Seven Years After Falling in Love in Croatia, Jon and Nedo Fight for their Marriage and the Right to be Together

Photo by Steven Rosen Photography

My name is Jon. In the photo above, I am the American guy on the right looking a bit choked up. I think it was taken just after the moment during our wedding when my husband Nedo stared into my eyes and told me that he was going to love me forever.

Let me go back in time and tell the story of how Nedo and I met. In April of 2005, I decided to take some time off from work and travel to Europe with the intent of finding a place I could live while I finished a college degree. I literally stumbled onto the Stradun in the charming medieval, walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. I fell in love with the country and its people, but one particular Croatian hunk ended up stealing my heart. Having been a pretty jaded guy living in San Francisco I had pretty much given up on my dream of finding a soul mate. Even typing that I still flinch a little bit because I know it just sounds so corny.

I remember sitting in a coffee bar on a warm September night near Pile Gate, an entrance to Old Town, as it is called, and seeing Nedo for the first time. He had come to the location because he had heard from one of the workers that there was a handsome American whom he should come check out. He was beautiful and I was enamored but we didn’t know at that moment that our paths were meant to cross again. The next time I saw him I was eating ice cream at another coffee shop. I was caught a little off guard and couldn’t understand why he was starting at me so I kind of hid a little bit behind an umbrella. We laugh about it today because he couldn’t believe I would try to hide from him. He was determined, as he proudly states today, to get to know me.

The next time I saw him was when I brought a friend from the U.S. into the store where Nedo worked. I didn’t realize the “hot Croatian guy” that I had telephoned my friend back home about worked at this store.  It felt like fate was dealing us our cards. I was so happy to see him again.  We got to talking and Nedo asked me for my cell phone number; he called me almost immediately after we left the store wanting to drop off a bracelet that he “fixed” for my friend. That, it turned out, was a pretext to get to know me better.

Since the day we first met, Nedo and I have not been apart with the exception of the seven months while we waited for him to come to the United States on his student visa. When I eventually ran out of money and I had to return home from Europe, I never expected that Nedo and I would find a way to maintain our relationship back in the U.S. It occurred to me while we were chatting online that if this man was going to give up his beautiful country, his wonderful friends, and move away from his family,  how could I not welcome him with open arms in my country?  To this day the effects of that decision on him to leave his family are deeply emotional and he can’t allow himself to communicate with them regularly because it is easier to disassociate then deal with the enormity of that decision.  Every time he talks to his family he ends up crying for the remainder of the night.  He misses his nieces and nephews terribly and it hurts him not to see them regularly.  The fact that he is separated from his mother is something he can’t even fully grasp without his eyes swelling with tears.  Due to his current legal status he cannot risk leaving the country for fear his visa will not be renewed, but this means he also must live with the knowledge that he may never see his parents again.  They are getting older and the more time that goes by without him being able to visit is another form of torment for us as a gay binational American family.  My husband experiences this pain often, and it causes me to resent my government for the pain our families suffer in the name of DOMA.

I had to borrow $18,000 from my sister to prove that I could sponsor Nedo for a student visa. I worked two jobs to pay for his tuition and our rent in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. We went through very tough financial times in the beginning of our relationship. The stress took a severe toll on my mental and physical health. Nedo was not used to relying on others to take care of him, and he also suffered from not being able to contribute financially to our household.

Eventually, we settled into a domestic routine. Nedo went to school full-time, but almost every day he cooked our meals and did laundry; he even folded and ironed the sheets! He meticulously planned every holiday and decorated at least three trees on Christmas. Nedo took care of me  as much as I took care of him, and he made our home and life together. Nedo has become an important part of my family.  He is “Uncle Nedo” to my nieces, a brother to my sisters, and a cousin to my cousins.  We celebrate every Thanksgiving at the home of my born-again Christian brother and his fourth wife.   Numerous members of our extended family members support us in our cause for Marriage Equality, recognizing that our fight to be together is not a gay or straight issue, but an issue of our common humanity as a family.  Virtually, everyone who has come into our lives knows and supports us in our struggle to stay together and cannot believe that there is a chance Nedo might be taken away from all of us.

Nedo has given me everything and has taught me the true meaning of partnership and unconditional love. He is the love of my life and he is a source of inspiration to all in our life.  It makes me tear up even just thinking of how much love he has shown for me and my family. There are ways that this man has supported me that do not lend themselves easily to words. He is faithfully and religiously by my side. I feel blessed to be able to share life, our friends and family together.  What we have in our lives together today is something we have both dreamed of all of our lives.  We would love to be able to think of our future and how we want to have a home in California and a summer residence in Croatia close to his family.  We dream of owning our own business to support ourselves but none of it can fully become a reality when living your life in constant fear of not knowing what the future holds.  We would love more then anything to buy a house and know that it will always be our home together. Such simple dreams often seem impossible for us as a gay binational couple.

I remember the day in 2008 when the Supreme Court of California ruled that gay couples could marry. It was the first time I realized that Nedo and I could marry. At that moment I was ambivalent. I had been told that Nedo may complicate his visa status if we were married because it could be interpreted as an indication of  intent to remain in the United States.  (I later realized that much of the concern around marriage and visa status stems from a lack of understanding of these issues.)  Importantly, though, something in my mind changed that day.  With respect to my relationship to Nedo, to our love, I felt like every other American. I felt worthy. I felt that we had the chance to feel equal. Finally, I was in love with a wonderful man who I would actually want to marry and now the most wonderful and surprising thing had happened: a court ruling had made it all possible.

Photograph by Steven Rosen Photography

As everyone reading this knows by now, our right to marry ended up being put to a vote and it was taken away by a slim majority of Californians. It felt like a punch in gut. I was so upset that I lost a lot of hope in my own country at that moment. I remember the opposing side of Prop 8 using Obama’s statement about marriage and feeling let down that the President didn’t aggressively speak out in opposition to the Proposition.  Nedo even met Nancy Pelosi at a book signing event in San Francisco and brought up the fact that I could not sponsor him for a green card because of DOMA. She said “I know; it’s a disgrace and we need to change that.” Nice words, but that’s all they were.  Over the next few years we became increasingly frustrated when the response from our elected officials essentially became, “what choice do we have but wait for change?”  We have started to realize that change is not something you wait for; it’s something you make happen.

I get upset when I think about the taxes I have paid over the years to my government only to be treated like a second-class citizen, while other people, like my brother, who is on his fourth marriage, get unlimited chances to pursue their happiness.  As an American citizen I cannot stand by and allow my love for Nedo to be treated as though it is less valuable than my brother’s marriages.

A dream came true for us last August, when a birthday trip to New York for Nedo ended up being so much more than just a visit to the Statue of Liberty! On July 24th, New York State’s marriage equality law went into effect, so about a week before our trip I asked Nedo if after six years together was he would marry me while we were in New York. Nedo and I had concerns about jeopardizing his visa status; however, we both decided our commitment was worth the risk especially since his visa expires in February 2013. We arranged for Reverend Annie Lawrence to conduct our ceremony and hired photographer Stephen Rosen to take pictures of our Bow Bridge wedding in Central Park. Its hard to put into words the feelings and emotions we both felt that day while saying our vows. What we have is special and the experience of being able to legally commit ourselves in a ceremony like all other loving couples was a once in a lifetime, joyful experience.

Nedo and I live in San Francisco today and we are very blessed. We have been through a lot together and have always been taken care of. We have a certain faith in our respective higher powers that our love is special and that we will be taken care of.

Each year we participate in the Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery and this last year was especially bitter for us as we are running out of time on Nedo’s visa. The Green Card Lottery is our final hope. Nedo is tired of being in school and cannot continue to study as his heart is not in it. He also misses his family terribly and wants to see them badly. Because his visa will be up in February of 2013 we are running out of options.

We can no longer put off conversations about what will happen to us next year. If Nedo stays after his visa ends, how will we manage without being able to maintain lawful status? He will be stuck and unable to see his family in Europe, and we will be forced to live in fear that he will be deported. If we find no other solution, he will be forced to leave the United States, bringing our relationship to an end. We have talked about long distance relationships and do not believe it is fair for either of us to put one another through that. But we can’t imagine being torn apart. Will we stay and fight or will our love and lives be broken apart?  This is devastating for us to think about this but this is our reality. Every day we inch closer to the expiration of his student visa without a solution. Living with this uncertainty and fear is like an ache in your heart that never goes away.

It’s been hard for me to write this story. I have spent all of my life in sales and promote things that have “value propositions” and am always discovering the needs of others and making recommendations. I am writing this story because I need help keeping the man I love with all my heart in this country.

Photograph by Steven Rosen Photography

Nedo has family and friends in Croatia. What he doesn’t have there is the life we have built together in the United States with our friends and family. We have worked very hard to put together an amazing home and a life for us as a couple. I want to take care of him and provide for him for the remainder of his life. I want for him to be legally recognized as my husband in the United States. I want for us to be able to go home to Croatia together and see his face when he hugs his mother. I want to see his mother for the first time with her knowing that I am Nedo’s husband. I want us to have the same rights and the same joys in life that every heterosexual couple takes for granted.

We will fight to have all of that. Getting married in 2011 was the first step in that direction.  Now we will fight for our marriage. We will not wait for change to happen. That is why we have joined The DOMA Project. We encourage other couples to fight for their love, to tell their stories and to hold our government accountable for DOMA.  Together we can stop this law from tearing us apart, destroying our families and our dreams, forcing us to live in exile or across the globe from those we love most. We have the power to end this now.

Cathy & Catriona: Colorado Lesbian Couple with Three Children Applies for Green Card to Keep Family Together

Cathy & Catriona on their wedding day in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Most mountain-climbing stories end when the summit is reached and the climbers are safely down the mountain.   Our story begins there.   Cathy and I met and fell in love while trekking and climbing in Nepal, and together we summited Island Peak, a  6189m peak in the Himalayas.  Little did we know that we would have summits of a different nature to overcome, the biggest and most challenging – keeping our family together.

Cathy is a beautiful, funny, intelligent, hard-working, adventurous woman, and a great mother and life partner.  As her wife, it is heartbreaking for me to watch her worn down and demoralized by the angst and worry that is imposed by the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that cruelly denies the existence of our family, and that so emphatically refuses to recognize her as the spouse and mother of U.S. citizens.  For us, DOMA is not just a technicality or an obstacle in an otherwise complicated maze of immigration laws and regulations.  It is not simply a chapter in the fight for equality for lesbian and gay couples.  It is unique because it denies the love we have for each other, our commitment to be partners in life, and to be mothers to our three beautiful, innocent children.  DOMA denies us the dignity and respect we deserve as human beings and as a family.  As a result of DOMA, we worry constantly about our future and the fact that Cathy may be forced to leave the United States.  We have gone to great lengths to try overcome the constraints imposed on us by DOMA, but we are running out of options.  I challenge the defenders of DOMA to define “family” and “loving and stable home” and justify excluding us from the protection that immigration law provides to all other married binational couples.  We will never give up the fight to keep our family intact.

This is our story.

For three weeks in October 2006, Cathy and I shared stories and challenges and enjoyed each other’s company while trekking and climbing in the Himalayas, and inside each of us we knew something else had changed but neither was able to acknowledge it to ourselves or each other.  We had grown up 4 miles apart in small towns outside of Dublin, Ireland, but we had just met through mutual friends.  Although an Irish native, the U.S. has been my home for over 30 years and I am a U.S. citizen.   As we parted in Kathmandu, Cathy for Dublin, Ireland, and me for Boulder, Colorado, I couldn’t understand why I was so upset.  I just knew that I wanted this woman in my life.   I leaped for joy inside when I saw an e-mail from Cathy in my inbox or a text message from her on my phone, and when she announced that she planned on a ski trip to Boulder over the New Year holiday I was overjoyed.   I was afraid to admit to myself that I was in love.

Pre-School Graduation

For over a week we skied and had fun in the mountains and in Boulder, my home for 15 years.   Both being adventurous women we shared our experiences, Cathy as an accomplished and global sailor and me as a marathon runner. We talked non-stop.  I had also shared with Cathy my desire to be a mother and told her that I had just begun the process of adoption.    The evening before she returned to Ireland, Cathy and I worked up the courage to tell each other how we felt, she confessed that she was in love with me!   I can’t describe the joy and sudden wholeness that overcame me in one second. This was it! I never quite understood until that very moment the concept of “just knowing” when you meet that special person, and knowing that this is who you want to share your life with.   I finally got it.

Leaving Cathy at the airport to return to Dublin was to be one of many times we would have to be strong for each other and trust that parting would not be for long.   For 9 months we met as often as possible, in Ireland and the U.S.,  and within no time at all we knew this was forever and we were meant to be together.  During this period we travelled together to Guatemala to meet our infant son.   We were both certain that we wanted to build a life and family together.   We both assumed that with her strong credentials and vast experience in a sought-after profession, Cathy would be able to continue on her career path here in the U.S.

The family celebrating the finalization of the adoption process.

Cathy left her nursing position in Ireland to come to Boulder in September 2007.  I had just returned from Guatemala with our 8-month-old son.   We were now delighted and proud parents of a beautiful baby boy, we were together, we were a family. We had no idea of what lay ahead and the amount of effort and expense it would take for us to stay together.  We had both climbed mountains around the world, but we never experienced living with such seemingly immovable constraints. We were about to find out just how soul-destroying and demoralizing it is to know that your commitment to your life partner is not recognized, and your family is not treated equally. Cathy and I had each challenged ourselves in various ways as single women, however this journey we were on as life partners was about to test us emotionally and become the greatest challenge either of us had encountered.

Hiking in Grand Lake, Colorado

Cathy got to work quickly on the effort to become a registered nurse in the United States.   From start to finish it took approximately 2 years because of the paperwork involved.   She had to travel in an out of the U.S. with different short term visas.  When she registered with the state of Colorado, we were hoping to find a hospital willing to petition for a work visa, however in the economic climate it was not to be.

Desperate, we looked for areas of the U.S. where I could keep my position and continue employment with my present employer.   We were fortunate to find a hospital in Texas that offered Cathy a position and petitioned for a visa.  However, while the visa was pending, Cathy had to leave us to go back to Ireland to await the visa approval.   It was a difficult time.  I missed Cathy, and our son now 2 years old, did not understand why he could only see and talk to his Mum on the computer.   His daily routine with Cathy came to abrupt end during this period, and he now had to go into daycare every day while I went to work.  He cried for her, and when he was sleeping I also cried for her.   Over 3,000 miles away Cathy was shedding plenty of tears too.

Not knowing when Cathy’s visa would be approved and desperate to reunite, we all travelled to Montreal, Canada to spend time together.   We were so elated to be with each other again as a family, even if it was just for a short time. Cathy had flown to Canada from Ireland and we had come up from Colorado. All this travel to a third country just so we could be a family for a few days. Looking back, it is hard to comprehend that we were forced to do this just to bring us together for a short time. And that short time went by too quickly, and it was followed by more heartache having to say goodbye again, followed by more uncertainty.

Hope at last, when news of Cathy’s visa arrived.  It was July 2009, three long months after she left.  A few weeks later she was back in the U. S.  We then had the arduous task of packing up the home we loved in Boulder, Colorado, saying goodbye to our friends, and moving to Texas so that Cathy could get back into the workforce and pick up her nursing career again.  She was over-qualified for the position,  but she was happy to be able to finally have some normalcy: to obtain a Social Security card and open her own bank account, and to have the satisfaction of being able to contribute financially to our household.   A driver’s license was still out of reach because the term of her visa was not long enough.   A Texas state identification was all she could get. She would not be able to drive for now. It was always two steps forward, one step back.

It was not what we had hoped for, but knew that being together as a family was our overriding dream and we were able to continue building our life together.

So we did just that, and made the most of everything.  Our family grew, we adopted two wonderful daughters from Haiti in 2010, then aged 7 and 5.  We were very busy with the children, and with the added income I could take leave without pay on Cathy’s work days so that we were both able to help the children settle into their new lives by being present and we would not need to place them in day care.   Our daughters settled very well and quickly bonded with their little brother.  With tremendous family and friend support and three fantastic children we were blessed with so much joy.

Cathy worked hard and enjoyed the job and opportunity in Texas.  She was promoted and the hospital wanted to continue her employment and petition for another visa.  This was terrific news. Our happiness was short-lived. Despite having been previously approved for a visa, the second work visa was denied in January of this year.  Our dreams of building a family together quickly gave way to a nightmare. Six years after we met, just as it was all coming together, we were terrified that again our family would be split up and Cathy would need to leave the U.S.   We were devastated.

Although we kept up a good front for the children, we were worried sick and struggling to find a solution that would keep Cathy in the U.S. legally and more importantly, keep our family together.    Cathy admitted to “sometimes screaming inside with distress”  at this unbelievable situation.  The children were unaware of the awful circumstances and like most parents we didn’t share our worries or the uncertainties that we faced.  We wanted to protect our children and not cause them to worry.  We put on a good face, and kept the struggles over Cathy’s visa to conversations when the children were not around.

We started to realize how serious the matter was. We felt we had to make plans, but what? We had uprooted ourselves from Boulder to move to Texas and start over so that Cathy could find work that would sponsor her for a visa. Now we did not know where to turn.  We could not fathom leaving the U.S.  We did not want to increase the instability for our children. We started to get legal advice. Appealing the denial was futile, it seemed. We were running out of time.

We decided to move back to our home in Colorado.   Cathy had contemplated going back to college but seeking a student visa came with it a high risk of denial.  She would have to leave the U.S. without any guarantee of getting back in.  We were scared.  For Cathy this experience felt like she had been stripped of any rights that the work visa provided, and for us as a family we were placed at the mercy of a government agency against which we felt powerless.   Cathy looked for someone to petition for another H-1B work visa but to no avail.

Cathy and I travelled to Council Bluffs, Iowa and married on the May 23, 2012. We chose Iowa because neither Texas (our home at the time) nor Colorado (where we have now returned), did not allow same-sex couples to marry.   It was a very special day that allowed us as a couple to declare publicly what we had already declared in private six years prior: our love and commitment to each other.  Shortly after, we joined The DOMA Project and I filed a green card petition for Cathy as my spouse.  We have joined the other families and couples who, like us, demand our marriages to be valued, respected and treated equally by the federal government for all purposes including immigration.

Now back in Colorado, we try and plan for our family’s future while the green card case proceeds takes its course.  The children are delighted to be here and excited about all our future adventures.  We are going to continue to work hard to achieve our American dream. All we want is the chance to enjoy the wonderful life we have built so far as a family.   After all is there anything more important to fight for?  As an American citizen I believe I have an obligation to myself and to my country to challenge the status quo. I cannot stand by as my wife is treated like she is nothing but a perfect stranger.

It’s exhausting being put in situations that you don’t want, you make the best of them while you can but you get to the point that you want to take your life back and plan it the way you dream it, just like everyone else.   Please if you are reading this write to your local government official and urge them to right this wrong.  Our Family, like many others out there, needs your help.

Because of DOMA we had to go to great lengths and expense to provide a modicum of stability for our children that every parent would want.  Because of DOMA we have not been able to live where we chose, or bring our children up where we chose, but we have had to chase a job and a visa that ultimately slipped through our hands.  Because of DOMA we have had to live like nomads to ensure that Cathy remained legal and was able to contribute to the family as is her desire.   Because of DOMA we cannot plan for the future with certainty.  Because of DOMA we now survive on one salary.  Because of DOMA Cathy cannot apply for a driver’s license.  Because of DOMA Cathy cannot advance her career in her chosen profession, nursing.  Because of DOMA we cannot travel as a family and allow our children the advantage of building nurturing relationships with loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.    But these are only some of the hurdles DOMA has created for us.   We have joined the rest of the families fighting DOMA because we recognize the need to fight for our common humanity and to add our voice to the numerous families who are at risk of being split up because of the Obama administration has failed to take any steps to protect us until such time as DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court.  We urge the President to look at his daughters and his wife, and think for a moment what policy he would want enacted if his family was being torn apart.  We urge him to remember his parents, who were a binational couple who could avail themselves of the family unification provisions of our immigration law. There can be no excuse for inaction. No matter how much longer DOMA is with us, every minute that our families are torn apart by this unconstitutional law is a precious moment that we cannot get back.

Defeating DOMA and keeping our family together is a ‘summit’ we will continue to strive for.

Kids clowning around for the camera, Boulder Colorado, August 2011

LISTEN: NPR Interview with Judy Rickard and Lavi Soloway on the Front Lines of the Fight Against DOMA

“We were at a point in the summer of 2010, I really felt that if couples started to tell their stories and didn’t take “no” for an answer but insisted on holding the Immigration Service accountable, requiring the Immigration Service to actually put in writing that it was going to discriminate against them solely because they were gay, that we could begin a dialogue with the government and offer solutions, offer ways to stop families from being torn apart.  We were very successful in the deportation context, and there were several high profile cases involving lesbian and gay couples that would have been torn apart by deportation and the Obama administration stepped in and stopped that from happening. Now we are making the same arguments.  You believe this law is unconstitutional.  You believe also that you have to continue to enforce it so you cannot approve these cases at this time, but you have a third way: to treat each couple with dignity and respect  to treat them like every other couple and to withhold a final decision on their case if it cannot be approved and put it in writing that the only reason it is not being approved is the Defense of Marriage Act, and prepare for a post-DOMA universe where we are all equal under the law.

We are chipping away [at DOMA] because we are forcing an immigration office in San Jose, or an immigration office in Albany, New York to sit down with a gay couple and look at them eye-to-eye and talk to them about their finances, their cohabitation, and their life together and make a record that this is a real marriage. Today those cases cannot be approved, but we never had those interviews before and we are starting to have them.  We never had these conversations before and we are starting to have them. If we don’t step up, if we sit back and wait for something to happen, then I think we are making a mistake, we are treating our own civil rights like a spectator sport. I think you have to roll up your sleeves, and you have to get in there.” – Lavi Soloway

On July 12, Marilyn Pittman interviewed Judy Rickard (author of Torn Apart) and Lavi Soloway on her show, Out in the Bay. (Click on the image above to listen to the broadcast.)

The DOMA Project Welcomes Our Summer Intern, Ethan Gil


Stop the Deportations, Separations, and Exile – The DOMA Project is happy to welcome our new summer intern

Ethan Gil is a graduate of Duke University and is currently a rising second-year law student at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles.  Having immigrated to the United States from South Korea at the age of 6, Ethan draws inspiration from his personal experience, as well as his enduring advocacy for LGBT rights.

An undergraduate education in Political Theory jumpstarted Ethan’s interest in providing legal services to those underrepresented segments of the population who are most in need.  He hopes to direct his passionate idealism while working on The DOMA Project and contributing to the struggle for equality for the LGBT community.



Janice & Margie: Married Lesbian Couple in North Carolina Fights DOMA to Stay Together With Their Children

Janice and Margie are a married binational couple who have lived together in North Carolina since 2005. They are raising two children together. Here, Janice shares the story of her family fighting to be together as her visa runs out.

Most of us have fond memories of the time we first met the love of our lives. Our story is no exception. In pursuit of the one, I spent some time on online dating sites to no avail. One night, tiring of the pursuit, I decided if no one came online with whom I could talk, I would power down my laptop and watch TV. After a couple of hours, I was about to logoff and reach for the remote when a stranger typed “hi.” I thought about ignoring her as I couldn’t be bothered with another pointless exchange, but something inspired me to say “hello” back. By the time we finished chatting eight hours later, it was 6 a.m!

That was almost eight years ago. That chance online encounter has since evolved into a loving and committed relationship, despite that fact that we were 4,000 miles and five time zones apart. Through many nights of talking for hours on end, we came to know each other’s lives, and we shared our dreams and aspirations. The following March, I came to visit Margie in the United States and realized that I didn’t ever want to be without this woman. When it came time to return to Britain to my family, my job, and my apartment, we felt as though our hearts were being ripped out of our chests not knowing when we would see each other again.

Once I got home, Margie and I resumed our daily ritual of chatting for hours on end. One day, I mentioned casually that I had always wanted to go back to college. Margie suggested that I come to the U.S. to study here. After some research we realized that this would achieve two goals: I could pursue a new career and we could finally be together. In October, I made a short trip to see Margie and visit the college I would be attending. I was full of anticipation for my studies, but I was excited, too, because I would be experiencing this new chapter in my life alongside the woman I loved. I gave up my apartment in London, packed all my belongings and moved to the United States in December 2005 on a student visa.

Today, I hold an Associate’s Degree in Web Technologies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science; however, my proudest accomplishment is the life that Margie and I have built together. Margie’s children have become mine. They see me as their second mom, who loves and supports them. Her parents, New Yorkers who are in their late sixties and early seventies, treat me as if I was their daughter. Anyone who knows us can see that we are a typical family, caring for each other through thick and thin, celebrating holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.  But the story, for us, does not end there.  My student visa is about to expire and I have found no way to stay legally in the U.S. with Margie and our kids.  Because we are a lesbian couple, the regular avenues of immigration designed to keep families together are closed off to us.

Janice and Margie on their wedding day

Our savings have been depleted by the cost of my foreign student tuition fees, and my inability to work because of visa restrictions. We were forced to take on student loans so that I could complete my degrees. All the while, Margie has held down two jobs to keep us going, which is more stress and strain than she can bear at times though she never complains. For her, keeping us together is the only acceptable option. Whenever the topic comes up, she says with great conviction, “you are not going anywhere and that’s the end of it!”  but I know that she is as terrified as I am.

Now in our fifties, we are at a time in our lives when we should be able to save and plan for retirement. Instead, I am a middle-aged college graduate forced to maintain my status as student to keep my family together.  As a result, we are faced with a debt that will take 20 years for us to pay off, and I have no guarantee, as my visa expires, that there will be any way for me to stay in the U.S. alongside the woman I love, and our children.

We decided, as a family, to fight back.  On June 21, our extended family gathered with us in Clifton Park, New York where Margie and I were legally married, after almost 8 years together. We would have married sooner, but we feared that this would complicate my obtaining another student visa, if by some slim chance that were even necessary or possible in the future.  So we held off, though we felt married to each other in every way possible.

The brides with Margie’s parents

The day of our wedding was magical. We celebrated all that we have, before the people we love most in the world. We experienced the joy of newlyweds embarking on the next chapter of life together and of a lesbian couple finally able to participate in a rite that so many others take for granted. We fought back tears of happiness as we exchanged our vows and as our family watched on, fighting back their own tears that we were finally able to become the married couple we had long felt we already were in so many ways. It was a scorching hot day, but we didn’t care. We were now married, and that’s all that mattered. After the ceremony we took more photos, and my father-in-law and mother-in-law treated us all to a wonderful meal at an Italian restaurant. My father-in-law then surprised us by booking a room for us at a gorgeous hotel for our wedding night. We were very spoiled by our family that day. The whole week was full of celebration, and we realized just how much our marriage meant to our entire extended family. I don’t think my Margie’s mom has come down off of cloud nine yet!

In our home state of North Carolina, 61% of voters recently approved a hateful constitutional amendment to forbid us from marrying. We feel forced to hide who we are. There is no way to describe how it feels to deny your own existence, spinning yet another tale about how we are just friends who just live together. We are afraid that Margie would lose her job if her employer found out she was gay, because of course there is no protection against such discrimination. This is a matter of survival as her job supports the four of us, and has kept me in the country.

All we want is the same protection provided by the immigration law to other couples in our situation. Margie and I are married, I am her wife. We should be able to file a green card petition and that petition should be approved. Our love for each other and for our children is no different than that of any other married couple.

A happy family photo

© The DOMA Project

Attorney advertising

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.