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

3 comments


  • elai

    Love the story…. i hope this yr the law change so that i can petetion my girl

    October 11, 2012
  • Gloria Anderson

    We must take up THE DOMA PROJECT. It breaks my heart that these two wonderful men aren’t treated like any married couple and are forced to live in exile.
    Justice and Equality for all.

    One heartbroken mother, Gloria Anderson.

    October 12, 2012
  • Mission Impossible

    We are in a similar situation, my partner is American, I’m from Argentina we are living in Cordoba, since the U.S. gov.does NOT recognize our legal marriage here in Argentina.

    October 13, 2012

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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.