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.

8 comments


  • Jess and Diego,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. As I read your story it brings tears to my eyes and pain to my entire body. Good Luck on your quest and I hope DOMA is repealed soon.

    October 23, 2012
  • Donald Henderson

    Keep the faith. Things will change soon. Thank you for sharing your story and thanks for joining the DOMA Project

    October 23, 2012
  • Adélia Almeida

    Diego and Jeff, I am Brazilian and my husband is Portuguese. He came to Brazil, here we got married and we are building our lives, six years ago. Because of my personal experience, I know how much it is vital for the existence of a legal basis in the country that makes rights: permanence, access to employment, social assistance. I understand also that this support, within the framework of the law, should be guaranteed to all couples, whether they are heterosexual (as is my case) or homosexual (as is the relationship of you), do not and, therefore, the State must be secular, institutionalize prejudices and exclusions, on the basis of religious options. So, identify, in the fight that you embrace, the quest for building a world in which every person has the right to be different, humanly and socially equal. In this sense, even distant, sending my solidarity and that the force required to fight never lacking. A strong hug. Note: If you wish, we could keep in touch by email or facebook.
    ..

    October 24, 2012
  • Elian

    Jess and Diego, we have similar stories. My J-1 expire on December 31rst and I cannot find jobs in LA. I’m applying for all USA because at least my bf can fly to see me. But it has been hard. The another possibility will be to go to brazil and get married there since he can obtain his Brazilian passport. In this way will be easier to him to get a job there. It will also be easier to him to come to visit his family than I stay illegal in the USA. Move one…. Go to Brazil… Get married there…. Start a new life with him and when DOMA expire, go to the consulate and validate ur marriage there.
    Meus melhores pensamentos pra voces dois! To na torcida!

    October 24, 2012
  • Victoria

    Jeff….

    You are one of a kind. The type of person who comes around only once in a life time. You deserve all the happiness in the world, so when I found out that you had found Diego I was truly over joyed. Then when I found out that you had gotten married it felt like Christmas.

    I love knowing that you have someone who loves you just as much as you love them.

    The love that you have for Diego is the same type of love I have for my husband and that type of love is hard to come by, if ever even found.

    It hurts my hurt that you my not be able to wake up next to eachother. If there is anything I can do to help I and my husband will. I am so sorry that your love story is at a halt. I am ready to fight with you for you (and Diego too), just let me know when and where and I’m there.

    October 29, 2012
  • Daniel Zavala

    Guys I am so happy to read your story and to know you are joining the movement towards marriage equality. Be confident, involve your friends and families and we will make it together.

    Our best blessings!,

    Daniel and Yohandel

    November 2, 2012
  • Brian Cain

    My husband and I are in a similar but more difficult situation. I am a US citizen and he is a Mexican citizen. He can not visit the US so I must travel there to see him as often as I can, usually every 7-8 weeks. He applied for a tourist visa so that he could come here to see me in the US, his future home with me. He was denied. So we sit, and we wait. I am extremely disappointed with our immigration process. We only wanted a tourist visa for visits across both borders until something more permenant could be achieved. They only wanted to know how much money he made, nothing more. Since it was below what they thought someone should make to travel here they denied him, even though I would finance the visits.

    We are legally married in Mexico, but here in the US…I’m single under the law. I hope and pray for all of us, not only he and I, that one day we will be equal citizens in this land. Good luck to all of us.

    November 30, 2012
  • Jen

    Jeff and Diego! I love your story so much and I know how much love you have for each other. I met you guys last year on New Years and you two are so amazing together and as individuals. I wish so much for you two. I hope it will work out so beautifully for you. I had tears in my eyes reading this. Love is all that matters in this world!

    January 5, 2013

Leave a comment


Name*

Email(will not be published)*

Website

Your comment*

Submit Comment

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.

© 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.