignorant of all my life.  “You’ve got to be kidding!”  I thought.  But there was no kidding around going on here.  It was well neigh impossible for us to just “be together” here – in the land of the free.

Deborah had spent her youth writing and playing music.  She had not gone to college.  A student visa was the only possible visa for her.  I asked her if she would want to get a bachelor’s degree.  “Why not?” she said.

Our first year together was taken up traveling back and forth to Australia and dealing with being admitted to college here and applying for an F-1 visa.  It was very nerve-wracking and very expensive.  We should not have needed to do this, of course. I knew it. But all we wanted was to be able to be together. Of course, for many couples in our situation even a student visa would be completely impossible. We stretched every penny to make it work.

She began college in August, 2008.  Deborah is a very well, self-educated and traveled woman in her 50s.  It has been very challenging for her to be in classes with youngsters.  And many of her courses she hates and would never take if it weren’t for the need for this visa. Deborah has basically given up the middle years of her 50′s doing something she would otherwise never do so we can be together.  Still, she has been a trooper.  She is an A+ student and was awarded the only scholarship given to an international undergraduate at the University of New Mexico.

Having come face to face with the situation of gay people in this country, I applied as soon as I could for a residency visa in Australia.  In October of 2011, I was awarded permanent residency in Australia.  We knew we were playing for time in this country.  If that time runs out, we must move to Australia.  If I am forced to leave America, it will be only because of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. I am not going down without a fight. This is, after all, my country, too.

So, what has this been like?  Coming face to face with hatred and bigotry and living with  the effects of this anti-gay law every day? Living a life you would not otherwise choose?  It has been an emotional and financial disaster.  Financially, this situation uses up all “discretionary” funds that I earn.  I am glad to be able to pay for it, but it means less money for our future.  Emotionally?  Just imagine what it is like to live every day in a situation you would never choose wondering if and when it might end and how it will end.  Imagine giving up years in your 50s to jump through hoops put in front of you by ignorant, hateful, bigots who passed a law claiming to defend “marriage” while denying us the ability to be secure as as couple.  Imagine, pushing 70 years old, as I am, and looking at having to make a new life in another country.  This is not just cruel. It is an outrage. Every day that DOMA is allowed to deplete my savings and steal years from me that I will never get back, I am angry. Every day that the President affirms his support for my equality, but does nothing to help us avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars and trapping Deborah in school, I am angry. I know there is a lot I can do to change this situation and I am starting by sharing my story here.  I want to be able to sponsor the love of my life for a green card.

With everything against us, we just become more obdurate.  We will not be separated.  We plan to go to New York – my home town – at Christmas time and get married.  We will then file a green card petition and fight DOMA.  We are going to dig in our heels and fight for what is right. We know we have the power to make change happen.

On Their First Wedding Anniversary, Daniel and James Fight for a Green Card and Challenge DOMA

Daniel and James on their wedding day

My first name is Carlos, but most people know me by my middle name, Daniel. I was born in a small town in Minas Gerais state, Brazil. I’d always dreamed of living in a cosmopolitan place, so when I was 21, I moved to São Paulo, where I finished college and started working as a foreign-language instructor. After working as an educator for 15 years, I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time abroad. I arrived in New York in March 2007.

In Brazil, family ties are paramount. I was raised by very devoted, caring, and loving parents, who will soon be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and they instilled those values of love and devotion in me from an early age. When I was growing up, my parents taught me that those values are a gift I would one day share with my own family. Now that time has come.

James Oseland and I first met on a Sunday near Times Square in July 2007. I had been in the United States for four months then. I was here on a tourist visa, doing what tourists do, sightseeing around Manhattan. It was about 3 p.m., and I was getting ready to head back to the apartment where I was staying in New Jersey. James had just left the subway and was on his way to Koreatown, where his office is located. I didn’t know this until later, but he had recently become the editor-in-chief of Saveur, the award-winning culinary magazine. We struck up a conversation. He said he was going to the office to do some catching up. It was a hot and beautiful summer day. He was wearing a white T-shirt, black shorts, white socks, and sneakers. He was carrying a heavy black shoulder bag. He looked so handsome, so young and proud in that outfit, so confident, and so comfortable in his own skin that I simply could not take my eyes off of him. We talked a little more, and then exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers. We said good-bye, and as I watched him walk away, a thought came to my mind: I want to get to know this guy better.

He called me on the Thursday night following our first meeting. We set a date for Sunday, and he gave me his address. He was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at that time, so I took the L train, and suddenly there I was in front of his building, very nervous, but very excited at the same time. We spent the afternoon and the early evening together. We talked for hours. I felt like I could talk to him about anything. I met his two beloved cats, Pete and Sam. Pete was friendly, but very possessive of James. Sam was shy and reserved, but the sweetest cat I have ever seen. On that very first day at James’s apartment, I felt totally at home. It was hard to leave at the end of the evening.

We started seeing each other on weekends after that. We would go hiking in the Catskills, take long walks on the beach, jog on the Williamsburg Bridge, stroll around Central Park, or grab a bite at a restaurant. The first one we went to together was a small Taiwanese restaurant in Chinatown. We had walked over the bridge from his place and had a simple, delicious lunch there.

It all seemed a dream come true: meeting such a great guy, being in New York City, a place I’d quickly grown to love as much as São Paulo. I was having the time of my life. I was able to renew and extend my tourist visa until the end of 2008. By then, James, Sam, and Pete were already family to me, and I knew I would love them with all my heart until the day I die.


With my visa about to expire, we started a pilgrimage from one immigration lawyer to another, asking for advice on how to handle this absurd situation in the best possible way. Each time we saw a lawyer, my heart would sink lower. They all said the same thing: under United States immigration law, you do not have a case. James, in spite of being an American citizen, could not sponsor me to live legally in America with him mostly due to DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.

To avoid becoming an illegal resident, I would have to go back to São Paulo. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave this special man to whom I wanted to dedicate my life and love. Neither of us could picture ourselves living far away from each other, in different worlds, thousands of miles apart. So, I decided to overstay my visa. This meant I had to leave my job as an instructor, and I had to sublet the apartment I’d recently bought in São Paulo. I was giving up the chance to see my friends and family back home, and for who knows how long?

At first, I felt naked and empty, and on more than one occasion James brought up the idea of us moving to Brazil, where I’d be able to sponsor him to stay in the country legally as my spouse. The government there was still gearing up for passage of a same-sex marriage law, but at least we’d be able to file for a same-sex civil union, which would allow James to gain residency. All the paperwork would take no longer than a month. It would be so easy.

But I simply could not ask James to pack his bags. He had a promising career; he was excited about his job and his life. Who knows how things would have worked out professionally for him in South America? My decision to stay was about more than James’s career, though. We believed we should have the right, as a loving couple, to choose where we want to live, and where to build a family. We couldn’t accept the idea of just running away.

After my visa expired, I stopped traveling by plane, even inside the United States, and sometimes we even avoided car trips, fearful of getting stopped and being asked to present ID.  Meanwhile, James’s job was taking him all over the country and the world, sometimes for weeks on end; he even started appearing as a judge on a Bravo TV show called Top Chef Masters a few years ago, which means he sometimes goes away for longer than a few weeks. He always has to travel alone.

In 2010 James’s mother had a heart attack and had to undergo open-heart surgery. He took the first plane to California, where she lived. He stayed with her for three agonizing weeks before she died. He was devastated, and I couldn’t be there to comfort him in that critical moment of his life. We felt we could not risk that getting on a transcontinental flight might somehow lead to my deportation. A year or so later, my beloved grandmother passed away. I could not fly to Brazil to attend her funeral, knowing I would not be allowed to reenter the U.S. I was filled with sadness not to be able to mourn my grandmother’s death with my family.

Meanwhile, James and I went on with our lives. In November 2010, we moved to our own apartment in Manhattan. And on a bright, sunny day in December 2011, we got married. It was a small but beautiful ceremony at City Hall. Afterwards, James and I, along with a group of friends, had a magnificent dinner at that same little Taiwanese restaurant in Chinatown where the two of us had had our first meal out together four and a half years before.

James wrote about our wedding in Saveur and in the Huffington Post. It was the most memorable day of my life.

In 2012, we took the next step: James applied to sponsor me for a “green card” as his spouse. Due to DOMA, the application was denied. We immediately appealed that denial and we will continue to fight for the right to be together. We won’t back down until we win.


Celebrating at the Chinese restaurant where they had their first meal out together four and half years before

Without a green card, I cannot get a social security number or a work permit. I cannot get a regular job and help my husband pay the mortgage on our apartment, or even help pay day-to-day expenses. I was forced to stay in the United States without legal status because of DOMA. Living with the threat of deportation hanging over my head is not easy for us, either. Sometimes it makes me very angry, and it depresses both of us, putting great strains our relationship, and on James’s already incredibly demanding work life. He is often stressed out, and I worry constantly about his physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s hard for us to make plans for the future. I want to go back to school and get a master’s degree; I want to get a job and have a fulfilling career; I want to take trips with James; I want to take him to visit my family. But DOMA has denied us all these aspects of normal life, and that saddens my soul. Sometimes I think we’re reaching the breaking point.

DOMA dictates that our family is not to be recognized, that our family is unworthy of the same rights that different-sex couples enjoy. And yet, James pays the same taxes as everybody else. It is simply not right. So, lately I’ve become obsessed with immigration law, civil rights, and marriage equality, reading every article on the subjects I can find. Sometimes it’s all I can think about. I keep asking myself: What purpose can possibly be served by a law that prohibits two people in love from living their lives freely and to the fullest?

I do know one thing for sure: I won’t rest until James and I are no longer treated as second-class citizens by the U.S. government. I won’t rest until I’m able to focus on building a future with my beloved husband without fear of deportation. I won’t rest until DOMA becomes history. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many tears, no matter how many sleepless nights, we will never give up fighting for our rights. And we will never give up fighting to preserve and nurture the love we feel for each other. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

Photos by Landon Nordeman

Time to Get Personal — Announcing the Launch of Our Series of Short Films, “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA”

Photo by Kaliisa Conlon

When Lavi Soloway, co-founder of The DOMA Project, came to the United States in 1989 as a foreign student from Canada, he could never have imagined that one of his greatest challenges would also present him with a chance to bring about positive change in this country.

As one half of a binational couple and a newly-admitted lawyer with an expiring visa, he went looking for help with his own immigration status. What he found was common cause with activists and other lesbian and gay couples. This empowered him to join the broader LGBT movement for social justice and launch a national grass-roots campaign for immigration equality. Over time, strategies evolved, but he remained absolutely convinced that the greatest tool for achieving victory was the personal stories of binational couples struggling to be together in this country.

Los Angeles based filmmaker, Brynn Gelbard, first met her Irish-born partner, Lisa, eleven years ago in San Francisco. By then, Lisa had already won a green card in the lottery. Over the years, they came to know other couples who weren’t so lucky, which inspired Brynn to help.

Through her project, The DeVote Campaign, she has been creating videos of people from all walks of life discussing what inspired them to fight for LGBT equality. For so long, binational couples were afraid that if they publically took a stand, they risked being torn apart. As the Obama administration introduced new family-friendly deportation policies, binational couples seized the moment and began speaking out more forcefully than ever before about the hardships they endure. Increasingly, their target was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that denies recognition of their marriages for all purposes including immigration and thus remains the sole obstacle to attaining a green card and a secure future for their families. Brynn jumped at the chance to record their stories and publish them online as a tool for inciting dialogue and change.

When Lavi and Brynn met in 2011, their decision to collaborate was rooted in the mutual conviction that exposing a mass audience to the unimaginable, real-life implications of this unjust law——the excruciating choices, crippling uncertainty and gut-wrenching sacrifices——was essential to mobilizing widespread, public demand for action.

On a shoe-string budget, Lavi and Brynn have traveled from Boston to Miami Beach, from Charlotte to San Francisco, collecting hundreds of hours of video of married lesbian and gay couples who are fully engaged in the fight against DOMA. These are voices of spouses who are assuming their own equality, who do not need a court or a Congress to tell them that their marriages are deserving of the same respect and, most importantly, the same protection under the law.

Photo by Joanna Chau

The result is “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,” a series of short films featuring these brave couples. The first to be released introduces Daniel and Yohandel, two young men who met and fell in love in Miami and soon found themselves searching for a way to stay together in the U.S. Yohandel contends with the profound disconnect between the ideal of freedom that prompted his parents to leave Cuba and the experience of second-class citizenship that he struggles with as a gay American. As Daniel and Yohandel share their devotion to each other and their determination to overcome the inhumane consequences of DOMA, we are left asking ourselves how such a cruel law could exist in a country that promises “liberty and justice for all.”



VICTORY! Long Nightmare Ends for Married Lesbian Couple in Denver, ICE Stops DOMA Deportation

Sujey and Violeta on their wedding day in Iowa on November 15, 2010

November was a month of celebrations for Violeta and Sujey Pando, a married lesbian couple living in Denver who have been inseparable since their first date. The month began with the six anniversary of that first date.  Then, a week later, on November 10 they celebrated the second anniversary of their wedding, which had taken place in Iowa. As Violeta wrote in their original post when the joined The DOMA Project in August 2011:

“I love Sujey with all my heart. I knew when we started dating that I had found true love for the first time in my life. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. We were engaged for two years, our plans for our wedding were still taking place at the time Sujey was picked up by immigration. Even though we knew that the federal government doesn’t recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, we knew just as strongly that we wanted to marry and move forward with our lives together as a family. As an engagement promise, we got tattoos with each other’s names. We planned for two years to get married in one of the states where marriage was legal for a same-sex couples. Finally the day came. Sujey and I married November 15, 2010 in Iowa. It was the happiest day of our lives.”

Violeta is a American citizen, born and raised in Denver, where she studied Criminal Justice and works as a Correctional Case Manager. By the time that they met, Sujey had already been in the U.S. for more than 10 years. During their long two-year engagement while they planned and prepared for their wedding Sujey was picked up by Immigration & Customs Enforcement during a routine traffic stop and was placed into deportation proceedings.  Sujey had fled Mexico as a teenager where she had been abused and rejected by her family, and struggled to survive in the U.S.

Violeta and Sujey knew they faced an uphill battle to remain together in this country, but they were ready to challenge the system to do better. Violeta filed an application for relief based on the hardship deportation would cause to her as her spouse and demanded to be legally recognized as a spouse for immigration purposes.

When Violeta and Sujey bravely attended an Immigration Court proceeding in August 2011, only one other same-sex couple (also DOMA Project participants) had ever been successful at administratively closing deportation proceedings on the basis of their marriage. Furthermore, they were in the Denver District where Immigration & Customs Enforcement was known to be particularly unsympathetic to requests for discretion.  Still, with the media surrounding them and eager to tell their story, the couple pressed forward with word of a new deportation policy from the administration.  To their great relief, the presiding Immigration Judge determined that the case should be postponed, to a date in 2012 to determine the status of the law regarding their marriage-based application for relief. Later it was re-calendared to 2014, along with most of pending cases in Denver as that city was selected in December 2011 for pilot program to test the new prosecutorial discretion guidelines.

We filed a massive submission for Sujey requesting exercise of prosecutorial discretion for her as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.  We urged the government prosecutors to agree to stop the deportation proceedings. As the pilot program came and went, Violeta and Sujey were unsure what had become of their request. Meanwhile, an inter-departmental working group had been formed by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to review all cases nationwide.  The working group included one individual responsible for monitoring any LGBT-related cases.  For a year, Violeta and Sujey waited anxiously not knowing whether their request would be rejected. Their whole future would depend on whether the government decided to exercise discretion favorably in their case.  While they were waiting, Sujey became eligible for and obtained employment authorization, but still the deportation proceedings were not closed.  

Finally, at the end of November, their prayers were answered.  For the first time in more than 18 years after she first escaped horrific abuse in Mexico, Sujey Pando was officially allowed to remain.  With various applications for relief pending she continues to be eligible for employment authorization. Both women remain active in The DOMA Project and continue the fight to organize and empower others to raise awareness of the impact of DOMA on binational lesbian and gay couples.

Dana and Donna Are Happily Married, But an Expiring Work Visa Propels Them to Fight DOMA For a Green Card

I, Dana, am your typical California girl.  I grew up on the Central Coast, went to college in San Francisco and Los Angeles for Film Production and ended up working in Animation after graduating. I’ve been in the Animation Industry ever since, and I’m now proudly working at Disney Feature Animation in Burbank, California.

On the other side of the globe, Donna grew up in the small town of Perth in Western Australia. Like many young Australians, she ventured off to Europe for backpacking adventures when she was in her early twenties. As a citizen of the commonwealth, she enjoyed certain privileges that allowed her to remain for a time in the U.K. She settled in London to live, work and study for several years. On returning in Australia, she established a successful design business and her interest in animation led her to a 2D animation traineeship with Disney Australia, just before the studio closed its doors in 2006.  Disappointing as that was, life had more adventures in store for Donna. With one door closed, another opened. In this case, that door led Donna to Los Angeles.

In 2009, Donna came to Los Angeles as an employee of the Australian company where she worked as Design & Marketing Director.  She secured an E-3 visa (a professional work visas for Australians) which gave her two years in the country.  As she settled in to this new chapter in her life, our dire economic conditions in the U.S. made it very difficult for her company to bring its product to market.  Slowly, that employment opportunity melted away.  Donna realized that to stay in the U.S. meant she must find other employment-based sponsorship, and with the economic downturn it was extremely difficult.

But as a result of Donna’s move to L.A. both of our lives changed irrevocably.  We met one night at a popular Hollywood nightclub in 2010. We were immediately drawn to each other on multiple levels, dated for a while and soon became a committed couple. Our friends started referring to us as “the Double D’s” which we both thought was pretty funny.

We have found over these past three years that we have many other things in common, besides our sense of humor: values, morals and tastes. We enjoy each other’s company like any couple; falling in love and embarking on a journey together as a couple is so precious and we knew early on that we wanted to be together.

Again and again, we kept stumbling on ways in which we were uncannily similar. For instance, we are particularly stuck up when it comes to good coffee – we don’t go for just any bean on the shelf! We love good movies, mostly independent films and strong character stories. We both love to eat healthy home cooked food. Donna is a vegetarian and I am not, but I love vegetables (especially kale). We also share a love for animation. Donna has more of the artistic appreciation and eye for it, and I work on the production side of things. I was actually considering moving into another industry until I met Donna. Her love of the art inspired me to stay in animation. We also love lazy Sundays – lying around and reading, watching movies, just hanging with our “kids” (we have two cats: Dante and Simba).

Over time, it became clear that we wanted to spend our lives together and that meant, for us, that we wanted to get married.  No longer able to do so in California, and unwilling to wait for the freedom to marry to return to our homestate, we flew to New York and tied the knot. We didn’t have a lot of time off from work, so it was a whirlwind trip. It coincided with some good friends being there at the same time, so they were able to be a part of our small ceremony, which made the day very special. We had such a wonderful and memorable time, shopping for our wedding rings the day after we arrived, having fun with our friends while waiting for our number to be called at the county clerk’s office. When we came back to LA, we had a luncheon celebration with the family and friends here that couldn’t be part of our special day in New York.  Afterwards, something had changed for the better. We felt the strength of the commitment that we had made to each other and we felt supported by our family and friends. And yet, the reality was slowly descending on us, that our love, our commitment and our marriage meant nothing in the eyes of my own government.

Donna and I have a wonderful life together, but it is tainted with uncertainty and fear. Because of DOMA, which defines marriage as only that between a man and a woman, the federal government does not recognize our marriage. Even though we are considered lawfully married in the state of New York (and thankfully eight other states which now allow same-sex marriage) we are still not considered a legitimate couple by the U.S. government.  We are in fact nothing more than room mates or even strangers to each other under DOMA.  And this is not just about the insult and outrage of being treated like your love does not exist, that you are a second class citizen, while of course paying the same taxes and following the same rules as all other Americans. This is also about some very practical needs that we have which are denied to us because the federal government refuses to recognize our marriage.  Paramount among these needs, is the need for us to be able to remain together in the United States, i.e. for me to be able to sponsor Donna for a green card.  Why is this so important?  With Donna’s expiring visa and no green card, she faced the choice between remaining illegally or leaving.

"I got married in New York City"

We could not allow our marriage to be destroyed by an anti-gay law from 1996 called, perversely, “The Defense of Marriage Act.”  We decided to fight back.  I filed a green card petition for Donna and we joined The DOMA Project where Donna had been volunteering some of her design talents in the past year.

Unfortunately, sooner than expected, our green card application was denied with a rude and anachronistic letter stating that it could not be approved because we are both women. It means that Donna does not have a legal status in the US: she cannot apply for jobs, she cannot get her drivers license renewed, we cannot travel, she could get deported if she does not leave voluntarily.

Why is this happening?

The President, the Attorney General and eight federal courts have said this law is unconstitutional. Why not simply hold off on denying our green card petition at least until all the processing is done, an interview takes place and the Supreme Court issues its final ruling on DOMA? Why rush to slam us with a denial letter?  Nothing could have reminded me of my status as a second-class citizen than a letter in black and white telling me for the first time in my life “Lesbians need not apply.” It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. And it made us both more determined than ever to continue to fight for what is right.

Like many other binational couples in the same situation, it is difficult for us to survive financially on just one income. The emotional struggles of not knowing what will happen and the frustration of not being able secure employment for Donna puts extra pressure on us as a couple. Donna has applied for jobs in the U.S.  Prospective employers tend to give her a warm reception (“you’d be a great fit for the job”), only to later tell her that they would not sponsor her for a visa and that they would only hire her if she already had a green card.

Occasionally, we are asked why we bother to stay in the United States when we could move to Australia instead (Australia has more progressive laws that have permitted immigration of same-sex partners since the 1990s). And the truth is that we have considered all possibilities. But this is our home. I am an only child with aging parents and Donna has two brothers to take care of her parents back home. We want to live in America, and it is our right to make this choice based on our personal needs and preferences. We should not be forced into exile because we are a gay couple. I feel a very strong responsibility to be close to my small family here and Donna respects that.  My family is her family, and we are not about to allow DOMA tear us all apart.

Donna & Dana - Rings

We want to keep building our life together. We want to buy a house, to travel the world. To adopt beagles that have been rescued from testing laboratories!  I am an American citizen who deserves the right to have the woman I love and to secure for my wife the same legal status as any other person who immigrates based on marriage.  Why am I being denied that right? Why are we being denied the basic right to love one another and build a life together?  We can stop this by joining forces with each other and demanding that the Obama administration stop denying our green card petitions.

We want our petition to be fully adjudicated, with a green card interview just like opposite sex couples.  We want this government to observe the reality, that the Supreme Court will settle DOMA’s fate once and for all very soon, and in the meantime we should not have to suffer trying to make ends meet on one salary, while Donna remains here without legal status. That is a violation of my constitutional rights as an American citizen, as both the President and the Attorney General have said. But it is not enough to say it. We must take action now: hold all green card cases in “abeyance” until a final judicial resolution by the Supreme Court. Protect couples like us now by granting temporary lawful status as pending green card applicants.

Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President. We need to see you take some action within the broad discretionary powers of the executive branch to help us survive the present and build a future together. We deserve no less.

Together for 23 Years, Linda and Lydia Raised Two Sons and Married, But Fight For Every Day Because of DOMA

On their wedding day in October 2012

Twenty-three years ago, I was unexpectedly re-united with Linda, my life-partner, my soul mate, my wife.

It was meant to be.

Many years before, we knew each other as children back in the Philippines. Distantly related, Linda and I would see each other occasionally at family gatherings. Sometimes her mother would bring “goodies” from her farm and Linda would come to our house to share the bounty. I loved going to Linda’s family’s house; her father was very accommodating and he made the best pancakes. Their home was comfortable, bountiful and almost everything came from America. Those feelings of comfort and security became part of my dream of coming to the United States, of becoming successful and helping my family. Growing up in a developing country where we lived just above subsistence levels, my goal was to come to America, which I viewed as the land of opportunity and the land of the free.

At that point, Linda was no more than a distant relative to me who was lucky enough to have been born in America. As an American, she was raised having everything she wanted. The contrast between our experiences were stark. She attended private school, while I went to public school. We were not close; all her friends were wealthy and they were free to hang out while I had to attend to chores and homework after school. When Linda’s mother sold their business, and Linda returned to America with her family, I assumed she forgot about me, her poor cousin back home.

After graduating from college in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to work for the government. Fresh out of college, I was very idealistic. I was raised in an environment where you treated people how you wanted to be treated yourself and if you had an opportunity to help others, it was your responsibility as a human being to do so. I loved my job because it allowed me to do just that. As an Executive Assistant to the Governor, one of our major projects was to bring local communist insurgents back into the fold. My position was critical to the success of the project. I loved working at the grassroots level. The interaction was incredible and the experience was humbling. I felt I was making a difference in their lives and that of the community. Unfortunately,the insurgent group did not like the outcome of our projects; thus, they began to intimidate and torture my family. They kidnapped two of my uncles and threatened to continue the kidnappings unless we stopped the project.  My optimism turned to fear.

No one could guarantee that my family would be spared. I was afraid for my life. It came to a point where I had no choice but to leave my own country.

At the height of kidnapping, torture, and killing back home, I fled the country without much preparation. I came to San Francisco and stayed with family while preparing to file an asylum application with the U.S. government. In the process, Linda and I were reconnected through a cousin. She was going through hard times and so was I.  We supported each other and grew closer, not knowing yet that it would lead to something else. We fought our feelings thinking that it was not going to be good for anyone involved, especially for our immediate families. We were both miserable.  We knew that we loved each other, but it was a secret we felt we had to keep from others.  The harder we fought our feelings, the more it drew us closer. Twenty-three years later, we are still together. And not only that. With the love and support of our extended families in California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, we recently traveled to New York and married.  But I am skipping ahead.

Our lives are very simple. I love Linda’s warm smile and her wit. I am the more serious one. She is funny and she has the most beautiful heart. Together, we are two peas in a pod. To this day we know what the other one is thinking and we finish each other’s sentences. We are so blessed to have been reconnected in life.

But as a couple, we have been through a lot.

Linda and I were blessed to have raised her two incredible sons, Bryan and Charlie. Although they were her children when we met, they quickly became my children as well. I cared for these two boys like my own. Our family is just like any other family. When our children were little boys, we woke up in the morning, got them ready for school, fed them, made sure they had their homework, brought them to school, got ready for work, picked them up, helped them with their homework, cooked dinner, played, had conversations, got ready for bed and woke up the following morning to do it all over again. I had my share of fixing boo boos, running to the emergency room, building forts, cheering during the ball games, helping repair flat tires, and watching curfews. I had many sleepless nights after long conversations. I fixed their ties and pressed their shirts. You name it, I did it. I loved our sons and they knew it.  If there was a difference in our parenting style, I guess I’d say that I was the strict parent. I made sure that they followed the rules, did their homework, excelled in school and sports, and that they were happy, loved, and felt safe and comfortable. Our boys were the best thing that ever happened in my life, the first of course, being together with Linda.

With their sons on vacation in Los Angeles

Our lives revolved around our boys. Since I worked closer to their school, I picked them up on my lunch hour and every time they got hurt I ran to their rescue. Charlie is now thirty years old and nothing has changed from the time I came into his life.  He has grown up like any other boy in Nevada, with loving parents who have done everything to care for him and give him all the opportunities life has to offer. In his case, he was raised by two moms and his dad. We were always a close loving family.  As a family, we laughed and cried, and faced life’s greatest challenges together. None was as difficult as losing our son, Bryan, who tragically died in a car accident just after his eighteenth birthday.

As any mother would, I remember that day in all its painful details. Bryan was coming home from school. The paramedics who treated him at the scene discovered that he had around twenty missed calls on his cell phone, half of those were from me: I was calling him to see how he did on a test he had that day. The hurt that I felt was so intense that I could feel it all the way in my heart. I will never fully know the pain Linda experienced, losing the son she gave birth to. Our family has never been the same since, but we have remained strong together. Still, there is always a void; it is impossible to forget that Bryan is gone no matter how many years pass. Linda, Charlie and I will always share this tragedy as we share our wonderful memories and love for Bryan. Birthdays and holidays are both happy and sad, because Bryan’s absence is felt. Unfortunately, we know that will never change for the rest of our lives. Part of the measure of our love for each other as a couple and for our son Bryan, is our ability to remain optimistic and see the joy in our lives despite this horrible loss.

The love that we have as a family and the love that is given to us by our extended family gets us through difficult times. We support each other. We pray together. The bond that we have and the love that we give each other make us strong and steadfast. Every waking moment, I feel the love in our family just like every family. Our love and commitment to each other is no different from everyone else. We have been through surgeries, through life and death issues. You name it, we’ve had it. And yet here we are, twenty-three years later still loving each other more than ever. Our love and commitment to each other is stronger that it has ever been.

With the boys at Yosemite National Park

My initial asylum application was denied but we continue the fight for legal status, even though we know we are facing a steep, long uphill battle.  I live in fear of being taken away from Linda, Charlie and our extended families and friends.  Despite the fact that Linda and I have been together already for many years as a committed, loving couple raising two sons, there are currently no options for me. Because of the incredible, courageous work of couples who have participated in The DOMA Project‘s Stop The Deportations campaign, we know now that the Obama administration has created deportation rules that aim to keep families together. This has given us the strength to stand up and speak out. We traveled with our son, Charlie, to New York to get married. That was a huge step for us, not because of the commitment, but because we were so afraid, not knowing any better, that I may somehow trigger a deportation if we traveled and married.  Thankfully, our prayers were answered. We had a safe trip to New York and celebrated our love for each other in the presence of family and friends.

Still, because of DOMA there is a danger that the life we have built for twenty-three years could be crushed, all because our marriage is not recognized by the Federal government.  We are still denied access to the green card process because of DOMA, and we cannot have security for our future. Our son is now an adult, but we could never imagine leaving him or being split up as a family.

The America that I knew growing up as a little girl in the Philippines is a country that stands for equality. The America that Linda cherished growing up as the daughter of a World War II veteran is a country that stands for equality.  Yet the promise of equality has not been fulfilled for our family, and it is up now to us to carry the torch and to help perfect it for all.

I am fifty-three years old. Almost half of my productive life has been here in America. I have raised a family, built a great career, paid my taxes, and volunteered in my community. I have made a positive difference in many lives. But because of my immigration status, I can no longer work legally. And despite our marriage, nothing can be done to fix that, all because we are both women. Any other married couple could easily remedy this situation. There is no question that our marriage is “real” that our family is “real” and that our love is “real.” This injustice has practical consequences for us as we try and struggle to make ends meet on one salary.  It is terrifying growing older not knowing how we will survive in the future.

We cry when we talk about this. We cannot imagine life without our family, or without each other. We cannot leave our only son, Charlie. What would happen to all the people that we love and care for, to our home, to everything that we have built together, and to the relationships that we have established within our families, our church and our community?

With their son, Charlie, on their wedding day

We now live in fear of being separated from each other. I cannot let Linda consider leaving the United States and moving to the Philippines. She is an American citizen and she should not be forced to choose between me and our son. We have already lost one son.  I know that I may be forced to leave this country. I may not be here to see my son, Charlie, get married and raise his family. I may miss the opportunity to be actively involved in his life as a grandmother to his children. And we all know that the sole reason for this is DOMA.

There have been a lot of sleepless nights, filled with worry. I have been hospitalized due to panic attacks. We are frustrated and angry that the Obama administration is dragging its feet, and failing to put policies into place to ensure that LGBT families like ours are treated the same way as all other families. Linda is an American citizen! She was born and raised here, yet she is treated as an outsider. She lives an exemplary life valuing faith, family and her country and yet because she is a woman in love with a woman, she is not afforded the same rights as all other Americans.  Our son, Charlie, is deprived of the security of knowing that his family will always be together.

We are holding on tight for now with strong faith in God. We are surrounded with love and prayers from our families and friends as we continue to fight for us, for our love and commitment, for our marriage.  We also believe that sharing our story of love and loss and our determination to stay together will help bring an end to this injustice. We urge others to stand up and speak out. No court and no President has our “rights” or our “equality” in their hands. Only we do. But we must raise our voices and make change happen.

Though many may say that a Supreme Court ruling on DOMA is coming, my family does not have the luxury of being able to wait and we cannot take a favorable ruling for granted. That is why we decided to share our story and speak out. By building pressure and awareness at all levels, we will continue to build momentum for both long term and interim solutions that protect all families like ours. Thank you for reading our story and please consider sharing yours.

Newlyweds Jeff and Diego Fight DOMA For a Future Together

Growing up, my parents instilled in me the age-old golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Making the happiness of others a priority became natural to me. I always hoped to have someone in my life that would strive to make me happy in the same way. When I came out as a gay man to my friends and family, my mother told me that she felt that everything she had every dreamed for me would no longer be possible. It was not that she couldn’t cope with the idea of me being gay; rather, she feared that I would be prevented me from having a family, prevented from marrying the person of my dreams and denied the opportunity to be the amazing father she believed I could be. It was not until we had numerous conversations with many assurances that marriage and family were still a possibility in my life that my mother became comfortable with the real me. What moved me forward to acknowledge and accept myself had been driven primarily by my desire to have the same shot as everyone else at finding my true love.

Growing up, my parents instilled in me the age-old golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Making the happiness of others a priority became natural to me. I always hoped to have someone in my life that would strive to make me happy in the same way.  When I came out as a gay man to my friends and family, my mother told me that she felt that everything she had every dreamed for me would no longer be possible. It was not that she couldn’t cope with the idea of me being gay; rather, she feared that I would be prevented me from having a family, prevented from marrying the person of my dreams and denied the opportunity to be the amazing father she believed I could be. It was not until we had numerous conversations with many assurances that marriage and family were still a possibility in my life that my mother became comfortable with the real me.  What moved me forward to acknowledge and accept myself had been driven primarily by my desire to have the same shot as everyone else at finding my true love.

In February of 2011, I met Diego, and every struggle, every confusing and difficult day, every moment of questioning my purpose in life, and every feeling of being alone all began to fade into my past. In our serendipitous first encounter, Diego and I briefly separated from our respective groups of friends that night, wandering into each other. From Diego’s memory, “wandering” would be better described as me “clumsily” causing his cocktail to spill all over his shirt. However, I like to remember that as the best strategic move of my life.

Celebrating Christmas with Diego and my mother.

Diego and I immediately hit it off. We talked on the phone for hours about our families, our friends, our interests, the places we’d traveled and the places we wanted to go. But what I remember most from those very early phone calls and dates is Diego’s contagious laugh. He has this amazing laugh that brightens up the darkest days, brings positivity to difficult situations, and serves as a constant reminder that I have found the man that I have always been looking for. It was Diego that finally brought to me what I had always given to others – he wants to make me happy the same way I’ve always wanted to make others happy.

Over the course of the first few months of dating, we learned a lot about each other. Diego, for example, is a Brazilian citizen in the United States on a student visa. He recently completed his graduate studies in architecture. He has a passion for modern, yet simple architectural design, which today is reflected in the home we share together (that Diego decorated, of course). I, on the other hand, work full time as the Operations Manager for a payroll company and am completing my final year of legal education in corporate law, which Diego has reminded me on occasion that dating a law student puts him at a disadvantage when we are trying to sort out a disagreement.

Throughout our relationship, we have fallen for each other more and more. It became so natural for us to think in terms of “we” rather than “I”. The day we moved in together was one of the most exciting and happy moments of my life. The ability to wake up every morning next to the man that I love and fall asleep every night wishing him sweet dreams has brought immeasurable happiness to my life. Like all couples, we have our arguments, and we make up, some times faster than others (I am a bit stubborn). Still, the moments that remain in my heart are those when we’re driving and our favorite song comes on the radio leading to us singing (or screaming) lyrics at each other; the lazy Saturday mornings of watching Brazilian soap operas online (don’t judge!); the huge smile and wave Diego gives me every single time he walks in our front door telling me that he missed me so much, and that finally being with me was the best part of his day.

A wintry day at the beach.

Unlike most other couples, however, we’ve been faced with the pressure of Diego’s uncertain future in the United States and our ability to keep us together. Diego’s student visa is nearing expiration, which leaves us with few choices to keep him here in lawful status. Either he finds employment and gets a work visa, or he continues his education. Diego has applied for an huge number of jobs in and around Los Angeles. However, his industry has been especially hard-hit by the recession, and many those employers are unwilling to petition for Diego’s work visa in such uncertain economic times. Reluctantly, Diego decided that he would be willing to continue to maintain a full time course load at school in order to maintain legal status to stay in the country. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford the steep tuition fees that must be paid in order to maintain his status as a full-time international student and comply with the requirements of his student visa.  Each day that passes brings the day of reckoning closer. Diego’s visa will expire soon, but our love and our commitment to each other will not.

Each day, I close my eyes and I thank God for bringing Diego and me together, but we know that we are faced with a harsh reality. It is simply impossible for us to survive on one income while I’m in law school and Diego cannot work.  We’re faced with limited ways for Diego to survive here, as he is unable to legally work and I cannot afford to support us both for the long term. Additionally, the mental toll it takes on a highly educated and talented person to be turned down time after time for employment because employers are reluctant to file paperwork for an employment visa. Recently, we’ve been faced with the reality of car troubles, limited financial resources, insane working schedules, seclusion from our friends because of those schedules, and hundreds of conversations about what else we can do. There are days where we feel like we have hit a wall. Diego has said “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” And by “this,” Diego refers to constantly fighting for our human right to be together, and to be able to provide for us!

We know that no matter where we are, we’ll be happy together. However, we want to stay in the United States. My family is here, my best job prospects are here, and our home is here. Every time we drive down the coast with our windows down, we feel so fortunate for such a beautiful and amazing place to live. But the ocean doesn’t have the same smell, color, or incredible sound when I’m not sharing it with the man that I love. My career prospects would become much less important without having Diego there to support me in the tough days and cheer for me when I have successful ones. In other words, my life here would never be complete if Diego is forced to leave me. In Brazil, we’d also be faced with legal challenges, but ones that can be overcome, as judicial remedies are available for same-sex couples seeking immigration benefits in Brazil. But our life is here under the sun, with our friends, our favorite restaurants and hiking trails, our dream careers, and my family to whom I am incredibly close. Life seems so scary to think that we have to “chase” our right to be together.

However, we have hope. What we have does not come along every day. It is precious. We believe we are destined to be together. We have had numerous conversations about accepting our circumstances, challenges and all.  We know that we will find a way to be together. A month ago, I proposed to Diego while walking the beach in Santa Monica on a Friday night. I told him that, while I couldn’t afford to buy him a ring, I was making a promise to him that, for the rest of my life, I would protect him, support him, love him, and fight for the lives that we both deserve to give each other. The immediate road ahead of us was going to be a difficult one, but my life no longer made sense without his smile, laugh, amazing loving nature, contagious personality, positive outlook, and every other aspect of him that I have madly and deeply fallen in love with. He accepted!

On Friday, October 12, we got married in New York City. We had planned to marry in California, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would reject the appeal in the Proposition 8 case as soon as it convened at the end of September, but as the weeks passed we decided that we would not wait. Instead, after consulting with our family and friends, we decided to move forward with our plan to marry, even if we could not do that in California. Marriage, for us, is our way of solidifying everything we have been through together, the love that we have for each other, and our commitment to spend our lives together. While we traveled to New York by ourselves, we knew we were not alone. And when we return, our family and friends will join us for a sunset ceremony on the beach and a celebration to follow.

Wedding Day October 12, 2012 in New York City.

The worry then, of course, is our inability to protect our marriage because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) excludes us from the marriage-based immigration process created precisely to unify families. It is painfully obvious that immigration laws created to keep families together should apply to all families, and we know any reasonable person would agree with that premise.  As if we needed another reminder of the irony and hypocrisy of excluding gay couples from family-based immigration, Diego comes from one of the more than 20 countries that provide for the immigration of the same-sex partners/spouses of their citizens.

We return from New York vigilant and optimistic about our future.  We believe that binational couples like us, and those who are separated or forced to live outside the United States, can bring about change in this world. Each one of us possesses the key to winning equality: our own voices. Diego and I are both strong-willed and determined, and we will fight.  Yes, we worry that by this time next year we may be forced apart or exiled from our home.  This does keep us up at night. Every moment with my family and every conversation with my mother scares me even more, as it reminds me what DOMA will do to my family if we do not win this fight.

For years I have chased a dream of graduating law school and fighting for the rights of others. That dream is still alive, despite the challenges that we face. But my dream, my career and the contributions I want to make to this world, will be stripped from me if I am forced to leave my own country. Not only would my country be denying me the right to live in this country with my husband, but it will be taking me away from my parents, my siblings, and numerous nephews that love their “Uncle Jeppy” and from the rest of my large extended family. DOMA is not only poised to destroy the family Diego and I are building; it also impacts our large American family of which we are an integral part.

We are joining The DOMA Project to advocate for immediate policy solutions to protect us and all other binational couples, and to keep moving forward the fight for full equality. We will call on our elected officials and the Obama Administration to respect the commitment and the sacrifices we bi-national couples make every day, by ensuring that we can stay legally in this country. I know that the Obama administration can take steps today to protect all gay binational couples like us. The President cannot repeal DOMA or re-write our immigration laws but he can direct his Secretary of Homeland Security to come up with remedies that ensure all gay and lesbian binational couples are able to be together. Our families cannot wait.

Love should be respected with humane protections, not ignored and trampled upon with forced separation or exile. DOMA must go, but while it is still with us, we must all work to limit its impact and ensure our families are kept intact. By telling our stories and refusing to stand by passively, we are are bringing about this change. We encourage other binational couples, including (or perhaps especially) those who are separated or exiled, to join us by by sharing your stories with friends, family, and elected officials. It is unconscionable that the federal government has not yet put in place policy to match the words of the President on the White House website: “Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.”

This President has the power to keep my family together, but we must join together to urge him to implement policies that will achieve just that.

DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional By Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Setting Up Final Showdown at the Supreme Court

Edie Windsor, DOMA Warrior

Statement by Lavi Soloway, co-founder, The DOMA Project:

Last week, in a 2-1 decision in the case of Windsor v. United States, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment.  The Court’s decision was written by Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge of the Second Circuit, a conservative jurist appointed to the bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1992.  The Second Circuit ruling is the 8th consecutive ruling striking down DOMA since July 2010, and it is the second such ruling from a federal court of appeals. (The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on May 31, 2012 that DOMA is unconstitutional.)

The ruling in Windsor is likely to be the last appeals court decision on DOMA before the U.S. Supreme Court announces later this year that it will formally agree to review the constitutionality of this law by accepting one or more challenges to DOMA now pending before the high court.

Importantly, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals not only found that DOMA was unconstitutional, it also determined that a heightened level of scrutiny must be applied to any law that discriminates against LGBT persons. That means, that in the Second Circuit, any provision of law that treats LGBT people unequally must be presumed to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may adopt the same standard when it takes up one or more of the pending challenges to DOMA next year (including Windsor) and decides the issue once and for all.

Last week’s victory over DOMA in the Second Circuit is historic, unprecedented and of such critical, far-reaching, potential legal significance that its full impact is hard to measure. But it is first and foremost a victory for an inspring, courageous, and determined DOMA Warrior, 83-year-old Edith (Edie) Windsor.

Edie and her wife, Thea Spyer, were married in Canada in 2007 after lmore than forty years together as a couple in New York. In 2009, when Thea passed away, the Internal Revenue Service, citing DOMA, denied recognition of their marriage and refused apply the marital deduction that protects surviving spouses from estate tax. Instead the IRS forced Edie to pay a $363,000 tax bill on Thea’s estate. Not only was she contending with the loss of her life-partner, but she was, in fact, being told that the life they had built together meant nothing to the government; to the IRS, it was as though it never happened. It is often so difficult for couples to quantify the heartache, the pain, and the hurt that a law like DOMA causes. Windsor v. United States leaves no question as to a very specific harm DOMA caused to Edie. Edie Windsor is not only a litigant, however; for years, she has demonstrated through her advocacy that our most powerful tools are the stories of our own lives. Edie’s belief that we must all be treated with dignity and respect was the reason for her lawsuit, and it is the reason that we, as binational couples, continue to fight DOMA by demanding nothing less, every day. What she accomplished in court last week is valuable to the LGBT movement in a way that defies any measure in dollars and cents.

As a grassroots campaign, The DOMA Project focuses on DOMA’s devastating impact on binational gay and lesbian couples who are denied access to green cards and all other vital family unification provisions of our immigration law, e.g. fiancé(e) visas, waivers for unlawful presence bars, stepchildren petitions, derivative non-immigrant status, status as spouses of refugees, spouses of green card lottery winners, etc. solely because of DOMA.  Each day that DOMA remains the law of the land, it forces gay couples couples into exile, separates couples from each other and from their children, and forces spouses and partners of U.S. citizens to remain in the United States without lawful immigration status, all with devastating effects not only on LGBT families and on our marriages, but also on our extended American families, our communities, our businesses, our friends and our own dreams for the future.

DOMA is tearing apart our families, and while every court ruling helps us build the foundation for its demise, we should not lose sight of the fact that federal courts are not the only, or even the primary forum, for our fight. We must keep up the momentum by continuing to focus our advocacy of the harmful consequences of DOMA, and on the policies that must be implemented now to counter those consequences. We cannot become complacent and simply trust that DOMA will ultimately be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. If we adopt such a passive approach, we are gambling, in a sense, with our marriages, our families and our futures. Instead, we must continue to help build a receptive climate for the powerful cases against DOMA by exposing the truth of what it is doing every day to our families. All of us can play a part if we choose to be a part of this fight to the finish line.  We all have too much at stake to simply sit back and watch events unfold.

Edie Windsor pictured with The DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, and, Josh Vandiver, who, along with his husband Henri, was one of first and most high profile binational couples to take a leadership role in The DOMA Project.

The DOMA Project continues to work to empower binational couples and fight for immediate remedial policies to prevent the catastrophic, destructive impact DOMA is having on our families.

Like Edie Windsor, we will continue to fight for a federal government that no longer disrespects the love and commitment that same-sex couples have made to one another, where couples are no longer forced to choose between their love and their country, where LGBT families are not torn apart or forced into exile.

In his decision, Chief Judge Jacobs notes that the final decision on the constitutionality of DOMA, which discriminates against all same-sex couples by prohibiting the federal government from recognizing our marriages, “will have a considerable impact on many operations of the United States.”  Indeed, DOMA is not an abstraction; as the Windsor case reminds all, its consequences are devastating: our families are harmed every day by this law, often irreparably.  As such, while we celebrate every ruling as another nail in the coffin, we continue to fight to end the consequences of DOMA today.  There can be no waiting in the fight for full equality.  The slow and complex litigation will continue with a constant drumbeat of speculation as we near a final judicial resolution of DOMA, while tens of thousands of binational couples will struggle to make it through another day, trying to hold their marriages and their families together. As we celebrate last week’s tremendous victory, we cannot forget that there are remedies available to the government to protect and reunite all lesbian and gay binational couples and their families today. We will continue to fight to stop every deportation, separation and exile of binational couples.

Thea and Edie

To achieve immediate policy solutions it is important not to find oneself passively waiting for another court ruling, but rather to join other binational couples in active engagement and participation in our campaign. Over the the next eight months, our country will focus increasingly on this issue, and its expected resolution by the Supreme Court by June 2013.  But that should not become a distraction for binational couples eager to fight for immediate executive branch policies that will keep our families together now.

There is one court in which all of us dwell and that is the court of public opinion. We must continue to score victories in the court of public opinion in order to reach our goal of full equality. Edie has shown us how our own lived experiences, shared with a wide audience in compelling and personal terms, served to persuade of even the most conservative jurist. For her, and all the courageous men and women who have come before us and who have made our fight possible, let us never waver in our determination to achieve full equality.”

Married But Unequal: Fighting Back Against the Indignity of DOMA

My husband and I have been happily married for the past two years. Luke was born in South Africa but has been living in the U.S. for the past 12 years. We live on a relatively quiet street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. We’ve created a nice home together with our two boys: Andrew, who’s 4 years old, and Thomas, who’s 15 weeks old. They’re two of the cutest dachshunds you’ll ever meet.

Like other Americans married to foreigners, I set out to sponsor Luke for a green card as my spouse, so, on April 29, 2012, I filed a Petition for Alien Relative (otherwise known as a Form I-130) with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services for my husband. We were optimistic that we would at least get an interview like all other married couples, but no interview was ever scheduled. Instead, on Sept. 24, 2012, we received a cold, brief letter from the Immigration Service notifying us that our petition had been denied. Why? Because we’re both men.

I married Luke, my best friend, my soulmate, on June 25, 2010, in Milford, Connecticut, a small, beautiful New England town near the coast where we’ve spent a lot of summer weekends with close friends. (You may have read our previous post, “Can the U.S. Government Recognize True Love?”) A year later, almost to the day, we celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, which brought the total number of states that permitted same-sex couples to marry to six (plus the District of Columbia). And soon, states from California to Maine may join them. But despite this progress, every married gay and lesbian couple is still profoundly unequal. We lack the 1,138 benefits, rights, privileges, and responsibilities that straight couples receive from the federal government, because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, otherwise known as DOMA, which denies federal recognition of lawful marriages between same-sex couples. Among them are veterans benefits, spousal protection from the estate tax, social security benefits for widowed spouses, medical coverage, and the ability to sponsor your spouse for a green card.

With the Obama administration’s explicit support of same-sex marriage and the decision by the president and the attorney general to stop defending DOMA in court (not to mention the growing acceptance from the public, Hollywood, and even the NFL), we set out on a path to try to get what every other couple wants — stability and the chance to plan and build a future together — but we cannot begin that journey with certainty until Luke has a green card.

The denial letter from Immigration Services clearly stated in an unapologetic, discriminatory tone that we are still, in fact, second-class citizens. Luke’s freedom to find security, independence, and a sense of “home” and work a 40-hour work week for a regular paycheck, get a driver’s license, and travel without anxiety was again curtailed.

We were denied without any review of our case (a service we paid for), which was particularly shocking. We were denied without an interview, without any effort to investigate the legitimacy of our relationship or Luke’s eligibility as an immigrant — in fact, without any consideration of the possibility that our marriage could possibly be legitimate, simply because we are both men. Granting us a preliminary review would not have required that the federal government stop enforcing DOMA. We did not expect our green-card case to be approved yet, and we knew that the government could not “recognize” our marriage for legal benefits. But we did expect this administration to treat us with dignity and respect by meeting with us to determine that we were otherwise eligible for Luke to receive a green card, so we believed that the time was right to petition and at least have our case put on hold, or “in abeyance,” until the United States Supreme Court finally rules definitively on the constitutionality of DOMA, which is expected to happen next year. Not only was rejecting us without knowing anything about us as a couple offensive, but it contradicted everything this administration had been saying about equality for gay Americans.

Regardless of how deep our love for one another runs, regardless of the fact that we were best friends for a year and a half before we started dating, regardless of the fact that I have never been more comfortable with anyone in my life, and regardless of the fact that there’s no one I’d rather spend my time with, the federal government has declared that our marriage doesn’t warrant the same respect paid to my straight friends’ marriages, because Luke and I are both men. That’s the only reason.

We just passed the 16th anniversary of the Defense of Marriage Act. After 16 years it’s clear that the only thing this law defends is institutionalized bigotry. The letter we received from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, solidifies that fact. It was all there in black and white. The letter states, “This Petition for Alien Relative (I-130), filed on April 9, 2012, seeks to classify the beneficiary as the spouse of a United States citizen…,” and continues to point out that only because we’re gay, we do not deserve the same rights as our straight friends:

Both you and the beneficiary are male. You married on June 29, 2010, in Connecticut. The INA does not specifically define the term “spouse” with respect to gender, but Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) states for purposes of eligibility for federal benefits, “marriage” means “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and the word “spouse” refers “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” … The DOMA applies as a matter of federal law whether or not your marriage is recognized under state law. Your spouse is not a person of the opposite sex. Therefore, under the DOMA your petition must be denied. We do not consider it necessary to determine whether your marriage is lawful under state law, or whether the beneficiary would be a “spouse” under the INA absent the DOMA, as these questions are not material to the appropriate disposition of the petition under the clearly applicable and controlling Federal statute.

“We do not consider it necessary…”: six words that hurt so much. “We do not consider it necessary…” It’s a complete disregard of every other aspect of our marriage. It throws out any consideration of every other element of our relationship that makes our marriage “healthy” and “strong” under any other definition. It was dismissive. And it was puzzling. The president of the United States has said that this law is unconstitutional, and seven times in the past two years it has been struck down by federal courts, and yet Immigration Services let us know that they did not consider it worth their time to determine whether we would be eligible for the green card if not for DOMA — a service we paid for in filing our petition.

This not only contradicts the words and deeds of the president, but it seems to reject recent decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals that require Immigration Services to determine whether a same-sex couple have an otherwise valid marriage and would be eligible for a green card if not for DOMA. That the Obama administration allowed its agency to send us this letter defiantly insistent on discriminating against us as a gay couple reminded us that we must continue to organize and educate and urge our president to do better. It is unconscionable that President Obama, himself the son of a binational couple, could allow this offensive letter to have been sent under his watch.

Living in Manhattan, we live in a bubble. It’s easy to forget how other parts of the country may view our relationship, and we kind of like it that way. I have rarely felt so discriminated against, particularly given that I stayed in the closet for 23 years, and given that when I came out, I moved to West Hollywood and eventually to Manhattan, two of the more accepting places in the country. I now realize I was blindsided by my optimism. Are opposite-sex couples truly the only couples that can keep the institution of marriage strong? Is the institution of marriage really that fragile? Can DOMA defend any marriages by denying married couples like us access to the green-card process? Of course not.

I wrote last year about my own feelings of inadequacy when Luke and I decided to get married, believing all the hateful proclamations that marriage wasn’t something in which gay people were entitled to participate. But those feelings were short-lived and have long passed, and I know today that I’m a good husband. So is Luke. The letter we received from Immigration Services was hurtful, but it doesn’t detract from that fact.

The truth is that Luke and I defend marriage every day — our marriage, the one that matters to us the most. We do everything we can to keep our marriage healthy. And as happy as we are at this point in our marriage, I look forward to growing old with Luke and learning more and more about how to be a decent, honest, respectable man each and every day. We defend our marriage by deciding not to walk out after a disagreement or a fight. We defend our marriage by settling our differences and never going to bed angry with each other. The defense of marriage is a personal decision. It’s up to each couple, individually. We’ve learned as a nation that what it takes to defend the strongest bond two consenting adults can have runs much deeper than the color of their skin. And soon we’ll learn it runs deeper than their gender. It’s about the core of the two individuals and the indefinable bond and commitment they make to each other through honesty, respect, humility, faithfulness, patience, joy, and love. I will love Luke no matter what. But we demand to be shown the same respect that our federal government shows to straight married couples. Denials like the one we received are a step backward on the long road to equality, and they cannot be brushed aside.

For now, our country is still bound to the past by this archaic, pointless law. Even though I believe its days are numbered, every setback must be addressed. And Luke and I will do everything in our power to see DOMA’s demise as soon as possible. We will continue to fight for a green card for Luke, and for a complete review and decision of our case. We will insist on that interview where we can show any immigration officer what love, commitment, and marriage look like.

I know it’s only a matter of time before anti-gay discrimination is viewed as negatively as segregation and bans on interracial marriage. And teenagers who are bravely coming out of the closet today will be able to look forward to falling in love with and marrying any consenting individual they want — maybe even their high-school sweetheart. Just imagine that. In the meantime, we’re seeking equality. We believe the institution of marriage is strongest when entered into by loving, committed couples, regardless of sexual orientation. And we will continue to defend our marriage every day.

Brandon Melchior and his husband Luke are part of a group of gay binational couples challenging DOMA and fighting for equality under our country’s immigration laws as part of The DOMA Project. This article was originally published on October 10, 2012 in The Huffington Post.

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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.