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

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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.

 

Going to Our Green Card Interview: Married Lesbian Couple in San Jose, California Will Prove Their Marriage is “Real” and Fight for Legal “Recognition”

Visiting Los Angeles for book launch and portrait project shoot, May 2011

We should be thrilled! We are finally meeting with our local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in San Jose, California for our long-awaited, much anticipated, green card interview. This is a big moment for us, perhaps more so because, well let’s face it, green card interviews are, and should be, just a routine matter for a married couple like us. After all we’ve been through together since we committed to each other in 2006, we share everything in our lives, and we are as married as any couple. And, more than most, we have certainly fought for this marriage. More than 250,000 Americans sponsor their spouses for green cards and attend these interviews each year.  It is our time.

While we should be excited, we are of very mixed emotions as we near the date of the interview. It isn’t much fun preparing to hear an immigration officer tell you that your marriage counts for nothing, that your marriage certificate is meaningless, that your love and commitment are irrelevant, and finally that your country doesn’t want your wife. We know that rejection here means that Karin loses her right to stay in the United States. We won’t go down without a fight!

When we received the official notice of the interview date (Friday, September 7, 2012), enclosed in the same envelope was a helpful list of suggested documents to bring to the interview. It’s a long list, and it’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like a number, not a person. Birth certificate, check. Passport, check. Marriage license, check. Domestic partner papers, check. Bank statements, check. Three years of taxes with W-2s, check, and more. Yuck! And that’s for me – Karin has her own list of things to bring. We are also putting together a photo album showing the life that we have built and shared together since we committed to each other in 2006. We have added in a few press clippings to remind the officer that we have been involved in a very public advocacy effort to fight for the right just to have this interview in the first place!

Filmed by the DeVote Campaign and The DOMA Project, March 2012

I try to remain optimistic, knowing that working together with The DOMA Project and with many other binational couples, we have brought ourselves just a little closer to being treated equally, like real, living and breathing human beings. After writing Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law (Findhorn Press, 2011), I became more convinced than ever of the extraordinary power that we all have to tell our stories and make our voices heard. Not only can change only come about when we confront and engage the system that is shutting us out, if we remain passive, if we simply wait for change to come, it never will. With this in mind, I am hopeful. And Karin and I so appreciate all those who have shared their stories and joined this fight.

However, I have to admit that I can’t help but feel dehumanized by the oxymoronic task of proving that we are spouses in a real bona fide marital relationship to a government official whose marching orders are not to “recognize” our marriage. Certainly, this officer will recognize it immediately for exactly what it is: a marriage of two loving people, who want to spend the rest of their lives together, just like all other marriages. So there’s the weird reality of not “recognizing” what the eye can so clearly see. The United States government has a way of making me feel icky and I don’t like it. I don’t look forward to being told that my life and my wife don’t measure up, that we are legal strangers to each other in spite of our marriage and that we don’t get 100% of the rights that we should have, even though I pay 100% of the taxes and have 100% of the responsibilities all other American spouses have. It’s not fair and I resent it. And yet, I am looking forward to being in that room and telling my side of the story. This is the first step toward completing a process we hope will eventually result in Karin receiving a green card; and it is what we have been fighting for all these years.

Celebrating our Domestic Partnership on Valentine’s Day 2007

One thing that surprised me was how sweet it was to see the photos Karin was assembling for the meeting. We were told to bring a few photos to show that we knew each other, were involved with each other, that sort of thing. Oh, and that we are married. I am usually not demonstrative, sentimental, that way, but the pictures were a great reminder of what is really at stake here! I have to admit, I teared up seeing pictures of us getting married and celebrating, and also seeing family and friends who shared our joy and are no longer with us. Bittersweet for sure.

I remember how I felt when we decided to marry. It was heady! We had been closely following the efforts of The DOMA Project which started filing green card petitions for gay couples in the summer of 2010. In March 2011, after the President announced that he was no longer defending DOMA, there were a few days filled with media reports about what turned out to be a short-lived “abeyance” that local USCIS offices in Baltimore and Washington, DC had implemented for DOMA-related green card marriage petitions. We took that as a positive development and decided to take the step of getting married. We found a B & B, the town clerk and a justice of the peace in Vermont, then got plane tickets and a rental car. We chose Vermont because the wait from license to marriage was only one day, so we could save money over getting married in the other states with a three-day wait. How romantic, eh? Plus after waiting for so many years to finally push the envelope and fight for that green card, we knew that we wanted to be a part of this battle to the end. Around that time we were interviewed by Thomas Roberts on MSNBC and we told him on national television that we had just run off and got married in Vermont. It was important for us to get the message across that we were not going to simply wait for equality to happen, we were going to make it happen.

Celebrating our marriage with wedding cake in Vermont, April 6, 2011

We laugh now to think of our exploit – rushing to Vermont, eloping, when it looked like things were loosening up for same-sex binational couples. All we could think of then was to get married soon – after being told for years that getting married would cause problems for Karin every time she returned from the United Kingdom on a visitor visa. That all came rushing back to me when I saw us with that slice of cake. When you think of marriage, you can get caught up in money, trappings, things that don’t matter. For me, what matters is Karin. I know she thinks I am what matters. It’s not even about our rings, the paper, the ceremony. We have lived it for years and we know it just by looking in each others’ eyes. Yet getting married in a state where we had never been, with four people there that we had never met, and a stale slice of cake was perfect for us. We knew we were married, and had been. This just made it one step more legal, and soon our collective persistence, demanding full recognition of our marriages will bring an end to DOMA and the catastrophic impact it has had for so many gay and lesbian couples whose families have been torn apart and whose marriages have been destroyed.

Of course Karin and I have considered ourselves “married” all the time we have been together, even before ceremony and formal paperwork. We were married in our hearts when we had to be separated for months at a time while she dutifully obeyed the rules imposed on temporary visitors and returned to England after visiting me in California. She lead her life there while I worked, until one day it just was too much for us. After a nine-month separation, I took early retirement so that Karin and I could be together both in and out of America. It was sad to have my two wonderful retirement parties without her; it was very difficult to do that without my wife. Soon after we reunited in Canada and spent weeks traveling there before we successfully re-entered the U.S. in North Dakota in the summer of 2009.

Later that year and the following years when we were forced to be out of the country together, living as “love exiles,” we were married in our hearts. We didn’t have the kind of marriage that would satisfy Uncle Sam and so we had to follow those general guidelines for visitors: spending six months (if we were lucky) together in America, and six months in exile somewhere in the world. Of course it’s wonderful and exciting and amazing to spend months in another country. We had wonderful family visits and fascinating explorations of Scotland, England, France, Spain and Andorra. But we want to be home together. Like any other couple, we wanted to plan our own trips, to travel and see the world, and to return home when we wanted, but instead we were being forced into an artificial timetable by my own government.   We were driven out of the U.S. for six months at a time, unable to return until we were sure Karin would be permitted to visit again. We will not live like this any more. In retirement, we yearn for tranquility and stability. We want to be left alone to enjoy our golden years together and take care of each other.

Visiting Hadrian’s Wall in England, March 2010

Karin continues to work on our photo album for the green card interview.  I smile and laugh when I see that goofy picture of us sharing a slice of cake from a diner in Vermont that we took to the justice of the peace as our wedding cake. Plastic forks and a paper plate! No napkin…  I cringe, but then grin, when I see myself wearing a flower headpiece and cutting a multi-tiered wedding cake for our tea party celebration September 29, 2007 for our domestic partnership.  So far the pictures of us smashing cake into each others’ faces from the February 14, 2007 domestic partnership event our local LGBT Center held have not surfaced. I think I’m glad for that.

So Karin and I are legally both domestic partners and married spouses, but still we have to cope with the problems caused by Defense of Marriage Act. I try to hold onto my faith in America but it is harder to see the good when so much bad happens to people like us. Husbands fear being torn apart, wives too – and the families with children. It breaks my heart, bruises my soul.

Our immigration lawyer, Lavi Soloway—the architect of this brilliant strategy to confront DOMA and hold government agencies accountable for the harm they cause LGBT families—will attend the green card interview with us. We are so grateful for his counsel and support, his insistence that we empower ourselves, assume our own equality, and, of course, for his innovative legal strategies.

Congressman Mike Honda has been a wonderful ally – going to bat for us this summer by requesting that USCIS hold our case in abeyance before the interview on the grounds that DOMA would be soon resolved by the Supreme Court (USCIS has so far refused to do so). We are thankful for his staff’s dedication to this issue as we again make formal requests for our green card case to be put on hold, with a United States Supreme Court decision expected nine months from now, perhaps sooner.

We are grateful for the support, hard work and creative strategies developed and implemented by Stop the Deportations, Separation and Exiles: The DOMA Project. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway created this campaign to focus like a laser on the impact of DOMA on same-sex binational couples, and our interview is evidence of the incremental success they have achieved. We are lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Brynn Gelbard of the DeVote Campaign whose passion and energy for telling the stories of same-sex binational couples is boundless. We are so thankful for the broad community of binational couples and the organizations that help keep a focus on this issue, including Out4Immigration, Immigration Equality, Love Exiles Foundation and United by Love Portrait Project. Finally, Karin and I will never forget the support and encouragement of Elizabeth Gilbert, a strong ally and the reason I wrote the book that needed writing.

Born in America, But Forced by DOMA to Leave Her Country, Karlynn Lives in Exile with Laura in Northern England

“Every day that I live in forced exile because I am gay, is one day too many. To end this, we all must make our voices heard now.”

 

My name is Karlynn and I am a native of Southern California.  If you were to have asked me two years ago where I would be living today, I would never have guessed that the answer would be northern England. While my days here have been filled with abundant joy, the circumstances that have resulted in my new life abroad are not by my design.  Nor am I the only U.S. citizen forced into this specific situation.

As Americans, we all wear labels imposed on us from the day we are born.  I proudly share many of these socially-constructed labels with millions of Americans: tax-payer, law-abiding citizen, California voter, daughter, sister, friend, granddaughter, and co-worker, for example.  However, only one of those labels prevents me from living in the country of my birth.  It denies me and my family our fundamental rights that should be granted to all human beings.

It is all because I am gay and my partner, Laura, is not an American citizen.

It’s because of  the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the spouses of gay and lesbian American citizens from being recognized as our spouses for any purpose, including immigration. This discriminatory practice is spelled out plain-as-day on the U.S. Department of the State website: “Same-sex marriages are not recognized by immigration law for the purpose of immigrating to the U.S.” Just the fact that my own country is advertising this shameful violation of my rights is itself shocking to the conscience.

It is completely possible for a opposite-sex couples in our situation to submit a petition and application to immigrate to the United States. They will be required to submit supporting evidence to prove the validity of their marriage in order to eventually be granted the permission for their foreign spouse or fiancée to come to the United States. However, this routine process that keeps loving, committed couples together, is not even a remote possibility for lesbian and gay binational couples.

Laura and I became aware of the complexities faced by binational couples while we were still in the United States and the expiration date of her visa began to draw near. I knew without a doubt that she was the one I wanted to spend my life with, and vice versa, though we weren’t engaged at the time. We started brainstorming heavily, spending many hours trying to solve the perplexing riddle of how we were going to keep her in the country.

Our search led us to consider many options, palatable and unpalatable.  Ruling out one after one, the only possible and legal solution we could come up with was to have her go back to England for a few weeks and return to the U.S.A. on a tourist visa. We understood, however, that this course of action would really only buy us 90 more days together — a temporary respite before we would have to face the same grim scenario once more.  All that mattered to us was reuniting as quickly as possible, so we proceeded with the plan.

I will never forget the morning her visa expired, reluctantly driving to the airport and being forced to say goodbye to my sweetheart due to circumstances outside of my control. It felt uncanny to bid adieu to one another because we hadn’t spent one day apart since we first met. With all the strength I could muster, I put on my bravest face. On the inside, I was unable to shake the hollow feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that told me that our time apart was going to be significantly longer than two weeks. The optimist in me thought instead about her return to California. One of my ideas was to surprise her with an engagement ring at the airport.

After what seemed like forever, two weeks had passed. It was a day filled with a mixture of relief and excitement, knowing that I was just a few hours away from properly proposing to my wife-to-be. Around midday, I received an unexpected phone call. The unmistakably familiar voice on the other line Laura’s. I was thrown off guard by the sorrow that resonated in her words as she spoke. During her layover in Philadelphia she was stopped by  Customs and Border Protection. Because she had attempted to re-enter the country too soon after her previous visa had expired, she underwent additional scrutiny as is typical for any repeat or frequent visitor suspected of having the intent to immigrate. As a result, U.S. authorities would not permit her to continue on to San Diego. Instead, she was detained and required to board the next flight back to England. Suddenly, the full knowledge that she would not be back in my arms on that day swept over me. I was devastated.  I was powerless to do anything, while my own government cruelly denied me the right to spend even 90 days more with the love of my life.  She was in fact, only visiting, because that’s all she was permitted to do. And then, to add insult to injury, I was hours away from proposing to her.   To top it all off, Laura revealed to me that she, too, had purchased an engagement ring during her time in England with the plan to ask for my hand in marriage at the airport as well. Fighting back tears, we proposed to each other and vowed to spend the rest of our lives together — all via text message.

Just like that, the life we were beginning to build together had been thrust into a state of limbo. While apart, we found that the geographical distance, the 8-hour time difference, and the monetary and emotional costs of our separation proved to be formidable challenges. Thankfully, the correspondence between us continued uninterrupted due to a steady stream of text messaging, email, international calls, video conferencing, and old fashioned letter writing. Of course, nothing can replace being in the same physical space at the same time with the one you love. So, despite our access to the modern conveniences of communication, the distance made each day an agony. We once again put our minds together to come up with a lasting solution.

Laura had no qualms about relocating to the U.S.A. This was ideal because I was in the process of actively pursuing my second Bachelor’s Degree in nursing. I had every intention of finishing the course, but the daily torment of not having her around was starting to affect my studies. Getting her here had become my top priority. We mulled over the issue for weeks and weeks, examining each idea from every angle, but to no avail.

As the days progressed, it was clear that there was no way to bring my partner into this country as my fiancée. The more we searched, the more I began to grow frustrated. The love of my life was constantly fighting back tears, battling depression, unable to eat or carry on with her life in England. I sometimes felt that it was my fault, that I was to blame for putting her through this.  It was the first time in my life I had felt discriminated against and one of the few times that I have felt ashamed of and embarrassed by my country.

With no other options, I decided to forgo my life here in California to be with my partner in England. In the course of three weeks, I handed in my notice at my place of employment, quit the nursing program, cashed out my retirement, gave away or sold all of my possessions, and moved out of my apartment. That was the easy part. Informing my friends, co-workers, and family members of my plans took all the courage I could find. The general consensus was that I had lost my mind. Of course, these types of remarks were easily forgiven because they came from a place of caring deeply for my well-being and protecting my best interest. I was taking a huge leap of faith – it was the single bravest thing I have ever done in my entire life.

Once the dust settled, I was blown away with the amount of support my friends and family provided me. It was with this encouragement that I was able to find the strength to work on all the paperwork and documentation needed to obtain an entry visa to the United Kingdom. At last, our 102 days of separation had finally come to an end. I would get the chance to propose to my fiancée in person.

 

Laura and I married on November 9, 2010, in a civil partnership ceremony fully recognized by the U.K. government. Now, I have full permission to work legally, equal access to all marriage benefits, and the right to adopt children — same as any Briton. Unfortunately, this still does not change the reality that our union is not recognized by the U.S. government, leaving me with two very limiting options:

  • My wife and I can remain in England together for an indefinite amount of time until Federal laws change in the U.S.A. During that time, we would not have the luxury of traveling together between our respective homelands as we please, as bi-national heterosexual couples are able to do.
  • I can return to California alone without my wife: bitter, completely empty, and heartbroken.  Frankly, this has no chance of happening.

Ask yourself what you would do if you were forced to tailor your life around such “choices.”  In the name of life, liberty, and our pursuit of happiness, we will continue to call for equality until it is fully realized.  If the U.K. amends its laws to end unequal treatment of lesbian and gay couples, then I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the United States of America can too.  And that is why we have joined The DOMA Project to fight for an end to the exile and separation of lesbian and gay binational couples.  We believe that it is important to speak out and to let the government know the consequences of this unjust law.  We support The DOMA Project’s advocacy for humanitarian parole to allow spouses and partners of lesbian and gay Americans to enter the United States and keep couples together.  If such a temporary remedy were available to Laura and me, I would not have been forced to uproot myself from my home and my family and move thousands of miles away.  Every day that I live in forced exile because I am gay, is one day too many. To end this, we all must make our voices heard now.

 

Congressman Mike Honda Speaks Out in Support of DOMA Project Participants Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo

Congressman Mike Honda speaks out in support of DOMA Project participants Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo. Click on the video below to watch Congressman Mike Honda’s statement in support of Judy and Karin.

Click on video below to watch Congressman Mike Honda’s statement in support of Judy and Karin.