Dana and Donna Are Happily Married, But an Expiring Work Visa Propels Them to Fight DOMA For a Green Card
I, Dana, am your typical California girl. I grew up on the Central Coast, went to college in San Francisco and Los Angeles for Film Production and ended up working in Animation after graduating. I’ve been in the Animation Industry ever since, and I’m now proudly working at Disney Feature Animation in Burbank, California.
On the other side of the globe, Donna grew up in the small town of Perth in Western Australia. Like many young Australians, she ventured off to Europe for backpacking adventures when she was in her early twenties. As a citizen of the commonwealth, she enjoyed certain privileges that allowed her to remain for a time in the U.K. She settled in London to live, work and study for several years. On returning in Australia, she established a successful design business and her interest in animation led her to a 2D animation traineeship with Disney Australia, just before the studio closed its doors in 2006. Disappointing as that was, life had more adventures in store for Donna. With one door closed, another opened. In this case, that door led Donna to Los Angeles.
In 2009, Donna came to Los Angeles as an employee of the Australian company where she worked as Design & Marketing Director. She secured an E-3 visa (a professional work visas for Australians) which gave her two years in the country. As she settled in to this new chapter in her life, our dire economic conditions in the U.S. made it very difficult for her company to bring its product to market. Slowly, that employment opportunity melted away. Donna realized that to stay in the U.S. meant she must find other employment-based sponsorship, and with the economic downturn it was extremely difficult.
But as a result of Donna’s move to L.A. both of our lives changed irrevocably. We met one night at a popular Hollywood nightclub in 2010. We were immediately drawn to each other on multiple levels, dated for a while and soon became a committed couple. Our friends started referring to us as “the Double D’s” which we both thought was pretty funny.
We have found over these past three years that we have many other things in common, besides our sense of humor: values, morals and tastes. We enjoy each other’s company like any couple; falling in love and embarking on a journey together as a couple is so precious and we knew early on that we wanted to be together.
Again and again, we kept stumbling on ways in which we were uncannily similar. For instance, we are particularly stuck up when it comes to good coffee – we don’t go for just any bean on the shelf! We love good movies, mostly independent films and strong character stories. We both love to eat healthy home cooked food. Donna is a vegetarian and I am not, but I love vegetables (especially kale). We also share a love for animation. Donna has more of the artistic appreciation and eye for it, and I work on the production side of things. I was actually considering moving into another industry until I met Donna. Her love of the art inspired me to stay in animation. We also love lazy Sundays – lying around and reading, watching movies, just hanging with our “kids” (we have two cats: Dante and Simba).
Over time, it became clear that we wanted to spend our lives together and that meant, for us, that we wanted to get married. No longer able to do so in California, and unwilling to wait for the freedom to marry to return to our homestate, we flew to New York and tied the knot. We didn’t have a lot of time off from work, so it was a whirlwind trip. It coincided with some good friends being there at the same time, so they were able to be a part of our small ceremony, which made the day very special. We had such a wonderful and memorable time, shopping for our wedding rings the day after we arrived, having fun with our friends while waiting for our number to be called at the county clerk’s office. When we came back to LA, we had a luncheon celebration with the family and friends here that couldn’t be part of our special day in New York. Afterwards, something had changed for the better. We felt the strength of the commitment that we had made to each other and we felt supported by our family and friends. And yet, the reality was slowly descending on us, that our love, our commitment and our marriage meant nothing in the eyes of my own government.
Donna and I have a wonderful life together, but it is tainted with uncertainty and fear. Because of DOMA, which defines marriage as only that between a man and a woman, the federal government does not recognize our marriage. Even though we are considered lawfully married in the state of New York (and thankfully eight other states which now allow same-sex marriage) we are still not considered a legitimate couple by the U.S. government. We are in fact nothing more than room mates or even strangers to each other under DOMA. And this is not just about the insult and outrage of being treated like your love does not exist, that you are a second class citizen, while of course paying the same taxes and following the same rules as all other Americans. This is also about some very practical needs that we have which are denied to us because the federal government refuses to recognize our marriage. Paramount among these needs, is the need for us to be able to remain together in the United States, i.e. for me to be able to sponsor Donna for a green card. Why is this so important? With Donna’s expiring visa and no green card, she faced the choice between remaining illegally or leaving.
We could not allow our marriage to be destroyed by an anti-gay law from 1996 called, perversely, “The Defense of Marriage Act.” We decided to fight back. I filed a green card petition for Donna and we joined The DOMA Project where Donna had been volunteering some of her design talents in the past year.
Unfortunately, sooner than expected, our green card application was denied with a rude and anachronistic letter stating that it could not be approved because we are both women. It means that Donna does not have a legal status in the US: she cannot apply for jobs, she cannot get her drivers license renewed, we cannot travel, she could get deported if she does not leave voluntarily.
Why is this happening?
The President, the Attorney General and eight federal courts have said this law is unconstitutional. Why not simply hold off on denying our green card petition at least until all the processing is done, an interview takes place and the Supreme Court issues its final ruling on DOMA? Why rush to slam us with a denial letter? Nothing could have reminded me of my status as a second-class citizen than a letter in black and white telling me for the first time in my life “Lesbians need not apply.” It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. And it made us both more determined than ever to continue to fight for what is right.
Like many other binational couples in the same situation, it is difficult for us to survive financially on just one income. The emotional struggles of not knowing what will happen and the frustration of not being able secure employment for Donna puts extra pressure on us as a couple. Donna has applied for jobs in the U.S. Prospective employers tend to give her a warm reception (“you’d be a great fit for the job”), only to later tell her that they would not sponsor her for a visa and that they would only hire her if she already had a green card.
Occasionally, we are asked why we bother to stay in the United States when we could move to Australia instead (Australia has more progressive laws that have permitted immigration of same-sex partners since the 1990s). And the truth is that we have considered all possibilities. But this is our home. I am an only child with aging parents and Donna has two brothers to take care of her parents back home. We want to live in America, and it is our right to make this choice based on our personal needs and preferences. We should not be forced into exile because we are a gay couple. I feel a very strong responsibility to be close to my small family here and Donna respects that. My family is her family, and we are not about to allow DOMA tear us all apart.
We want to keep building our life together. We want to buy a house, to travel the world. To adopt beagles that have been rescued from testing laboratories! I am an American citizen who deserves the right to have the woman I love and to secure for my wife the same legal status as any other person who immigrates based on marriage. Why am I being denied that right? Why are we being denied the basic right to love one another and build a life together? We can stop this by joining forces with each other and demanding that the Obama administration stop denying our green card petitions.
We want our petition to be fully adjudicated, with a green card interview just like opposite sex couples. We want this government to observe the reality, that the Supreme Court will settle DOMA’s fate once and for all very soon, and in the meantime we should not have to suffer trying to make ends meet on one salary, while Donna remains here without legal status. That is a violation of my constitutional rights as an American citizen, as both the President and the Attorney General have said. But it is not enough to say it. We must take action now: hold all green card cases in “abeyance” until a final judicial resolution by the Supreme Court. Protect couples like us now by granting temporary lawful status as pending green card applicants.
Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President. We need to see you take some action within the broad discretionary powers of the executive branch to help us survive the present and build a future together. We deserve no less.