Seven Years and Three Countries Later, Rob & Julian Are Forced Apart Because of DOMA
I was 20 years old, working as a food server in South Florida, when I met the man who became my boyfriend, my best friend, my life partner, and finally my lawfully wedded spouse.
It was March 8, 2005. As members of a local LGBT support group arrived to be seated, it was my turn for a new table. While I was helping to set it up, I met this really nice guy, Julian. While the group ate, we spoke and got to know each other a bit.
A week later, he returned and worked up the courage to ask me to go on a date. We went out, and the rest became a whirlwind of laughter, kindness, and love. Within six months, we moved in with each other. After a year, we held a ceremony in Fort Lauderdale and vowed before our friends and family that we would love each other and promise to better each other for the rest of our lives. My family embraced Julian as another son and brother. We’ve now been together for almost seven years, through the best and worst of times. Looking back, not a day goes by when Julian doesn’t make my life richer or more fulfilling in countless ways.
There is, however, one major complication in this otherwise seamless romantic narrative: When we met, Julian was on a student visa in the United States. Born in Spain, he had been living continuously in the country since he was 11 years old, completing middle school, high school, and now, college in the US. He was always a bit fearful that his days could be numbered, but we believed love, logic, and common sense would triumph. We were naïve.
In 2008, we moved from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, my home. We had always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and, with jobs dissipating and the financial market looking bleak, we knew we wanted our own business. Julian transferred schools and we opened our own theatre company.
We worked tirelessly to get it all together for our opening night that August. Everything was set in motion, money had been paid out, the press had responded positively… things were on track.
At that moment the other shoe dropped. In mid-July, Julian received a letter from Homeland Security, ordering him to leave the US. We were confused and scared. Due to the onslaught of the recession, his father was no longer in a position to be able to pay his expensive tuition and as a result, he had fallen out of status on his student visa. We knew the souring economy was affecting him but did not know to what level. We quickly found that there is very little leniency with foreign students. You pay to stay, or you’re out.
At that point, we had no idea what to do. In those next few weeks, we realized that if we wanted to stay together, it would mean leaving our home, our friend, our family and our business and moving abroad. It looked like the best option would be in Spain, where Julian was a citizen. Luckily, Spain allowed gay couples to marry, and embraced us. By contrast, everything in the US quickly fell apart. Over those weeks, we were forced to rehome our pets, leave behind the majority of our possessions, give up a company which had yet to open, and finally, leave our home. Surely there had to be someone to call, someone to help. We learned the hard way: there’s no help available with the “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA intact. I had been born and raised with the belief that in the US, I was no different than any other person under the law. The truth was different. My own government treats me differently from other American citizens, solely because I’m gay. I could not access the family-based immigration system to sponsor Julian for a green card only because we are both men.
I was lost for a very long time, and it didn’t help that most of my friends and colleagues had no idea that this discrimination could happen to us. People suggested we move to Massachusetts. I explained that it was a federal issue and that being married gave us no protection or immigration rights as long as the federal government refused to recognize our marriage due to DOMA. We remained together. In a world that’s already very difficult to connect in, we had found each other. Law or no law, we were determined that this wouldn’t be the end of us.
We moved and lived in Spain for almost three years. Having been hit hard by the global recession, Spain’s unemployment rate ranks the worst in the EU, at 22%. For those under 26, the unemployment rate soars to near 48%. It’s not an exaggeration to say that work is nearly impossible to find there. We managed to scrape by on friends, family, and odd jobs. While we loved Spain, the economic crisis proved too hard to bear.
In December 2010, we made the decision to move to London. We gathered money and I applied for an EU family member visa. I sent photos of us through the years, our wedding DVD, and various documents that intertwined our lives. I was denied, on the basis of Julian having no job in England, and because the British authorities did not believe we had been together as a couple for a sufficient period of time, despite a five-year history together. Time was now running out. We had enough money to move and keep us afloat in London until we both found jobs, but not enough to keep living in Madrid. We knew that the only way Julian could establish work was by living there. I would appeal my decision in England and give them more photos and whatever I could muster to prove our union. I was now pleading with a second government for the simple request of living with the man I love. It was maddening, but we knew we had no choice but to continue trying. All the while, I never forgot that this was happening only because we had been forced out of the United States by DOMA.
As we arrived in the UK in late March, I was stopped and questioned by the British border patrol. I tried to explain our situation, but they wouldn’t allow me to enter the country. Despite all of the proof we had, they did not believe Julian and I were together as a couple. At that point, I was detained for over 15 hours, treated like a criminal, and flown back to Madrid, where I was met with armed guards. The Spanish guards listened, looked at the evidence, and apologized, refusing to believe this could happen in the modern world.
With Spain no longer an option due to its financial chaos, we made the choice for Julian to remain in the UK and begin a life there. I returned to the US, where I immediately began working, trying to figure out what our next move was. Six years after we met, we had endured a whirlwind of globetrotting to find a place where we could build a home together. It was hard to describe to our friends and family that after all that effort, we ended up separated by an ocean. Our bond, however, was never stronger. Julian and I knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. No law can diminish one iota the deep and enduring love we feel for each other.
And as happens for so many other couples, we progressed to the next stage in our relationship, deciding to marry. We were married in New York City on August 30, 2011, with Julian “visiting” the United States so we could share this life milestone with our friends and family, before he promptly left and disappeared again. Julian returned to England after we married. As it stands, we have no idea where the future will take us. We miss our lives together. We now see each other only when work and financials permit, with Julian visiting the US whenever we’re able. Before this past summer’s reunion and marriage, we had not seen each other since April 2010. How can anyone claiming to “defend” marriages want this result?
I write this so that people may know the hardships suffered due to DOMA. By contrast, my father married a woman from Costa Rica in 2009. She is now a permanent resident in the United States, working towards citizenship. Julian and I have demonstrated our love and our commitment for each other through many difficult challenges over the past six years that most couples will never be forced to endure, and yet we are treated as legal strangers and kept thousands of miles apart because of one law.
This administration has the power to immediately end this crisis of families torn apart. The White House website includes the following statement, confirming that the President agrees that what Julian and I are forced to endure should not be happening:
“President Obama believes that …. Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.”
These words are encouraging, and certainly to have the President’s statement on this issue is historic and encouraging. But words without deeds leave us nowhere. We need action now. The Obama administration could end our separation by allowing Julian to return to the United States under existing “humanitarian parole” provisions until DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress.
Thousands of binational couples are exiled or separated right now because of DOMA, and the President knows that this is the cruel result of an unconstitutional law. If he really believes that, he should end our suffering now with a short-term solution that will allow us to be together. Every member of my immediate family feels the pain of his absence and they all know it has been forced on us because of DOMA.
We will continue to be a part of this fight for full equality, and ask you to join us by supporting this effort by urging your elected officials and the administration to apply existing “humanitarian parole” provisions as a temporarily solution that would end the separation of lesbian and gay binational couples.