Robert and Javier In Love: For Two Years They Have Been Forced to Live 7,000 Miles Apart Because of DOMA
From Honolulu to London…
My name is Robert. I am a family physician and HIV specialist living in Honolulu, Hawaii. My partner, Javier, is a video editor working for the BBC in London. We met on March 8, 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when we were vacationing separately at the time. It was truly love at first sight – in fact, when I tell the story to people I always mention that our first kiss happened at a waterfront party as the DJ was playing Katy Perry’s “Firework.” There were actual fireworks going off in the air above us (not to mention in each other’s heads). We were inseparable for the rest of the vacation but couldn’t quite see how a long distance relationship from Hawaii to London could work. All we knew at that time was that we had a deep connection and that we had both found something very special in one another.
When we said goodbye for the first time in Brazil it was extremely sad. But I was hoping I would see Javier soon. As it happened, I was taking my mom on vacation to Ireland just 2 weeks later and he offered to fly over from London to spend St. Patrick’s Day with my mom and me. I was excited at the notion of seeing him again and it turned out that my mom liked Javier so much that she asked him if he wanted to spend half of our Ireland vacation together. It was wonderful, not to mention one of the first times my mom was so comfortable with me being involved with another man.
We said goodbye to one another for a second time as he left my mom and me in Ireland to go back to London. Thanks to “WhatsApp” and e-mail, we kept in touch throughout everyday. I flew back to Hawaii not knowing when I would see Javier again, yet I knew in my heart we were meant to be together. A few weeks later, I received a call from one of Javier’s friends in London whom I met in Brazil. He told me that Javier wouldn’t stop talking about me and for Javier’s upcoming birthday all of Javier’s friends wanted to chip in and buy him a plane ticket to Hawaii to come visit me. When he asked me if that would be alright, I of course replied, “Definitely!”
Javier’s visit to Hawaii was wonderful. He felt attached to the place and got a really warm impression of the islands. He met all of my friends and learned about “the aloha spirit” as we say here. When we said our third goodbye, we knew that we were meant to be together, and that any doubts we had about whether or not this was just a ‘Carnival vacation fling’ were gone. We began to talk about his move to Hawaii.
His arrival was magical – I hired the biggest white stretch Hummer limousine that they had in Hawaii and put 25 of my closest friends inside. I surprised him at the airport and each of my friends whom he met stepped out of the limousine handing him a single white rose. I exited the limo last, handing him the final white rose and gave him a kiss. We rode around Oahu celebrating and the journey ended with a beachfront luau with Hawaiian songs and even a hula dance from Miss Hawaii. It was a memorable night.
Javier was brought to tears, as was I – my baby and I were finally together and we didn’t have to say any more goodbyes, or so we thought.
Javier came to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program. We assumed he could get a work visa and be hired by a company here based on his extensive work experience (5+ years) at the BBC as a Video Editor, but our immigration attorney explained that you need to have a Bachelor’s Degree in order to apply for this particular work visa. While Javier took coursework in Spain after high school, he didn’t have that degree or its equivalent, so we quickly realized that we were going to have to say goodbye again and in December of 2011, we did just that, although this time we had a plan.
Javier has always wanted to be the first person in his family to graduate from college with a degree. He concurrently wanted to further pursue his skills in video editing and become a master in his profession. Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu was recommended by his boss and Javier checked out the university himself before he left in December. They were very accommodating towards international students; they had scholarships available, and they had a great Media Program which contained courses that Javier was very interested in. He decided to apply for their Bachelor’s Program in Media.
In spring of 2012 Javier was accepted into Hawaii Pacific University and offered a scholarship! While he wasn’t granted any credit for his previous post-high school course work, he was excited about the notion of starting university in America. He could save on money by living with me, and I would be his financial sponsor to the university. The only thing left to do was to go for a student visa, which we were told was just a “red tape formality.” As we started to read on-line about people’s experiences at the embassy, we got a little worried given that I was Javier’s partner. We really weren’t sure if telling the interviewing officer that I was Javier’s partner would negatively affect their decision to grant the student visa. However the immigration lawyer we consulted told us to be honest and tell the truth so that’s exactly what he did. This advice turned out to be catastrophically incorrect. Had we consulted with The DOMA Project, we would have learned from immigration lawyers who specialize in LGBT immigration work, that I should never have been Javier’s fiscal sponsor in the first place, and that I should have been excluded completely from his application for a student visa. That one piece of wrong advice resulted in disaster. Had we known otherwise, we would be living together happily making plans for our future. Instead, the consular officer did exactly what we now understand was exactly routine procedure for gay or straight applicants for student visas with an American boyfriend or girlfriend living in the U.S. But at the time it came as a shock to us.
The day of the interview came and Javier was a bit nervous. That day, he admittedly went somewhat unprepared because we were told getting a student visa from the embassy in London was more paperwork than anything else. When the interviewer asked him “who is this person that is planning on helping to pay for your education if needed?” Javier was honest and said it was his partner. The application was quickly denied but Javier was not given any explanation as to why – not even when he asked. We were devastated but not defeated.
We decided we would do everything possible to convince the interviewer on the second interview that he did intend on studying and going to university and return to London to work in his field. We provided every supplementary piece of documentation we could think of. At his second interview several months later he brought a letter from his boss stating that he recommended HPU and that upon completion they wanted him to return to London to work for their company once again. Javier brought bank statements from his own bank account and his family’s bank accounts in Spain proving that he had enough financial backing to attend university. He wanted to explain that his family is very important to him and that he didn’t intend to live the rest of his life in Hawaii – a place so far away. But all that effort was too late. It was clear that once they knew about me, they would not believe Javier’s intention to return to London at the conclusion of his studies. Again, this is something routine, that we were simply not prepared for. Most attorneys working for years with gay couples like us would have known this terrain like the back of their hand. We went in blind; we made all the mistakes of naive first-timers. Javier believed that he had all of his ducks in order and he went into the second interview quite confident – only to be “interrogated like a criminal” to use Javier’s words. They didn’t even bother to look at any of the supplemental paperwork before they said “I have to agree with the first person that interviewed you. I don’t think you’re a candidate for a student visa at this time.” A lawyer with experience working with binational couples would have told us that a second time at the U.S. Embassy would have likely resulted in another denial.
I feel like we were mistreated, misinformed and discriminated against. Mistreated, because the Consular officials were rude and gave us no insight into how we might have overcome this hurdle; misinformed, mainly by the attorney I consulted; and discriminated against because I should have been able to file a fiancé visa for Javier, rather than rely on his ability to get a student visa. Javier developed a negative impression of this country because of how poorly he was treated through this whole process. It’s unfair and it’s not right. We want to live our lives together and it disturbs me to think that because of DOMA we can’t have the same happy life that opposite sex couples enjoy.
So it has been our decision to continue to fight as hard as necessary to be together.
On August 25, 2012, Javier and I committed our love to one another in a Legal Civil Union in the state of Hawaii. It was a beautiful ceremony held in the penthouse of the Sheraton Waikiki overlooking Diamond Head Beach– we were even blessed by a double rainbow which appeared at the end of our ceremony in front of a clear blue sky backdrop. It was truly magical and we both knew in our hearts that despite the challenges we may face, or how unfair the system may seem and in spite of all of the adversities we have encountered, one must not give up on love – because true love is hard to find, and once you have found it, it is worth fighting for! Javier and I hope that one day we will be able to be legally married and live the rest of our lives together. Until that day, we continue to maintain a long distance relationship from Honolulu to London, and we will continue to fight for just policies that ensure no gay or lesbian couple is ever torn apart.