Newlyweds Jeff and Diego Fight DOMA For a Future Together

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

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

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

Celebrating Christmas with Diego and my mother.

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

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

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

A wintry day at the beach.

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

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

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

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

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

Wedding Day October 12, 2012 in New York City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edie Windsor, DOMA Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thea and Edie

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

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

Married But Unequal: Fighting Back Against the Indignity of DOMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher and Alejandro Marry in Tierra Del Fuego, But Are Forced to Live in Exile Because of DOMA

Alejandro and I met in Santiago, Chile, on March 5, 2007, after two previous missed encounters.  We had both been living in the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago at the tip of South America where we worked as ecologists.  We even both studied the same thing – invasive exotic species.  However, Alejandro was from the Argentine side, and I was working in the Chilean portion of the region.  We had previously visited one another’s research centers in Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, respectively, but by chance when these visits occurred we were never in the same place at the same time.  This series of missed encounters ended when we both participated in a Latin American conservation course organized in Santiago.

Christopher & Alejandro – after the wedding, overlooking Beagle Channel

Alejandro and I met in Santiago, Chile, on March 5, 2007, after two previous missed encounters.  We had both been living in the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago at the tip of South America where we worked as ecologists.  We even both studied the same thing – invasive exotic species.  However, Alejandro was from the Argentine side, and I was working in the Chilean portion of the region.  We had previously visited one another’s research centers in Ushuaia and Puerto Williams, respectively, but by chance when these visits occurred we were never in the same place at the same time.  This series of missed encounters ended when we both participated in a Latin American conservation course organized in Santiago.

Looking back now after five years, it seems amazing that from the time we first laid eyes on one another until the time we became a couple only took about a week. Since then, we have had to “fight” to remain a couple.  This was not only because I am a U.S. citizen, and he is not; our first challenge was more mundane. We had to manage a long-distance relationship in one of the most remote corners in the world.  Alejandro was finishing his Ph.D. when we met, and I had recently finished my own.  Therefore, he had little choice but to continue his work in Argentina.  Fortunately, I had more flexibility in my job to be able to visit him regularly. Even so, our time together for the first two and a half years of our relationship was only an average of one week per month.  Most often, I would travel from Chile to Argentina on a 12 hour bus ride across Tierra del Fuego, but occasionally he would be able to come visit me.

Wedding party at Ushuaia Nautical Club

In 2009, I was offered a job to coordinate a binational program between two universities in the U.S. and Chile, and we were particularly excited because there was even the option for Alejandro to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the U.S. university, thereby allowing him to obtain a coveted H1B visa.  It seemed like a dream come true that we could make a life for ourselves in the U.S. together.  However, Alejandro was kept from defending his Ph.D. dissertation for another year and a half through no fault of his own.  The result was that by the time he finished his Ph.D., the program I had been hired to create had fallen on hard times, and Alejandro could not get a job in the U.S.  No job meant no visa.  Our only solution was untenable in the long run, as Alejandro was forced to leave the U.S. every three months, spending up to six more months in Argentina before being allowed to return to the U.S. as a “tourist.”  As so many binational couples find, it is soul crushing to be forced to be apart from the love of your life for months at a time and to be grateful for the precious days he is “allowed” to visit.

So, 2011 found us at a stage where we had to determine our professional and personal futures. Even though Argentina had legalized marriage equality in 2010, we had put any consideration of getting married on hold until we knew what our work and financial situation would be like. Then, while attending a cousin’s wedding, we realized we could not allow other people or unfortunate circumstances dictate our lives, and somewhat impetuously decided to get married on our next visit to Tierra del Fuego over the winter break in the U.S.

“Family” identification certificate after wedding
“Family” identification certificate after wedding

We were wed in Ushuaia, Argentina on January 6, 2012.  Interestingly, Ushuaia was the first place in Latin America to celebrate a same sex marriage in 2009.  That first wedding occurred before the formal legal change to marriage equality in Argentina, thanks in part to the courage of the provincial governor who authorized the ceremony and took a courageous stand against the injustice of anti-gay discrimination.  On our wedding day, we became the first binational couple to take advantage of that reform in Tierra del Fuego. Our wedding was attended by about 50 friends, mostly from Tierra del Fuego.  Only a few friends from Buenos Aires and Alejandro’s mother could make the trip; sadly, no one from the U.S. was able to attend due to the high costs and great distance.

Outside the courthouse in Ushuaia, Argentina (6 Jan 2012)

As everyone knows, despite being legally married in Argentina, the U.S. does not recognize or validate our marriage because we are two men, meaning Alejandro cannot get a visa.  For this reason, we were forced to move back to South America.  Recently, we have taken jobs in Argentina.  Alejandro will work as a research coordinator for southern Patagonian national parks, and I have a job as a professor at National University of Tierra del Fuego.  We are happy with these decisions, as the professional and personal opportunities provided to us by Argentina are significant, including plans to adopt a child in the coming year.  At the same time, we are sad and hurt that my government’s policies of injustice make this a decision we are actually forced to take, rather than simply one we want to take.  It means that my family and friends were not only denied the joy of being with us in the celebration of our love, but it also means that we are forced into a kind of “exile” that, in spite of our best efforts to the contrary, leads to a lessening of the richness of the relationship we might otherwise have with my family and friends in the U.S.

Pelted with rice after wedding

In this way, the consequences of injustice go beyond our own status as a couple and affect the broader network of personal and professional relationships we have in the U.S.  We perhaps never fully realized the insidious nature of injustice.  It is truly something that not only has affected our lives, but also the very fabric of our community and nation.  It is hard to accept that so much control over such important decisions in our lives ultimately rests on prejudicial laws or the vagaries of getting the right job for Alejandro to be able to obtain a visa.  It is not mere rhetoric that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. We see that very clearly now.

Our hope is that your initiative and other efforts are successful at eliminating DOMA; our regret is that we cannot help by directly taking this cause on as our own from the U.S., since to maintain our relationship and lives we are now required to be elsewhere.  As I see it, though, the ultimate question comes down to whether folks will decide to be the “Bull Connors” of history, unleashing fire hoses and attack dogs on the drive of equality, or whether they will embrace what seems to be an increasingly more just society?  The clarity of the moral, as well as the legal basis of what is stake should be clear.  In the best way possible, we will continue here and abroad to be witnesses for justice and human dignity.  In the meantime, love and respect can be our testament to what is right, which with hard work we are convinced will win the hearts and minds of people of good will.  Our own experience has already shown that.  With small and large acts of kindness and bravery, our own family and acquaintances give us hope that not only hearts and minds, but also laws will change; we have already seen too much of that to not believe it will continue.  The question ultimately becomes the side of history that folks will fall on.

With great respect and admiration for the work of The DOMA Project, we are,

Dr. Christopher B. Anderson & Dr. Alejandro Valenzuela

On the Beagle Channel

VICTORY! DHS Issues Written Guidance to Stop Deportations of the Spouses and Partners of Gay and Lesbian Americans

We learned today that on October 5, the Principal Legal Advisor to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency issued long-awaited written guidelines (attached below) clarifying that prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued by the agency in June 2011 to protect families from being separated by deportations in low-priority cases, would, in fact, include same-sex couples. The written guidance began to circulate today and was first reported on by the media this evening.

Statement from Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project co-founder, attorney Lavi Soloway:

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

“For the first time ever, the federal government has put in writing a policy to protect gay and lesbian couples who are threatened with deportation by explicitly including same-sex couples in the definition of “family relationships,” putting it beyond doubt that gay and lesbian couples are eligible for favorable acts of discretion when subject to removal.

Since the summer of 2010, a group of determined gay and lesbian binational couples have organized and fought for this policy as a central part of our “Stop the Deportations, Separations and Exile” campaign. This is a tremendous moment for our community, and an especially important illustration of how those affected by our nation’s discriminatory immigration laws have, through their own acts of courage, made a change possible. This is trickle-up, grass roots activism at its best.

This guidance is a big win for all lesbian and gay couples seeking to end the catastrophic consequences of the Defense of Marriage Act.

We are grateful that the Obama administration has finally issued written guidelines that bi-national same-sex couples can invoke when fighting deportations in court. Our law firm, Masliah & Soloway, as part of this pro bono campaign, continues to represent numerous same-sex couples in immigration courts around the country who are facing imminent deportation, and, thanks to this document, we can help many more couples from being torn apart.

Specifically, this guidance helps clarify that foreign-national spouses and partners of gay and lesbian Americans are now protected from deportation. This new guidance will help bring an end to the confusion caused by the contradictory signals the administration had been sending: that DOMA precluded the recognition or even the acknowledgement of married lesbian and gay bi-national couples who were facing deportation, and the fact that these couples are same-sex partners who constitute families that should not be broken apart.

The foundation of this policy is an inclusive definition of family and a statement of principle that LGBT families deserve protection. It is evidence that the Obama administration is able to develop innovative, interim remedies to protect gay and lesbian Americans who fear being torn apart from the person that they love. This policy is a great start. We now must continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security to open up “humanitarian parole” to bring all the gay and lesbian Americans and their partners back from exile and reunite all same-sex binational couples. The administration should also provide immediate relief and protection for those gay and lesbian binational couples in the United States, by accepting the green card petitions and putting their adjudication on hold until the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of DOMA.

Download Policy Memo PDF

Download (PDF, 132KB)

For more information about this policy or The DOMA Project, contact us at [email protected]

The DOMA Project Keeps Up the Fight to End Deportations, Separation and Exile of Binational Couples

Twenty-seven months ago, in July 2010, we launched The DOMA Project to refocus the fight for binational couples around DOMA. By 2010, we had worked for more than seventeen years on this issue, and we believed that the timing was right to embark on a strategic reframing of these issues around DOMA. Our goals were: first, defeating DOMA in the court of public opinion (and thus contribute to its demise whether legislatively or by courts) and secondly, most importantly, to develop, advocate, and see the implementation of interim remedial policies that would to end the deportations, separations and exile of binational couples.

The DOMA Project campaign was launched by our boutique immigration law firm (founded by two gay immigrants) that has long been prominently involved the leadership of the fight for binational couples, and has committed significant resources to fighting for Marriage Equality. Almost twenty years ago we founded Immigration Equality and in the late 1990s we helped write the legislation now known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) that is currently pending in Congress.  Since launching The DOMA Project two years ago we have dedicated our personal and professional time and energy and donated thousands of hours of pro bono legal services. We have also built a team of volunteers and engaged hundreds of binational couples on the front-lines of this grass roots campaign.

The courageous founding couples that joined this campaign in 2010 led an unprecedented national advocacy campaign that finally resulted in the tremendous victory: written policy to stop the DOMA deportations just a week ago. Before we launched The DOMA Project, binational couples did not have the support and resources to organize a fight against “DOMA Deportations.”

We have filed and continue to fight for fiancée visa petitions, humanitarian parole, and every policy initiative that will return our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from exile to their American families.

None of our campaign’s work is severable; our mission is about telling our stories, and winning policy changes that end the catastrophic impact DOMA has on our marriages, our families and our communities.  Our campaign staff’s and volunteers’ personal experiences as lesbian and gay immigration attorneys, lesbian and gay immigrants, and as binational couples ourselves, inform every aspect of our work. None of this work is independent of any other aspect of this work. Every success is equally important, inextricably linked and mutually supportive of all three primary areas of focus (deportation, separation and exile).

Since July 2010, we have teamed with numerous organizations such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against DefamationLambda Legal, Freedom to MarryGetEqualGay & Lesbian Advocates & DefendersOut4Immigration, and many others to fight for policies that protect our families and keep us together until DOMA is relegated to the dustbin of history. We have developed a tremendously successful partnership with the DeVote Campaign to tell the stories of binational couples through video vignettes which are being produced as we speak and wil be rolled out in the coming weeks.  We are engaged in an exhaustive, multi-prong effort to empower binational couples and give us a platform to tell our stories as part of making change happen: for those in the U.S., those abroad, and those separated.

We do not believe in sitting on the sidelines or resting on one victory, though each hard fought win to save a couple from being torn apart should be honored and celebrated. We do not believe the fight for social justice and civil rights can be a spectator sport.  We work hard to ensure that we maintain a relentlessly positive and respectful campaign for change, in which we assume our own equality, and fight laws and policies.  It is not our goal to build another organization with lasting infrastructure. We are collaborators who eagerly generate innovative policy solutions and creative legal strategies. We are careful about the terminology we use in this endeavor, because we cannot be empowered if we are unable to articulate a clear message. We respect and honor every couple’s different experience when impacted by DOMA in this context.  With our extremely limited resources, we have built a platform that has brought these stories to a worldwide audience and to the highest levels of our government. And change is happening.

But our work depends on individuals stepping forward to make change happen. This campaign is a campaign of stories of empowerment, of lived experiences, and of our voices. It is not a campaign built on criticism of one tactic over another and it is not a campaign that has any hierarchy of suffering. We are all in this together to achieve change for all our families.

We urge anyone who wants to support our work or get involved to contact us at [email protected]. We cannot achieve our goals without your financial support. The volunteers, including the attorneys, have donated the most, but we need everyone who can contribute to give what they can. Donations are tax deductible and go to our fiscal sponsor 501c3 organization the Love Honor Cherish Foundation which in turn dispenses the funds raised, dollar for dollar, to The DOMA Project. We have logged thousands of volunteer hours this year.  Many couples participating in The DOMA Project contribute financially to help fund to their own legal challenges and all get directly involved in our advocacy, but the value of this legal work cannot be fully realized unless we are also able to cover the our of pocket costs involved in our cases and our advocacy, and have sufficient resources to involve as many couples as possible. Please help us making a donation today.

Nancy & Teri are Separated by DOMA, Unable to Plan Future. “We are just two souls that found each other and fell in love”


Nancy and Teri

My name is Nancy and I have been in a binational relationship now for over six years with my lovely British partner, Teri. We are not college-educated, or famous, or rich. We are just two souls that found each other and fell in love.

I met Teri in April of 2006, a wonderful woman who made my heart skip a beat and took my breath away. A mutual friend asked that I meet Teri in France and we would drive together from the coast. I had been traveling in Europe at the time, and had no idea that I would be meeting the woman who would change my life forever. We immediately clicked, I don’t know how else to explain it. We could talk to one another, be open with one another, care for one another in a way that neither of us had shared with another person. Our love and affection was immediate, mutual, effortless and came so naturally to the two of us. I knew after a very short time that I had met my soul mate, and I proposed to Teri in her living room in the U.K. six weeks after we first met. That was almost six and a half years ago. I never dreamed that a simple act of falling in love with another human being would be turned into a struggle by the laws of my own government.

But our time together has been plagued by worry and fear many times. During our first trip to England while traveling through France, I was detained and questioned for hours by an immigration officer. The officer spoke very flippantly to her supervisor about me and Teri. Our relationship was classified as a “love in.” She did not feel I had enough money, and did not believe I would leave the country. I was denied entry. I was then detained for another five hours by the UK Immigration for the French police. When they had no interest in me, I was released. While I was being detained Teri waited on the docks in the cold night air. We had, at the time, made arrangements to fly to Texas from the U.K, but now I could not enter. Teri had to take a boat trip home to get packed and meet me back France so we could make our way to Paris to fly back to Texas the first of many trips Teri would make to the US over the next six years.

I have been lucky enough to be able to go to England a few times since then, but each time I go to England I am detained and questioned, and Teri has had to endure the same when she comes to the US. We are both anxious at the thought of having to deal with immigration on either side of our trip. Everything depends on the person you end up standing in front of, and their mood. They do not care what pain they may cause and I actually think some of them get a thrill from this power.

We have known pretty much every year that between us we can save just enough for a plane ticket for Teri to come to the U.S. for a single visit. During one of the times she was questioned by the border officials, Teri was told that she has to stay out of the country for nine months before returning, or they would consider her to be living here part-time and that is not allowed.

Nonetheless, rules are rules and laws are laws, and we abide by them regardless of whether we think they are right or wrong. Unfortunately, doing things the right way does not make things easier, only harder. But even though at times we feel like we are fighting a losing battle, I cannot give up on my love for her. We will not silently suffer under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) any longer, and want to share our story, our life, and our love so that this ridiculous and hurtful law will change.

All of our family and friends want nothing more than to see us married and sharing life together, particularly Teri’s ninety-year-old Nan. Her wish is to see us married before she passes. At this time her health is failing, and our hope is to get married before she is gone. However, we are not getting any closer to this happening. I do not live in a state where it is legal to marry, and our finances have made it difficult to marry. In October of 2010, I was laid off from my steady job. I got another job in May of 2011, with the potential to finally make the money we would need to achieve our dreams of a marriage and future together. Sadly, that job was short-lived. I have been out of work since September, 2011. Suffering in this economy has made Teri’s and my regular visits even more difficult to arrange, not to mention our plans for marriage. Most days, I am alone in my home looking for work, kept company by my rescued, four-legged, furry son Austin (our pet cat).

Most nights I cannot sleep well because I miss Teri. I cry a lot out of anger and frustration because I am unable to do more than I have already done. I am not getting any younger. I face daily health issues, but I go on every day and keep fighting because I know Teri loves me and we share the same wants and dreams of being legally married and sharing a life together. We just hope it is before we are too old to be able to enjoy any of it.

Staying in contact when the love of your life is separated by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is difficult. We text each other many times each day. At first we exchanged daily phone calls, but now we video call twice a day for hours. When we are together in person, our life is right and extremely happy, but that time is always so limited. As the last few days of her current visit creep up, I feel as if my world grows dark and my tears fall uncontrollably. Teri feels she is abandoning me, and I feel I am forcing her to go. But Teri and I are caught between DOMA and immigration laws. Teri has a number of reasons she must be able to travel back and forth between the U.S. & U.K.: an ailing grandmother, a twin sister, and her mother who is battling cancer. Should anything happen to any of these people, people I consider part of my family too, I do not want her to have to make the choice between being with me or being with her family. This is what a law like DOMA does; it denies families the right to be together.

I have worked hard all my life, paid my taxes and abide by all the laws I am supposed to. I have very few living blood-relatives, but I fortunately have friends in the U.S. who have been my family for years. Now my family is also in England. I keep fighting in hopes that one day Teri will not have to choose which family members we have to leave behind just to be together. I do not want to have my wife to have to choose me over her family. That is not what love is about. And that is why we are fighting DOMA.


© The DOMA Project

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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.