President Obama: “Don’t Let DOMA Destroy Our Marriage.” Gay Veteran Files Green Card Case For His British Husband After 11 Years Together, Fighting for Their Future

By the time I reached my mid 50s, I had begun to let go the hope of finding a life partner. Maybe it was a combination of society’s views of gays, combined with the scars of a Catholic upbringing, that left me feeling I did not deserve what most people had. All that changed when Shaun entered my life.

We met online, and at first it was just the occasional chat.  He was in England and I was in California, so we had something of a geographical and time zone challenge. After a while, I found myself looking forward to coming home from work to see if he was online. A strong bond of friendship quickly formed. Shaun talked to me in a way I had not known with others. He was honest and very direct with his observations. Sometimes his words seemed too direct, later I understood that everything he said, came from his caring about me and wanting me to have a better life. I began to have feelings for him that I had never felt for another person. What makes this even more unique is that these feelings developed even before I ever saw his face, as this was before webcams or online photos where as commonplace as they are now. When Shaun sent me the first photo and I saw the image that went with the words, I was blown away! 

Six months after chatting, I learned that Shaun would be coming to Los Angeles to visit friends, who would go around the United States riding roller coasters.  Little did we know that we were going to set out on a decade long roller coaster ride of our own.

John and Shaun’s First Photo Together, January 11, 2001

I was excited that Shaun was coming to Los Angeles, but my heart sank immediately when I learned that he would be so close, but that his itinerary did not leave time for us to meet. Then one evening the phone rang.  It was Shaun asking if I would like to join him and friends for lunch the next day. Before I knew it, I said YES! That day was one neither of us can forget. It was January 11, 2001. Shaun tells the story of how when he first saw me he was a little afraid, as I was bouncing up and down with excitement. If I was, it was nerves. In person he looked even better than his photos. As we ate lunch my hand began to tremble with joy. He reached over, took my hand and looking directly into my eyes, he whispering in his British accent, “It is OK, just relax”.

Our lunch went so well, that Shaun altered his plans and spent his final week with me. It was then that we knew that this was more than just friendship. We spent one of the best weeks of our lives together. Then we faced what would become a constant source of agony for us – the airport good-bye.

A few months later Shaun retuned for a month. We then committed as a couple and began to look for ways to stay together. I had no idea that would be near impossible.

 We tried everything from student visas to business visas. All required an investment of money neither of us had. We contacted our elected officials. Most just sent a standard reply, saying they could not help. I pushed harder and went to the office of my member of congress. One of her staff suggested that Shaun “find a woman to marry”, in order to get a green card. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and even the American Civil Liberties Union just replied saying, “The time is not right for cases like yours.” Then for a year between 2002-2003 we opened our life to a documentary maker, who was making a film about binational couples. After completion they could not find a distributor. It was not seen as marketable. Our plight seemed hopeless.

For the next decade we lived what we called two half lives: one half together, and the other half alone. Shaun has always been employed by his family, so with their help and support he would spend three months in the U.S. and three months in the U.K. In 2002 Shaun was stopped on entry to the U.S. and detained. They questioned him for hours. They opened his case and just threw his clothes onto the floor as they searched it. One officer held up toiletries and other personal items, while a second laughed and made comments on what was in his case. Eventually he was allowed to stay for six weeks but told he would no longer be able to use a “visa waiver program” to visit. He was told that he must apply for an actual visitor’s visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. Shaun did as told, and he received the visa; but several more times he was detained – some times for as long as five hours. During the times he was questioned, I would be left waiting at arrivals, with no idea what was going on.

One time I was told by an airline representative that Shaun was going to be handcuffed, taken to a detention center and flown back to the U.K. the next day.

 Each time he was detained, Shaun cut back the time he would spend in the US. He would ask immigration, how long he could visit without it being a problem. He was told, “You are just coming here too often,” or “visit here less than expected.” He was never given a clear rule to follow. All the trauma of this had a serious affect on his health. He would sink into deep depressions as his time to leave me came closer. Then before he returned to the US, his fear of immigration would consume him to the point of not being able to eat or sleep. Each time he became convinced that he would be denied entry and banned from returning to the US for ten years. Twice a year, for ten years, he repeated this grueling routine. He would stand in a line, hoping that we would be allowed to continue our lives together. We were both all too aware that at any time, a U.S. Customs and Border Protections officer could destroy what we had worked so hard to build together.

We have had to hold our relationship together using webcams and phone calls. When we were apart, Shaun would wait up until past midnight his time, so we could chat for an hour or two when I got home from work. One of the hardest parts for us, has been when one of us is sick. During the times I was too sick to go to work, Shaun would spend all day on the phone with me. Then at night I would put the webcam on while I slept, and he would watch over me.

Shaun and John on their Wedding Day, January 11, 2012

As I have grown older, the health issues have become more serious. Just before Shaun was to return to the U.K. a year ago, I was given the news that I might have had prostate cancer – my PSA level was high. There was no way Shaun could stay with me. His visa was to expire and he had to leave. I once again took him to the airport and returned alone to our home, to our things, to the place we shared together for the last eleven years. Then I got a call saying the doctor had done a second PSA test and it was even higher than the first. I was facing cancer alone. I was facing possible surgery alone. I was facing a life crisis without my partner. There was no way Shaun could re-enter the US for a few months, or he would run the risk of being denied entry. I got so scared and angry I had a meltdown. I raged that this treatment was inhuman! I have worked all my life. I paid the same taxes as straight couples. I served four years in the military for my country. Why did I not deserve the right to have my partner at my side when I was sick? If not him, then who would be there to nurse me if I was ill? I sat down in the middle of the living room floor, with tears in my eyes. I was scared and my fright turned to anger, then my anger turned to determination. It was at that moment, the feelings I once had about not deserving what straight couples had, vanished. I deserve the same rights as they have!

John in the Navy in 1966

I was fortunate that my treatment did not involve surgery, but during that time one image kept coming into my mind. During the brief window in 2008 when California allowed gay couples to marry, Shaun and I had watched a wedding at the beach near our home. As the sunset touched the ocean, two young women with a small circle of friends, walked to the edge of the water. They stood there quietly exchanging vows as the light faded. When the darkness fell they walked hand in hand back to their house. It was simple and beautiful and I wanted that too! I wanted to have that right. I wanted to have all that Shaun and I have fought to keep together, sealed by marriage. I promised myself that if marriage returned to California, then finally we would have that too.

Sadly, by the end of 2011, marriage equality had not yet been restored to California and we were growing impatient.  In January 2012, Shaun and I would celebrate our 11th anniversary together as a couple, and I would retire after 50 years in the workforce. We wanted to celebrate these life milestones with something special. So on January 11 we flew to New York and were married. It meant more to both of us than we ever imagined. We are as proud of our marriage license, as if it were a diploma from an Ivy League college, because it was not something that came to us easily. It was all so special for us, that we did not think too much about the consequences that could result for us as married binational gay couple. We were soon to be reminded of that, however.

As we flew through Detroit on our way back to Los Angeles, we were sent as a couple to a TSA agent.  Sure, it was just a domestic flight but the TSA has broad power to question travelers and somehow they picked on us, two newlyweds heading home. What followed were a series of personal questions including, how long had we known each other? What was the nature of our relationship? How did we first meet? What were our plans together? As an American citizen, I have NEVER been questioned in that manner. It was intrusive and spoken with an intimidating tone. For the first time I saw a little of what Shaun has faced each time he entered the US.  Although we were not technically being interrogated by immigration officers, the worst fears ran through our mind. We both panicked, fearing that if they found our marriage license in our possessions Shaun may be sent to a detention center for displaying intent to remain in the United States while he was a visitor; we had read that had happened to others. The fear in Shaun’s eyes was so intense, that I made up my mind that this had to stop! We could no longer live this way.

As a married, gay binational couple, Shaun faced not only questions, but a strong chance of being denied entry when he was next to have to return to the US. That was the turning point. 

We joined Stop The Deportations-The DOMA Project so that we could join the fight to end deportations, separations and exile caused by the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”  We recently filed a marriage-based green card petition and will now fight to convince my own government not to deny our case, but to put a final decision on hold until DOMA is struck down by the courts.

I am proud to have lived to see my own President send out a public message to the isolated and vulnerable LGBT youth of America, assuring them that they are not alone and encouraging them that “it gets better.” Still, I wonder, Mr. President: what about me, what about the seniors, the vets, the married gay binational couples? And what about this veteran who proudly served his country during the Vietnam War?  How can it possibly be that I enlisted to do my duty and prepared to sacrifice everything for my country to defend the freedoms we so often take for granted, but my country now wants to destroy my marriage and tear my husband away from me?  If, Mr. President, you deport my partner, if you take away all that I have worked for my entire life, when I AM ALONE – what is your message for me? You can take action now to save us from this disaster. You, Mr. President, understand that years are precious for the gay seniors America?  You have spoken about “the fierce urgency of now.” I know you understand.  I need my President to take action. Your words are of tremendous inspiration, your decision not to defend DOMA in court is historical, but we need this administration’s direct intervention to prevent disaster from befalling our family.   The President has that power. I know my President believes this is wrong. He must act now to stop DOMA from destroying our families by directing the Immigration Service to stop denying our green card petitions.

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  • YR

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s beautiful and heart wrenching. I admire you for taking a stand. You deserve all the happiness in the world.

    March 7, 2012
  • Pattee

    Your story brings tears to my eye. Happiness for you that you have found true love and sadness, anger, and frustration that you must fight to have the peace and security that should be yours. I hope that these issues will be settled soon, once and for all, and that you will have all the happiness that you both deserve.

    March 8, 2012
  • ashley

    So moving….I will share your story with my readers!

    March 8, 2012
  • Good luck to you both in your quest for future happiness together. It makes me really angry that a genuine loving couple like you are denied the chance of a beautiful close relationship………………for what valid reason Mr Obama? Yet you open your doors to potential single terrorists everyday, shame on you, you are nothing but a nation of political homophobes!

    March 8, 2012
  • Leah Perez

    John I wish only the best for you and Shaun and I know in my heart that everything you and Shaun are fighting for and deserve will be yours. Hang in there!! xoxo

    March 8, 2012
  • Danny

    my partner and I have 15 awesome years together, and are in love like crazy he has a biological 16 year old daughter and we have been foster parents to a little girl since she was 2 months old, I adopted her 4 years ago, because the state of Arizona would not let us both. She loves us both to death, she calls us both daddy and says she is so lucky to have two dads. My partner and I would love to be married and have our beautiful loving family treated as everyone else’s . i think president Obama will do good for us on this issue.

    March 8, 2012
  • Thanks for your story, shared to help us all! Good luck and love to you on your journey…

    March 8, 2012
  • Rob

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a positive outcome :-)

    March 9, 2012
  • Geoffrey

    John, We have talked many times when you were writing your story. I am happy to finally see a picture of Shaun, but you never mentioned all the problems he was having when he would visit. Congratulation on your wedding even if it is bitter/sweet. I wish you had written me about your cancer. Even though I am in Florida and you are in California, I would have kept in constant contact. I hope at this time, you are cancer free. My love to you both – Geoff

    March 9, 2012
  • Billy Bell

    Dear John and Shaun , I feel your pain immensely ! I had a 17 year relationship with my partner until his untimely death of a heart attack last June. I was devastated . I had lost my whole world. I thought that I could never love that way again. Then one day put of the blue, while I was reviewing my Facebook wall, over came a friend request from a nice looking man wanting to meet other gay men . I replied with an accept for friendship, then did something I rarely do , I wrote to him ! He was the kindest , sweetest , most caring man I had ever known. He was a little shy at first, but when he opened his heart he blossomed into a beautiful flower . He works as a naval engineer for an oil company, lived in New Orleans , but works all over the world . He to is British and has a work visa for the US. We’ve been talking for 2 months now and are scheduled to meet week after next, just before my birthday. I am as nervous as you were upon your first meeting with Shaun. Long story short, we too have the same story only so far , thank God, without the problems with travel. Daniel, his name, has shown me that at any time love can show up and surprise you ! Even when you think you’ve had the love of your life and lost him, you can love again. I am on 4 anti-depressants since the loss of my partner, but have already pared that down to just two now . I owe this to my Daniel for showing me that I don’t need these ” crutches” to lean on as long as there is s loving shoulder to cry on ! I pray that you and Shaun find your true happiness together and that changes come to our government soon to allow gays like us to celebrate the joys of marriage just like everyone else ! God bless the two of you and your quest for happiness tigether !!!!

    March 9, 2012
  • Bill DeRoche

    Love can not be hindered for one couple for indoing that we limit the heights of love to which we must all attain to strive for.
    May your love be formost and lead the way.

    March 9, 2012
  • Jim

    John,We have talked several times in the past and I have heard from you part of your story. This is good to see it in a more complete telling. My heart goes out to the two of you. I pray there will be a positive end to this soon for you and for many others who fight this and similar battles.

    March 9, 2012
  • john i love you and shawn , ive talked to shawn alot for the past year and a half he told me all about the two of you , shawn helped me out alot because im not out to family or friends but shawn has always been there to help me out with any gay question sand advice i needed , but the story that you just told brought tears to my eyes and i couldnt stop crying because thats real love ,expecially the part of him watching you sleep while you were sick on video , if there is anything i can do to help you out feel free to ask lol john

    March 13, 2012
  • Nick

    What a story! An act that causes suffering to its own citizens…so sad.

    It’s opened my eyes about the consequences of the DOMA. I’m based in the UK, at least my country does have some compassion as they legally recognises same sex partnerships although not marriage yet.

    March 14, 2012
  • Shaun

    I would like to thank you all for the kind loving words of support. They energize us for the fight that lays ahead. I would like to address each message individually and as soon as I work out how to do that I will.

    Thank You All! – Shaun

    March 14, 2012
  • John

    Hi All. I would also like to thank you for leaving these uplifting comments. You words tell us people out there really do care. Sometimes it feels like it’s a lonely road we are traveling.
    Thank you all again – John

    March 14, 2012
  • Priscilla Walker

    It is beyond belief to read of the strength and determination that you have both shown in your struggle. I hope that peace comes into your lives that you deserve to share together.

    March 14, 2012
  • Roger Stickley

    My Partner of 16 year and I know how you feel. I am an American living in Panama rep de Panama now for 10 years since they deported the love of my life. thank god I was able to retire here but its still not right having all my family back in the states. my thoughts and prayer are with anyone that is fighting the INS issue you’ll look like a loving couple never lose hope. one day perhaps we all can return to USA with our loved ones. chin up it gets better.

    March 16, 2012
  • Scott Wilbanks

    It’s 9:30 PM, Mike is asleep, having been up early to work a long day, and I’m sitting at the kitchen counter reading the moving article about your struggles to be together. Oh, and by the way, I’m writing this comment from New Zealand.

    I moved here three years ago, leaving my family, my friends, the City By The Bay, and my career–all to be with Mike. We’d been engaged the prior year, on our one year anniversary. That totals five years of togetherness. My mother gave the toast at our engagement party. My dad, a good old Oklahoma boy, cried happy tears that I’d finally met that one person who fit me like a glove. My sister? She walked around the party like a ghost, knowing what would have to happen. She has MS, you see. And I’ve always been her primary support. But she loves Mike dearly and knows where I belong.

    My friends jokingly call me a ‘love exile,’ and that is exactly what I am. I had to choose between the family I love, and the man to whom I committed my life.

    I don’t regret the decision I made, but I do regret the circumstances, the petty political climate, that led to making it.

    Keep speaking for all the love exiles. And, if no one listens, speak louder.

    I’ll be standing right behind you.

    March 18, 2012
  • Julian

    WOW!! I just read your story and I am speechless to say the least! I am also inspired adn give you my full support! I am sharign your story with all my friends in hope that this long battle will soon end in your favor! You two are a true inspiration to gay men everywhere!!

    March 28, 2012
  • Tanya

    All my love to you both. You have touched me deeply, and I will never forget.

    April 10, 2012
  • Shawn Bruffett

    This Story Strikes Home In So Many Ways! Although My Partner, Mo and I have only been together a little over a Year now, the similarities of the story, down to one of the Partners being British (Mo is British) and named Shaun (My name is Shawn) got to me instantly, but it’s when he started talking about the Airport Good Byes, and being apart when one of them was sick or in the Hospital that the story Really Mirrored Mine and Mo’s Relationship. This Discrimination Has Got To Come To An End!!!

    April 21, 2012
  • Peter

    This story is so close to my story. It brings tears to my eyes. 7 months ago I met online my love. Someone I was waiting for all my life. Im 20. He is 60. We skype almost everyday. Problem is he lives in California and me in Europe. Im going to meet him but we dont have money and I can stay only for short time. It is depressive what we face to but I will not give up. I admire you. God bless you.

    April 27, 2012
  • Courtney

    I hope that they get their green card.It would suck if they didn’t.

    May 18, 2012
  • William

    Thank you for sharing your story which is identical to mine. Funny that I’m reading it in the airport on my way to meet my partner in Argentina which is a monthly trip I have been doing for the last 4 years.

    May 18, 2012
  • John Bear714

    I’m motivated by your life story. It’s a true call to arms. You can count on me to write letters to the President, US Senators and Congressmen, state and local, too!

    May 26, 2012
  • John

    John as I read your story about you and Shaun i started to cry and am still crying as I write this now.i had a wonderful 11 year relationship with the greatest guy ever that was older than I and unfortunately last Sept. 10 the day before 911 I lost him to cancer as he died holding my hand . six months prior to his death we discussed what I would do after he died as we knew it was coming. He made me promise to go on with my life and find another to love since i was still young, as my partner called me I am 54 my late partner was 75. This past April I met Jari as he pursued me from my profile that was on one of the dating sites. John I was not even thinking about looking for anyone let alone the possibility of another relationship.Jari is from Pori, Finland and now as we have gotten to know each other online similar as you descibed yours and Shaun’s meeting we’ve not met in person yet but , Jari has asked me to marry him and I have to tell you that things have moved fast for us both but we both know that we were made for each other and that we are soulmate’s to each other.Jari treats me like no other man I have ever met in this life very much like you described Shaun about you.It made me do “crazy “things, I think I went out and purchased a webcam thank god for Skype and also upgraded my cell phone plan to include a smart phone in which I am still learning about just for the fact that we can see each other on webcam weekday nights and text to each other every day when I am at work for me since i stay up until 10 Pm to be able to see him and chat since that time for him is morning time in Finland.He wants me to join him in Finland to live since he tells me that Finland is a country that recognizes gay marriage but like you and Shaun with here in the US, we will have to make visits with each other so it won’t look like we are trying for a marriage of convenience so I can obtain the right to stay and become a citizen of Finland. I wish you and Shaun so much happiness and many years more of great love.Jari and I are a kind of may to September couple as I am or will be 55 this year and he will be 45. I love this man so much that I have told him yes that I will marry him. I just pray that we may not run into problems also but I will support your cmapaign and write to whom ever president, congressmen,represenatives..etc. to try and break this DOMA Act you have my support

    June 7, 2012
  • Ken

    Be strong…it will come to be someday!

    June 14, 2012
  • nice story ..we are having big problems here in australia …debate in parliament this partner Richard and i been together 35 years and still can’t have same relationship status as my siblings (half of them have had 3 partners by now ) have friends been together 45 years 40 years and lots of 20 year relationship …so our partnerships do work …about time politicians get on with their job and stop listening to religious bigots …

    June 16, 2012
  • mark barnes

    I was very moved by your story…i am a gay man aged 43 and my partner is 58 we have been together now 5 years and are ha ving a civil partnership in August ( we live in the uk)…it seems that gay people have more rights here than in the usa…things are better here i will be entitled to half my partners pension and have all the rights as a hetro couple as …i am surprised by the usa i always thought it was the land of the free…they bang on about human rights in china and other countries but maybe they should look closer to home….of course it all come down to religion….if two people love each other as much as you two then how can this be wrong . Keep fighting and if you dont succeed then move to britain to be with your partner as long as you are together who cares where you live

    All the very best

    Mark x

    June 18, 2012
  • joern holstein

    In Denmark this month (of june 2012) -gay couple
    can now be married in the danish state church-
    our Parlement voted YES for it !!!!
    So good things happend too around the World !!

    June 22, 2012
  • Our hearts go out to you both. We had our cicvil partnership 6 years ago and have been together for 35 years. Things must change soon for equality of most civilised countries. We will remember your plights and hope they improve. We are also fairly regular visitors to the the US, and treatment like you are getting should not be tolerated!

    July 6, 2012
  • Eddy

    I know the pain, I know it hurts a lot

    July 16, 2012
  • Paul

    Every gay and lesbian couple who has faced this type of stuation kows the heartache John and Shaun are going thru.

    Somehow we must be able to mobilize as a peaceful group and get the US Government to understand that we are no different from any straight couple.

    Having lost my partner of 34 years, 5 years ago, I know what lonliness is………my heart and my prayers go out to you both and somehow we will conquer!

    July 29, 2012
  • Carla B

    I’m South African and my partner a US citizen. We’re also currently living and working apart because the US doesn’t seem to be as free a country as its anthem claims it to be. I see Donna every 3 months and it is very hard for us. All we want is to be together and live out lives like any other couple. I don’t understand why the US is so behind in changing Federal Laws. In Canada they have no problem with equality to all people, straight, gay, bi… Why can’t the President just be man enough and step up his game and legalize gay marriage. I hope and pray for change in the USA.

    August 9, 2012
  • Mike

    Your revealing and touching story sheds light on our government’s failure to be in touch with the founding father’s intentions of personal freedom for all to be true to their calling and be free to mate with whomever they wish. So compassionate and moving. I pray the winds of change bring a welcoming relief to you and all who love another of the same sex….as do I

    August 15, 2012

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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.