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


  • FeistyAmazon

    Your story touches my heart. My partner and I legally married in California twice: once in 2004 during the ‘Winter of Love’ waiting in line for 8 hours at San Francisco City Hall, which 6 months later, all 4000 of those marriages were annulled by the State, and then again in 2008, two weeks before Prop 8 passed. Fortunately with all the legal wrangling, the State Supreme Court allowed our marriages to stand, but they also allowed Prop 8 to stand too. It is being fought against as well.

    Even though I live in California with my Dyke spouse, Boulder, CO. is my adopted home town, where my family moved to in 1972, and I lived in till I moved here to the California Bay Area in ’84 for my sexual freedom. I came out as a Lesbian in Boulder in 1981. My family still lives in Boulder and I visit it every year or so…my heart is very fond of Boulder and I miss it, so your story is literally ‘close to home’. Also my mother who lived there till she died, was a nurse.

    I am glad you have found the love of your life, and given your children a happy home. Obama could so easily freeze that law and it’s enforcement, where you could both live together without fear of deportation.We must keep moving forward in the struggle for all binational Lesbian and Gay couples, as well as the overall marriage equality struggle and I’ve known too many out here in CA who are going through these very same issues.

    For many years we’ve marched for Marriage Equality at the SF Pride Parade and supported all the Marriage Equality actions happening here. It ALWAYS includes those also who are binational couples as well! We must keep agitating for change so we all can love the person we choose and keep her in our lives, like any heterosexual can do. If Barney Frank can marry the man of his dreams, so should every Lesbian couple be able to raise their children and have a happy home where caring and love reigns.
    -With all my Support and deep connections to Boulder,

    July 23, 2012
  • scott vickery-gilheany

    Saddens my heart to read this and to think couples who have vested so much for their families can have it taken away from the ignorance and intolerance of others. My husband and I married in 2006 before the adoption of our three children. Even though we are both citizens it still can be very hard to raise a family when so many do not reconize us as s family. My husband lost his job of 18 years because our family unit was never acknowledged, he put up with a lot and missed a lot to keep his job which at the first chance they had they let him go. You’re family is in our thoughts and prayers and I do hope Dome ends this ridiculous treatment of couples just because they chose to love someone of the opposite sex and not able to keep them in the country.

    July 23, 2012
  • Thank you so much for sharing your moving story about your loving family. Like you my wife and I are cruelly separated from our family. We live 5,00 miles away from our family in the USA – my 83-year-old mother, siblings and 7 nieces and nephews. We miss seeing the kids grow up and being in their lives on a daily basis. We travel whenever we can, but it is not a substitute for being their for my mother in her elderly years. Like you we are asking for our family to be reunited.

    July 23, 2012
  • Janice

    Congratulations on your marriage ladies! Margie & I wish you both much love and happiness.
    All our stories may vary somewhat in the particulars from each other, but they are very much the same in that they are all about loving, committed couples who wish to live out their lives together in a country that they love and with the family that they love. This makes us no different to any opposite-sex couple and their family who benefit from the more than 1100 benefit offered to said married couples.
    We wish you both lots of luck and success for the future. We will win this fight!

    By the way…….your children are beautiful. You must be so proud of them.

    Janice & Margie.

    July 24, 2012
  • Holly H

    Really a beautiful story. I love to read about stories similar to mine, although your story seems a lot more adventurous. My partner is from Mexico. We met when were 15 years old during a school exchange program. We remained friends for a long time until we one day realized we were in love with one another and decided to take things to the next step. The last two years have been an uphill battle of trying to visit one another. I’ll go to Mexico for a week or two and then she’ll come to the U.S. for the same time. We see each other about every three months or so. Since DOMA is in affect, we aren’t planning on staying here in the U.S. Instead, Mexico City allows for gay marriages so we are planning on starting a life there. Although I love the Mexican culture and lifestyle, I am also a disabled veteran of the Air Force and it will be hard to not be around other veterans, and get the health care that I know I will need. Canada is an option for us, but she only knows a limited amount of English, so Mexico will have to be our starting point. Anyways, I’m glad to be able to share stories with all of you. I wish everyone the best of luck, and the most important thing is to be able to have the children taken care of. I pray for you and your family. God Bless!

    July 29, 2012
  • Beth

    Such a beautiful family, your children deserve stability. Hopefully DOMA will be just a memory soon. I think if straight people can marry, cheat, divorce and repeat then the bigots need to rethink what damages marriage. Best of luck from a straight ally.

    March 23, 2013
  • [...] The U.S. government denied Cathy’s second work visa earlier this year, however—meaning she would have to leave the U.S. The couple decided to work with the DOMA Project and file a green-card petition for Cathy as Catriona’s spouse. They are awaiting the outcome. Read more of their family story here. [...]

    June 25, 2013

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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.