Seventeen Years After They First Met, These Two Gay Dads Are Fighting DOMA To Keep Their Family Together

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Seventeen years after they met, two gay dads fight DOMA to keep their family together

Calvin and I met in Beijing in 1996. I was a young Dutch student, studying at Beijing University to obtain my master’s degree in International Environmental Law and Intellectual Property Law, while he was there on the UCLA Education Abroad Program.

Calvin grew up in a small town in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. After the war in Vietnam ended in 1975 and the American forces withdrew from the country, his family was thrust into poverty as a result of their support of US forces. Life under the new regime proved to be difficult: in the aftermath of the war, raising five children on a school teacher’s meager salary was a challenge.

With few options available, Calvin’s father, with his wife’s blessing, made the difficult decision to leave his wife and five young children behind in Vietnam to search for a better future, like thousands of other refugees before him. Calvin and his brother followed their father’s footsteps several years later. After four failed attempts, significant losses of hard earned savings to cover the costs of those “border crossing” attempts, and even a month’s jail-time when Calvin was nine years old, Calvin and his brother survived a horrific boat trip and made it to a refugee camp in a neighboring country by the ages of 12 and 13, respectively.

Eventually, Calvin and his brother were able to establish contact with their father, who several years earlier had made the journey across the Pacific Ocean as a refugee, ultimately settling in Northern California. Calvin and his brother remained in the refugee camp as minors for another year before they were finally reunited with their father in the U.S.

Once in the U.S., Calvin quickly thrived. He was an honors student in high school. Ten years after those traumatic events occurred, Calvin graduated with a double major at one of the finest universities in the country. Most important, perhaps, he became an American citizen.

As for me, I grew up in a small, religious, and socially conservative village in the Netherlands. I wore wooden shoes to school (yes, we small-town folk actually still wear them). My daily packed lunch consisted of bread, cheese and milk. My sister and I rode our bicycles for 20 kilometer to school and back every day regardless of weather conditions. My mom would knit our sweaters, my grandma would knit our socks, bedspreads and curtains. We grew our own food and spent many afternoon tending to the garden. On my days off, my after-school daycare program involved me jumping over the backyard fence to climb trees in the forest together with my cat Mickey, until mom called for dinner at exactly 5:30 every day.

Growing up in such a small town, I did not know of another gay person or even fully understood what it meant to be gay. The word did not exist in my world. As time passed, I felt suffocated and knew I needed to break out on my own as soon as possible and find a place where I could live freely and be myself.

At the age of 18, I moved to the other side of the country, to Maastricht, to study Mandarin and English. Traveling to Spain a lot, I had developed a keen interest in seeing more of the world. Seeing more of what it means to be free. Upon my graduation and official certification as a Certified Translator-Interpreter, I was given a scholarship to continue my studies at Beijing University.

Whether it was fate, random coincidence, or predetermined destiny (“yuan fen” in Mandarin), Calvin and I met while we were both studying in Beijing, China in the summer of  1996. The day we met, we didn’t in fact meet. I was walking up the steps of the entrance to my foreign student dormitory building, on my way to class, when Calvin rode by on his bicycle. I later learned he was, at that time, studying at a university across town, but was visiting some friends from his Education Abroad Program at my campus. What initially caught my attention was the manner in which he was riding his bicycle; he was horizontal on the bicycle, hands grabbing the handle bar and balancing his stomach on the saddle and legs stretched out. Chinese society is focused strongly on following rules and such a display of individuality was extremely rare. In surprise, I stopped in my tracks, put down my school bag and just stared at him in wonder. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know if it was because I had never seen a bicycle ridden the way he did (since I grew up with riding one), or the fact that he so freely went against conformity, without any care. It was one of those moments that only lasts a few seconds in time, but last forever in our heart. Watching him, I felt like someone had just knocked on my door and something was about to change. He also noticed me, smiled but said nothing.

Several months after, we met again, or rather, met. In a city of 16 million people, we met in an underground gay bar. Being gay was still illegal back then. There was only one gay bar in Beijing at the time, hidden deep in a hutong, which was forbidden territory for foreigners. The police raided the bar about once a month, and whoever was caught being there, would disappear. No prison or labor camps for gays. They just disappeared; they ceased to exist. My Chinese friends and I had to outrun undercover law enforcement once already, so I was more than aware of the risk involved. Yet that day we had both, separately, decided to wait for the sun to go down and carefully sneak into the hutong. We had both found the hidden club, and were enjoying the music, company and the feeling of being part of something exciting, dangerous and pure. In that way, being there reminded me much of the secret jazz club the cast-out minister daughter in The Color Purple had started. Being there felt very much like that.

Calvin and I met and fell in love within minutes. Although I was in no mood to meet anyone and fought it furiously, it was clear to both of us that this was it: The One. Fighting this was obviously irrelevant. The cautious and conservative-natured Calvin asked me to marry him a within a fortnight. We moved in together soon after, which was an easy feat, since boy and girl students were not allowed to stay in the same building and students shared their room with one other student. We had a great year.

I started working at the Dutch embassy later that school year, to make some money to be able to move to Los Angeles, to enable Calvin to graduate. I arrived in the U.S. with little money, two suitcases, no job and allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days on the Visa Waiver Program. Besides that, I brought faith, hope and determination. Within weeks I was able to obtain a job at the local Dutch mission, granting me a diplomatic visa to remain in the U.S. Giving up on my learned trade, I accepted the job gladly, knowing it would allow me to stay with my fiancé.

For twelve years, we both worked hard and built up our live together. We made many good friends and enjoyed the closeness of Calvin’s family. We consulted many lawyers over the years to find a way to obtain a residence permit, but my diplomatic visa blocked all chances on that, time and again. We lived a happy life, enjoying our friends and family, climbing the government ladder and enjoying each other. Calvin was offered a high level position with the federal government and soon passed me by career-wise. I knew I was confined to my job through my visa, but never regretted it, since it allowed me to be with my love.

In 2005 we got married in a beautiful little castle in the middle of the forest in Ommen, The Netherlands. Our family and friends, even from the States, all gathered there with us in witness. Our honeymoon in Spain was equally amazing and beautiful. We adopted our gorgeous daughter in 2006. Born in our own city, out of a Dutch father and a Vietnamese mother, the match was unthinkable and we took it as a sign. Our family bloomed and we were all happy as peas in a pod.

Wedding Day in 2005

Wedding Day in 2005

In 2009, the economic crisis hit my birth country and the Dutch missions in the US started a drastic regionalization of jobs. The Consulate General I worked for was forced to let go or transfer 18 of their 20 employees. I was one of them. Panic hit home now. Our contacts with lawyers intensified dramatically, but to no avail. There was no solution. We had to leave home. Luckily, if there is such thing while being exiled, I was offered an amazing position with the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. Even though we left home, kicking and screaming, at least we knew we’d be okay financially. Calvin was able to obtain a transfer and even managed to become supervisor, making even more than I already was. Within 3 months the whole family was back together, including our two cats.

The first two years in D.C. I did everything on auto-pilot. Made sure I did my job as well as possible, drop our daughter off at school, breakfast, lunch, dinner, doctor’s appointments, etc., while both suddenly being emerged in a highly demanding jobs. The first two years in our new lives, we barely existed.

In 2011, at the end of a trip to Spain with my brother, I finally woke up and realized we were withering away. In Madrid’s airport, I was unable to board the return flight to a life that was not ours. I could not lie to myself any longer: despite our constant fight to be who we are, we had been forced to give up far too much to keep our family together. The past two years had eroded our faith in life and we had become an empty shell of the happy-go-lucky couple our friends knew. We had lost ourselves, against our will. I told my baby brother: “I don’t want to go back there.” Surprised, he asked me: “Why not?” The moment I heard myself saying: “Because when I’m there, I’m different.” it all hit me and I burst out crying and made my way out of the secured area of the airport. I could not breathe.

I suffered a nervous breakdown. Anxiety attacks, uncontrollable shaking, crying. So much crying. I couldn’t stand to be in D.C. anymore and often disappeared into a world of my own, sitting outside for hours in the middle of the night, when nobody could see me. My heart had broken to pieces, together with my faith in life, in justice, in love. In my efforts to deal with the exile and all that came with it, and to make sure that the family could stay together and was taken care of, I had erased myself for the past two years, to such an extent that there were gaps in my memory. I found photographs of a Christmas party at our house, showing my sister from the Netherlands had visited us. It’s impossible to understand how much it hurts to find out what happened in your own life, by having to listen to other people’s recount of it, years after the fact.

My husband was extremely supportive and lovingly filled me in on things whenever something crossed our path that I did not recall. He held my hand, whenever I got caught off guard by them. With the tireless support of my husband, our family and our friends, I slowly got back to my feet and started to have faith again. I started relentlessly looking for ways to undo this exile. I wrote many letters to Senators, Congressmen and to President Obama. Being an immigration officer myself, I consulted with employees of USCIS, lawyers, my co-workers, my direct boss and even my ambassador. With their active support and a strong letter from the ambassador, we filed a green card application as a soon-to-be retired diplomat in November 2011. There was much, in retrospect, that I didn’t know about this process; despite all my networking, I really had no idea what I was filing. I did not know until this year that I was not even eligible to file it because I was still employed as a diplomat.

My husband, our daughter (now 6) and I were officially summoned to appear at the USCIS interview in 2012, which we thought was the final stage of the process; the officer explained to the three of us that our application would be sent to their headquarters for review, made it clear that the chance of approval was minimal and out of kindness even referred us to the Human Rights Campaign and The DOMA Project. This time, it was Calvin, now a high-ranking supervisor with the Department of Justice, who broke down and cried and begged for understanding. The silence during the long ride “home” from the Baltimore USCIS office was heartbreaking.

As soon as we arrived at the house, we decided to take our lives back into our own hands. We decided to sell the house in DC and buy a house in our hometown and just move back. Screw the world. Calvin submitted his transfer request the next morning. I would find a job based on my temporary employment card, and hopefully human rights will have evolved sufficiently by the time USCIS decides on our case. Go home to Los Angeles, or burst.

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While all this was happening, we were contacted by Los Angeles County to let us know that our daughter’s biological mother had given birth to a baby boy and given it up for adoption. We happily made it known that we were most interested in adding him to our family also, but quickly noticed the additional pressure from that side to have us move back home as quickly as possible.

By July 2012, we managed to obtain Calvin’s transfer and find a temporary job for me at the Dutch consulate. We took our chances and proceeded to move back to our old neighborhood, close to a great elementary school. We made the big move, arrived safely and within a few weeks had made our new house into a real home. We worked tirelessly to fix the place up, while continuing the placement procedures and visits with our new son-to-be.

Our son is now officially placed in our home. He is well-adjusted and happy, as is our daughter. My husband and I are working hard to find new employment for me, once my temporary contract ends next month. His employment at least is steady now, giving us some peace and breathing room.

We wagered our future on the results of the elections and so far it paid off. Sure, our income is significantly less and my career as a Consular Officer is over, but we are happy here, surrounded by our family and friends. We will make things work here, one way or another.

The green card application was denied, as expected. I have no way of staying legally in the United States. I have a husband and two children, all Americans, but I am nobody according to the law of the United States, all because of Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. We will continue to fight; we have hope. We will urge the President of the United States to put into place a policy for same-sex binational couples like us. We will file a green card case and ask that it be put into “abeyance” until DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court.

The important thing we have learned is never give up on your dreams. Through all of our struggles in the pursuit of happiness, we know that we must never give up; we must speak up. For this reason, we are not idly sitting by hoping for change. We have sought professional guidance, have taken calculated risks, and have continued sharing our story. Now more than ever, it is important to raise the visibility of stories like ours, stories that illustrate how DOMA threatens the well-being of families like ours. On the eve of oral arguments before the Supreme Court on DOMA Section 3’s constitutionality, we want the Justices to know that Americans will not accept a decision that will subject our family and all other binational families to further hardships. It is my hope that we are able to offer our children a happy and secure future. The awareness-building we are doing today builds on advocacy of years past, helping to make that future a reality. We hope you will join us by sharing our story with family and friends.

Rick & Brian: Married Gay Couple Exiled by DOMA for Three Years in Taiwan, Fight to Return to the U.S.

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Rick & Brian at their wedding

Our story began in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2009. In actuality, we had met a couple of days earlier in a chat room on an online dating site. Back then we both paid for the yearly service and were able to see who searched us. I saw that Brian looked at my profile and I contacted him. I asked if he would like to meet at a bookstore and coffee house.  He said, “sure let’s go.”  I set the time and date: May 19 at noon. We both agreed and confirmed our plan the following morning. We met at OutWrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, at 10th and Piedmont, which is unfortunately no longer open. But what blossomed from that first meeting is very much still alive.

As my on-line profile informed anyone interested in reading it, I had recently moved to Atlanta from Southern California and I was looking to make new friends.  That’s all I truly wanted at that moment. I was trying to accomplish four things: employment, housing, schooling and then hopefully, dating someone special. I was very focused, and I kept to the order of my priorities.

On the day of what would be our first date, Brian got lost and arrived 45 minutes late, but it didn’t much matter; I was happy to see him and glad he arrived safely.

When Brian opened the door that afternoon at OutWrite he flashed his big, friendly smile, a smile that I have come to love and looking forward to seeing every day. He described his efforts to get from his home in Atlanta to OutWrite, and I realized that this amounted to quite a challenge; after all, he had just arrived a week earlier from Taiwan and was completely new to Atlanta and to the U.S.
We started to talk about our lives and what brought us to Atlanta when I realized that I was nervous like a high school student on a first date!  At first I didn’t understand what was happening at all. I’m always confident, energized and I know what to say next. But it wasn’t happening, I was stumbling around. I was an A Type personality and the date progressed, I noticed that I was doing most of the talking and didn’t let him speak much so I started asking him questions. I learned that he was a visiting scholar from one of the top Taiwanese universities, and I found out about his family background. Of course this friendly meet-up was never supposed to be a date, I was not supposed to be nervous!

Rick & Brian in 2009

Rick & Brian in 2009

A few hours later we were joined by some mutual friends. I became more confident and I realized that Brian and I were connecting. He seemed more interested in me than before, and after they left he said something like:  ‘Your heart will be safe in my hands’.  We parted ways after more than four hours but it felt like only 15 minutes had passed. Time stood still, and still does; thank goodness.

We continued to communicate by email and grew closer. I shared my excitement as I learned to love Atlanta and settled into a new job.  He shared his daily adventures with me.

Our first proper date was a political rally for the next mayor of Atlanta in 2009 geared towards the LGBT Community. Each candidate was asked questions specifically about the LGBT Community and their stance towards marriage equality. After that rally, a group of us went to dinner at Rain Restaurant and had an awesome time. We were supposed to go to a gay bar, but couldn’t; Brian had forgotten his identification and was denied entry. It was too bad for our friends, because we were happy to be alone for the rest of the evening.

We drove home and kissed good night and I felt butterflies. We were both very emotional. I know it’s hard to believe but 30 days later we moved into our apartment and started living together. It just felt right. We felt like rock stars!

Spending every day together and falling in love it seemed like nothing could get in the way of our happiness. That summer I got down on one knee and asked Brian to marry me.   A few months later we purchased wedding rings in Miami while visiting my family and at that particular moment we were with my brother and his wife. It was an amazing feeling to know that we had found each other and that we would be a part of my family, while also building our own life together as a couple.

But as any gay binational couple knows, the moment came when things got very complicated. Our blissful state started to be challenged by serious challenges that had to happen. Brian’s visa was expiring. We either had to break up, maintain a long distance relationship between Atlanta and Taiwan, or I would have to move to Asia. These were extremely difficult months for us. All we wanted was to be together. We decided to move to Taiwan in 2010. It would be a life changing life  experience for sure, for both of us.

In January 2010 we traveled to California and spent some time with friends before continuing on to Taiwan to begin our lives in a new country. As the trip progressed both of us were excited, nervous, and full of uncertainties; but, we were troopers.

Neither one of us feels that we’ve made any sacrifices; yes, we feel that we’ve had to make adjustments and changes in our lives, but we have never compromised our love for each other.  While we have lived in Taiwan we have had to deal with Brian’s mandatory military service, his travel restrictions, my effort to find employment, being forced to live in the “closet” as a gay couple, and my learning to adapt to a new language and culture.   Why did all of this happen? Only because the U.S. government gives me no way as a gay American to sponsor my partner, the love of my life, for a green card. And so I am building a new life in Taiwan not of choice, but in exile.

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You may be wondering, how or why put ourselves through these stresses. As cheesy as it sounds, it was love. This four letter word has a great foundation, everything based on it can turn any impossible situation into a foreseeable happy ending. Which in our case is true!

We think the hardest part for us, is that Brian’s family doesn’t know we are a couple or even know that we got married. A small price to pay for peace within our hearts and theirs. We don’t know how they will react, but just not confronting the situation head-on keeps the peace within our family. Peace is a key point for us.

How has DOMA affected our lives? Brian never wanted to come back to Taiwan. He did not want to return to the closet.  My life has been turned upside down because of U.S. laws that refuse to recognize same-sex couples.  To say this is unfair is an understatement.

Within a year we are hoping that we will be able to return to the United States.

This has been the biggest impact of DOMA for us has been the lack of laws to protect our family. I can’t help Brian in anything, except for being a financial guarantee for his ability to stay in the USA as a student. This for me is not a way to be able to start a new life within the USA. It scares me to hell and back and sometimes it seems like I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The uncertainties mount and so do the stresses within our lives, in two levels – as individuals and as a couple. For now we have made the commitment to each other to stay in Taiwan until one of us has a place of employment or the U.S. achieves federal marriage equality.

Recently, we made a list of pros and cons to see where we would feel more at home and start our family. We realized that adopting is not a choice; it’s a must for us. We’ve had to place it on the back burner for too long. This is the highest priority upon returning to the USA. We’ve tried in Taiwan and we’ve been told – flat out in a nice way – NO!  The reality is that we cannot live closeted in Taiwan and also start a family.  We know that, eventually, we will need to return to the US.

In sharing our story, we are joining the many binational couples who refuse to wait on the sidelines while the Supreme Court considers the fate of DOMA.  We know that by sharing our story, we are making a difference in the court of public opinion, a voice that not even the Supreme Court can turn aside lightly.  We’re encouraged to see the growing coverage of our collective struggle for fair and humane treatment by the Obama administration and the USCIS.  Please join us in petitioning the Obama Administration to ensure that all green card petitions from same sex spouses are fully processed and placed on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA in June of this year.  Our family should not have to wait even a single day longer.

God Bless The United States of America.

This is our story – Brian and Rick
It all started on May 20th, 2009
Married on March 20th, 2012
New York City, New York

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Carrie and Claire, Separated by DOMA for Seven Years, File for Green Card Based on Their Marriage

Carrie and Claire
After an anguishing recent 15-month separation, both of our families could see how hard the time apart was on us and insisted on providing us with the funds we needed for Claire to come for Christmas and New Year holidays. Our families suffer right along with us; our pain is their pain. Claire arrived December 12, 2012 and was due to return to the U.K. on January 8, 2013.

Both of us are in financial dire straits, mine being fixed disability retirement while still supporting our college-student daughter and Claire’s being unemployed and, at over age 50, categorized as ‘low priority’ by ‘employment services’ in the UK. Nothing about our situation will change any time soon and we both were fighting severe depression. As stress exacerbates my flare-ups and diminished immune system, I remained ill most of the 15 months we were parted.

We are acutely aware of the years that have passed us by and the many milestone experiences unshared. After 5+ years of legal marriage and 7+ years as a committed couple, we have reached the point where we can no longer live apart. Enough is enough. Our health and age are constant reminders that time is precious and now is all we will ever have.

Claire is still here legally under the visa waiver. We are scared, excited, and honored to join other couples in fighting for full equality.

When last I wrote, one year ago, we thought we had a workable, interim plan. I would go to the UK every 6 months for 3 months at a time.  This plan ran its course. We could not manage the separation, the travel and the cost any longer. And so we have made the decision to file for a green card.  To put this decision into perspective, we share with you a post we wrote in February 2012.

I did return to the UK in June 2011, in time to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday with her and my wonderful in-laws. This trip, I felt better prepared. I had made sure the wheelchair I needed was ready and waiting before even deplaning. I had everything available to show that I was in full compliance with the 6 month limit on my Visa waiver. Going through security would be a breeze. I watched a family ahead of me zip through the process, under 5 minutes for a family of 5. Yes, this would be so much better. The young man pushing my wheelchair through the airport wheeled me to the only agent working at that time. I am a disabled 56-year-old woman, rather conservative and conventional in my appearance. I have just spent 18 hours getting to this point and am in incredible pain and I’m exhausted. I am pleasant and polite.

I presented my passport and had my itinerary for my return flight handy. I had only stayed 85 days on my previous trip, so I wasn’t really worried about the fact that I was staying 90 days this time—still within the 6 months allowed. The agent never met my eyes, asking why I was returning so soon as I had only left 3 months previously. I answered honestly, “Visiting family and friends.” He challenged me about how I could afford to stay for 3 months and I explained about my disability direct deposit and my debit card. He did not seem satisfied. I offered to provide proof of my income, he declined. He needed Claire’s name and address, which I promptly provided. Every question he asked, I answered. I was starting to get concerned when he still refused to look at me and just kept looking at my passport and the other documents he requested. After what seemed hours, but was actually only about 45 minutes, he told me he would let me enter the country this time, but I would not be allowed to return to the UK again. Period (or, as Claire says, “Full Stop”). Not just, give more time between visits or stay out of the UK longer than I am in the UK or anything that was open to interpretation. This was the last time I would be allowed to enter the country. I was fighting tears as we wheeled away. My helper was appalled by the way I was treated and asked that I not judge all British by this experience. I was shaky, but I thanked him for his kindness.

We finally reached my beloved Claire, who was getting increasingly worried as everyone from my flight had long since passed and there was still no sign of me. When she saw my face, she knew it had been bad. Still, the long taxi ride to Peterborough was joyful–we were together and had the whole summer ahead of us. I arrived on Wednesday and Claire’s 50th birthday was the Saturday. Her mum and step-dad joined us to celebrate, my first meeting with my in-laws. To say we got along well is an understatement. I could not be more blessed and delighted to call them “family.” I’d spoken with them many times by telephone, but to finally meet them in person–it felt like it was my birthday! I only wish I hadn’t been so tired and still jet-lagged…. Still, it was wonderful, feeling the love and support from Mum and Dad. Our three-months flew as quickly as the previous stay and I had to leave my love the day before our 5th anniversary. (We count the date of our commitment ceremony, 7 September, 2006, as our official anniversary, even though we legally married in Canada 1 year and 1 week later on 15 Sept, 2007.) Leaving her this time was the hardest–we had no way of knowing when we would next be able to be together. It’s been nearly 6 months, now, and we still wait. Knowing I am unwelcome to visit the UK and having no recourse except to apply for a visa as a civil partner is hard. However, as soon as we are in a position to do so, we are applying for a Married Partner (spouse) Visa for me to be able to return to the UK and resume our interim plan.

We wait for the economy to improve, DOMA to go away, the passage of UAFA, anything to finally allow us to live peacefully in the US near our family. We wait for our time to join those who are fighting for our families.

Judy & Karin: Lesbian Golden Girls Fight DOMA, Argue for LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform to Be Together

2613 Judy and Karin September 2012 DHS 630Karin and Judy are two of approximately 35,000 binational same-sex couples living in America. They met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the seal. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, they became domestic partners, and in March 2011 they married in snowy Vermont before a justice of the peace and the staff of their bed-and-breakfast, who were so moved watching these gushing grannies tie the knot that they bought them flowers and champagne and treated them to dinner at the most romantic restaurant in town.


(cross posted from The Advocate)

Karin and Judy are two of approximately 35,000 binational same-sex couples living in America. They met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the seal. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, they became domestic partners, and in March 2011 they married in snowy Vermont before a justice of the peace and the staff of their bed-and-breakfast, who were so moved watching these gushing grannies tie the knot that they bought them flowers and champagne and treated them to dinner at the most romantic restaurant in town.

When Judy and Karin returned to Northern California, on cloud nine after their whirlwind wedding adventure, they were not content to sit idly by while the tide of acceptance and equality slowly gravitated in their favor. President Obama had only just announced that his administration would no longer defend DOMA in court because he determined it to be unconstitutional. With that being the case, gay and lesbian Americans should have become eligible to petition for green cards for their foreign-born spouses. The White House made no provisions to ensure that this was possible, however, and has continued to enforce DOMA. As retirees whose simple wish is to enjoy their golden years together without fear of being torn apart or having to expatriate, Judy and Karin began publicizing the real-life struggles of same-sex binational couples who are fighting for the right to be together in this country and who need the president to protect them now.

They also joined the DOMA Project and became one of the first legally married same-sex, binational couples to hold the president to his word by applying for a green card. Unlike many other gay and lesbian spouses, whose petitions are still often flat-out denied, Judy and Karin were granted a green card interview, where they presented evidence of their genuine, long-standing relationship, just as any opposite-sex binational couple gets the opportunity to do. The immigration officer was very supportive and complimentary of their more-than-ample proof. But without direct orders from the president, and with DOMA still in place, their green card petition could not be approved. Instead, their case was held for further review while the government considered their request not to decide their petition until the Supreme Court or Congress determines the fate of DOMA.

For as long as Judy’s application for Karin is on hold, Karin can legally remain in the United States, but she is a prisoner here, unable to leave the country without likely being barred from returning. And this is why it was impossible for them to attend Michael and Shirley’s Scottish wedding.

The bride and groom, of course, understood and are so proud of Mum 1 and Mom 2 for all the work they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made while fighting for equality. Still, they think it’s absurd that such an inhumane law remains on the books in America, of all places. They think it’s outrageous that because of DOMA, Karin was detained in an immigration cell after flying into San Francisco International Airport, where she was interrogated for hours without water or the ability to make a phone call while Judy waited, terrified, not knowing what was happening to her wife. And they think it’s unfair that Judy then had to take early retirement to ensure that she and Karin could be together wherever they were, especially after immigration officials warned Karin that she was visiting this country too often and that she would have to leave indefinitely.

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Challenging DOMA: Judy and Karin attended a green card interview in September 2012

So often, the marriage equality movement focuses on paving the way for loving spouses who have their whole lives ahead of them. On this Valentine’s Day, which is also the anniversary of Judy and Karin’s domestic partnership, we are reminded that couples of all backgrounds and ages as well as their extended families are directly affected by DOMA’s discriminatory and destructive consequences and will continue to be until this unjust law is overturned. And when it is, it will be fair to say that one of the true inspirations for its demise were a couple of rambunctious grannies — or, as Judy lovingly says, “Golden Girls” — who made use of retirement by relentlessly fighting for equality.

BRYNN GELBARD, a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker, started The DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. You can follow her on Twitter @BrynnGelbard.

LAVI SOLOWAY, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, launched The DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples, in 2010. Keep up with The DOMA Project on Facebook & Twitter @GayBinationals.

JUDY RICKARD is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, 2011, Findhorn Press.

Engaged to be Married, Lesbian Couple Separated by the U.S.-Canadian Border Fights to be Reunited

AJSTACEY1I met and fell in love with Stacey online through a social network in January 2010. We talked off and on, but our conversations were brief at first as neither of us was ready to jump into a relationship. Over the next several months, we began spending more time talking to one another online and on the phone. Stacey lives in Winnipeg, Canada and I live in northwestern Arkansas.

By August of 2010 we realized that were crazy about one another and desperate to meet face to face. We held out as long as possible and then on October 17, 2010 she traveled to the United States for the first time to visit me; it was the beginning of many visits to come, but also the beginning of a long road that would include many emotionally trying moments when we were kept apart by border officials.

We came from vastly different worlds. With a fifteen year age difference we have had different experiences in life and our families in Arkansas and Manitoba are very different as well. My family is very conservative and holds strong religious beliefs and values, and are very much about “being in everyone’s business” though also very affectionate and friendly. Her family is more reserved, but also conservative in their own right. Stacey’s family comes from a traditional Catholic background and keep private lives fairly private.

But through all the differences, we found that we loved each other for the differences, and quickly realized that time apart was not what we wanted. She went back to Canada a month after coming to visit, only to fly back just after Christmas. We learned from one another. I am still trying to learn to be more spontaneous and she is learning to plan more. I guess that’s where our age difference comes in; but we never let our differences cause a rift, and for some reason, our differences only made us love one another more.

Over the next couple of years, she would come to Arkansas and I would go visit her in Canada. However, when she was in Arkansas she wanted to stay here with me. She really only wanted to go home to visit her family briefly. I took her to as many places as I could. Graceland, Beale Street, Tunica, San Antonio, Corpus Christi (she had never seen the ocean before). We traveled; we laughed, made memories, and fell more and more in love each day.

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This past June I proposed to Stacey, and she accepted. I was so nervous. I had planned out in my head exactly what I was going to do, but when the moment came everything I planned went out the window. Thank goodness she said yes to my bumbling proposal.

In June of 2012 she flew home again to see her family, as she had done some many times before. I joined her in Canada in late July for a week’s visit and we were to return back to Arkansas. But that day, July 31, 2012, was the start of our problems. She was questioned for about half-hour by the Customs and Border Patrol at the Winnipeg Airport. He let her come on through, but advised that the next time she came she needed to have proof she had strong ties to her home in Canada.

We flew back, but we were both very upset about what had happened. We had no idea that we should have been very grateful for being allowed through that time and that we should have sought legal help the first sign of trouble. Instead, we dug ourselves in deeper and ended up with a crisis that seems to defy any solution.

December 2012 came around and again Stacey’s visit with me came to an end. She left to spend Christmas with her family. Something inside begged her to stay, my family told her to stay, but she went. On January 3, 2013, when she attempted to return to the U.S., the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who questioned her found her ineligible to enter as a visitor. He asked her how much money she had on her, and reviewed her documentation showing she lived in Winnipeg, but still he felt that the fact that she had a American fiancée was a sign that she intended to stay permanently (she volunteered that information to be honest). He offered (again, we realized later that we should have been very grateful for this) to withdraw her application for admission as a visitor and let her go home to try again another time in the future. Stacey misunderstood the situation and tried again almost immediately. This time she was barred from entering the U.S. for five years. The CBP thought she had misrepresented her intention (she told the truth that she was going to a casino in Iowa where we had booked accommodations for two days) because she had not told them that she was visiting me on this trip.

Trust me when I say, a lesson has been learned the hard way through tears and pain. The lesson we have learned is that being discriminated against as a lesbian couple; because of the Defense of Marriage Act, because I am unable to file a fiancée visa petition and bring the love of my life here the way the law provides for all other couples in our situation, forced us to make do with short visits. But we never broke any law; all we wanted was to spend time together.

We have cried every day knowing we are separated by a harsh, mean and unforgiving immigration law that just compounds the evil of DOMA. Knowing that we can only see one another three times a year for a couple of weeks at a time (when I can go up there). We are getting married in Winnipeg on March 21, 2013. It will be a joyous celebration but it will be bittersweet; my wife will be in exile, in a prison of sorts, and I will be among the thousands of lesbian and gay Americans whose life-partners are in the Spousal Diaspora.

If DOMA was struck down by the court, or Congress passed immigration reform that includes same-sex partners, we might have a chance; though the 5-year ban is now an added problem with its own set of inflexible rules.

Our love, unlike these laws, knows no border, and I will fight for us to be together. I don’t want to leave the United States, but I will if I am forced to do so, if it means the only way for us to be together.

I have never loved anyone in my life as much as I love Stacey. Even my mother, who is not keen on same-sex relationships, loves Stacey as her own daughter and has stated that she has never seen me happier.

Now, I am alone and taking care of the puppy, Precious, Stacey and I found last year. Precious misses her Mama. I miss her more than words can possibly describe. We need President Obama to open the process of Humanitarian Parole so that we can bring our partners here temporarily until DOMA is gone. We urge everyone reading this story to join The DOMA Project to end the separations that are tearing our lives apart.

Gabriela & Francisca: Married Lesbian Couple Forced to Live Thousands of Miles Apart Because of DOMA

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At the time I met Francisca (who has Mexican and Spanish nationalities) through a mutual friend in 2009, I was living in the U.S., but planning to move to Spain to do a Master’s degree.  Francisca lived and worked in Spain at the time. I can be an inquisitive person at times, and when we met I took the opportunity to ask her all about the city, the cost of living, the geography, the neighborhoods, and some other practical concerns.  We then we began to develop our relationship by communicating over the long distance using Skype, falling more and more in love every day. She started the countdown to the day we were going to see each other for the first time. In those 99 days and twenty something hours our love continued to grow.  And it continued to grow until one day she proposed to me. I said yes.

I settled down in Barcelona and we began our life together. We have lived happy and difficult times together. When the global economic crisis of 2009 began to lash Spain, Francisca changed jobs several times. We learned to persevere in good and bad times and know our strengths and weakness; we learned to love each other without condition. We married in May 2010 and it was the happiest day of our lives.  The only regret was the knowledge that the United States government would not recognize our marriage, or allow me to return to my home and family in the U.S. with my wife.  We understood we were among the lucky ones, but still we were forced to live in exile.  We dream of a beautiful and spiritual ceremony, back in the U.S. with my friends and family, and not just a procedure in a civil court hall as did in Spain.

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After many challenging months in Spain, we started to rethink our situation in Spain and we concluded that we could not live there long-term.  We decided instead to move to Puerto Rico where my wonderful, supportive family welcomed Francisca with open arms. Francisca was limited to a 90-day visit to the U.S. and we valued that time.  Francisca and I considered whether some employment offer in the future may qualify her for a temporary work visa, and we talked to a few people. Not surprisingly, no specific offer or plan materialized in this recession.

On the 90th day, Francisca had to leave the country.  On my drive back to the airport, I became envious of all the people who have the opportunity to be with their partner and enjoy each other.  After struggling with that feeling for a time, I have learned to appreciate everything I have in my life including Francisca. We’ve been seeing once a year, and our relationship is growing stronger in spite of the odds.  Although we have our ups and downs, including suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression, we come out stronger and more empowered every time.  She has taught me so much, even how to swim.  I thank God everyday for having her in my life even though she is very far away.

Because of DOMA, we are forced to endure this physical separation.  Like many other binational couples who get up every day with the ache of separation, we also yearn to be reunited, to simply be together.  We know that most Americans believe the consequences of DOMA for binational families are unnecessary and cruel.  However, many still are unaware of the heartbreak that DOMA causes.  That is why we are sharing our story with the DOMA Project.  We encourage you to share our story with friends and family.

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We look forward to the day that I can file a green card petition for Francisca. In the meantime we join the many other couples who have shared their story via The DOMA Project and urge all those reading this to sign this petition to President Obama to stop denying green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay gay binational couples. Please sign it and share it with others. Together we will end discrimination that has forced me to live thousands of miles away from Francisca. We will keep fighting for our love, for social justice and for equal rights, and we encourage you to join us in this fight.

Si se puede!

*names have been changed in this story to protect the privacy of the authors

 

Fighting DOMA and Preparing for the Post-DOMA Universe

The United States Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States

In this post I would like to address a concern that has been the subject of some discussion lately: that some same-sex binational couples seeking immigration benefits may experience difficulties in the post-DOMA universe if they reside in states that do not recognize their marriages. I believe this concern is fundamentally misguided, as I explain in detail below.

Beginning in July 2010 our law firm, Masliah & Soloway, launched a pro bono campaign called The DOMA Project (www.domaproject.org) to directly address the impact of DOMA on married gay and lesbian binational couples and to pave the way for a smooth transition to a post-DOMA universe.  As part of this project, we have filed over 60 “green card” petitions for same-sex couples over the past 30 months.  Thus far, about half of these petitions have been adjudicated by the USCIS;  some received denial letters based solely on DOMA Section 3 (regardless of whether they were domiciled in non-recognition states) and the remaining cases are being held for further review, often pursuant to a request for abeyance.   The petitions that were denied were immediately appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).  Responding to these appeals, the BIA has not upheld a single denial by USCIS based on DOMA Section 3. In fact, of those appeals that have been decided by the BIA, ten so far, all have been remanded to USCIS with orders instructing USCIS to determine only (1) whether the marriages in question were legal under the laws of the states in which they were solemnized and (2) whether the couple met their burden of proof (evidence of cohabitation, commingled finances, a joint life together as spouses) of a bona fide marital relationship for the purpose of qualifying the beneficiary as a “spouse.”  In each remand, the BIA clearly ordered the USCIS to confirm the validity of the marriages under the state law where the couple was married (and not where they reside), and asks for a determination, based on the bona fides of the marital relationship, that the foreign spouse would be eligible for a green card “notwithstanding DOMA Section 3.”

In none of these cases did the BIA or the USCIS ever assert that lack of recognition of the marriage in the state of domicile would prevent approval, absent DOMA Section 3. Nor did the fact that the couple resided in a non-recognition state (as was true for many, if not most, of the cases) impede our ability to request “abeyance” on the final decision, i.e. our request that the case be put on hold until Section 3 of DOMA is resolved by the Supreme Court. In fact, there is no evidence from this body of cases (i.e. no arguments by USCIS in their briefing, no references to state “non-recognition” laws in USCIS “DOMA denial” letters, and no language in the BIA remands) that suggests that the BIA or the USCIS will treat married same-sex couples differently depending on state of residence in the post-DOMA universe.

Creating a favorable post-DOMA context that ensures swift approval of green card petitions filed by qualified same-sex couples has been a continuing objective of The DOMA Project. We have received no feedback from any executive branch agency or from the Obama administration that suggests that binational couples can expect to face future complications arising from their domicile in states that do not recognize their marriages.  However, while we remain vigilant in our advocacy for a smooth transition to a post-DOMA universe, it should be noted that the Immigration & Nationality Act looks to the law of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was entered into to determine whether the marriage is valid.  The BIA explicitly affirmed this general rule in the BIA ruling in the Lovo-Lara case (involving a marriage in which one party was transgender), stating that “[t]he issue of validity of a marriage under State law is generally governed by the law of the place of celebration of the marriage.”

Historically, there have been very rare circumstances in which consideration of the law of the state of domicile has been taken into account for immigration purposes (involving prohibited marriages that were found to violate state criminal statutes). We do not expect the federal government to withhold immigration benefits from some same-sex couples based on the law of their state of residence at the time they file a green card petition after DOMA Section 3 has been struck down by the Supreme Court.

Although I feel strongly that we should not be distracted by speculation about hypothetical scenarios, the clarification and information offered here will hopefully serve to empower more members of our community to join the fight against DOMA in the court of public opinion.  Make no mistake. We must stay engaged. We must challenge DOMA every day by our conduct and our belief that we are equal and that no law can ever make us unequal. We must hold accountable all government agencies that deny recognition of our marriages, deny our humanity and tear apart our families. We must hold accountable all government officials that continue to enforce a law against us that is unconstitutional and immoral. We must hold the President to his word, and insist that he take action to protect our families by putting our green card petitions on hold until the Supreme Court has ruled on DOMA.  We must tell our stories every day and continue to build a movement for equality.  We are getting closer to the finish line, but that does not mean we can wait for equality to come to us.

Contact us at [email protected] to find out how you can get involved.

Lavi S. Soloway, co-founder, The DOMA Project
Masliah & Soloway, PC

Newlyweds Ben and Dario Speak Out Against DOMA

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Wedding Day June 2012

Dario and I had something special from the time we met in July 2010.  On that first date, we had an instant connection – sharing our histories, our passions in life and our hopes for the future. I had met a partner for life. When, the following month, I was unfortunate enough to get quite sick, Dario took care of me every day to see to my quick recovery. Seeing his compassionate face each day as I struggled to improve made me smile through the pain.

The first few months of our relationship were intense; we saw each other every day and slowly introduced our lives and friends to each other. We were committed to each other early on in the relationship and decided to further commit when we began living together later that year. Not only were we joining ourselves together under one roof, but our little family included our dogs as well.

It seems every day we learn more and more about each other, and gain a further appreciation for the other. Dario has introduced me to his friends both here in the U.S. and in Argentina, as well as the family he has left in Argentina. Dario would very much like to share with me his cultural heritage and introduce me to his friends and family in Argentina in person, but we are unable to at this time. Communications with family abroad must be done online, as it is impossible for Dario to leave the U.S. for fear he will be not be allowed to return. Fortunately, my parents and Dario have bonded on a number of occasions when they have visited us in New Jersey and when we have made extended summer visits to their home in New Mexico.  Each year, when we visit my family there, we drive across the country hoping to minimize the risk that Dario’s immigration status may be discovered and he may be taken away from me.  The stress of Dario’s inability to obtain legal status hangs over us.  All we are doing is taking a family road trip, but anxiety and fear mars what should be a fun and relaxing adventure.

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My family has come to love Dario, and considers him to be a part of the family. Last summer, we decided to further our commitment to each other by getting married in New York. With close friends present, we had tears in our eyes as the officiant presiding over the ceremony declared us to be married.  I feel blessed to be able to marry in a state that recognizes my love and treats it as equal. On our summer trip to New Mexico in 2012, we had a gathering of friends from the area and our family from the West Coast to celebrate our union. In August we hosted a formal reception at our home with close to 70 guests – family, friends, and co-workers. It was truly one of the most special moments of my life to have all those close to me celebrating the love and commitment that Dario and I hold for each other.

My inability to petition for Dario’s green card based on our marriage, a right any heterosexual binational couple enjoys, has denied us the opportunity to make plans and build a future together.  Our inability to travel together out of the United States means that we are often separated for weeks each year as my job involves a lot of foreign travel.

Dario and I have made a home together, and our commitment to each other continues to grow stronger. However, every day we struggle with the fear of the possibility that our home may be destroyed by the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act which prevents the federal government from recognizing our marriage, including for immigration purposes.  Because of this cruel law, the government does not see the love we share or the home we have built together. As a couple, we are invisible.

Dario and I hope to purchase our first home together, and in this process we are reminded how much is at stake with the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.  We know that unless it is repealed or struck down, we will eventually be forced into exile in Argentina.   We have joined the DOMA Project because we believe that we must speak out about the injustice of DOMA in order to bring about change.  Without this change our lives, like tens of thousands of other binational couples, are on hold. We urge you to sign The DOMA Project’s petition (click here) to President Obama asking that green card petitions filed by same-sex binational couples be put on hold until the Supreme Court ruling. This important step toward greater equality would protect couples like us in the short term and prepare for a day when our green card petition can be approved.

Pure happiness as we walk through Central Park, NYC with friends post-ceremony (2012)

Walking through Central Park after the wedding ceremony

 

 

VIDEO: From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall to Asheville, North Carolina: Becky and Sanne Fight for the Right to be Together in this Country

President Obama, meet Becky and Sanne, and their 2-year-old daughter, Willow. Becky, who was born in this country, is a middle school teacher. Sanne comes from the Netherlands, the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to wed.Sanne could have sponsored Becky as her spouse for the Dutch equivalent of a “green card.” Instead, they chose to live in America, where federal law refuses to recognize their marriage at all, including for immigration purposes.

 

President Obama, meet Becky and Sanne, and their 2-year-old daughter, Willow. Becky, who was born in this country, is a middle school teacher. Sanne comes from the Netherlands, the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to wed. Sanne could have sponsored Becky as her spouse for the Dutch equivalent of a “green card.” Instead, they chose to live in America, where federal law refuses to recognize their marriage at all, including for immigration purposes. Fighting for their right to be here together as a family has become part of their daily lives.

Becky and Sanne settled down in Becky’s home state of North Carolina, where, last spring, a majority of voters passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage (and all other legal forms of same-sex unions). Gay and lesbian couples were already barred from marriage by law in North Carolina, but 61% of voters decided to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution anyway.

Perhaps you are wondering why Becky and Sanne chose to live where they do, considering that most North Carolinians do not see them as devoted and loving wives and mothers worthy of equal protection under the law.

For them, it was a no-brainer. First, they simply wanted to raise their daughter near the friends, family, and mountains they love. Plus, there was no way they were ever going to live overseas and wait for change to happen before following their hearts home. Rather, they were determined to be in the thick of the fight for equality, advocating for the kind of world any parent, gay or straight, would want to raise their child in – one characterized by respect and equal opportunity.

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Becky and Sanne are living their lives unapologetically and by example where change is needed most. They are literally on the front lines sharing their story with whomever will listen, making their case in the most influential court in the land: the court of public opinion. They are as strong and positive as people in their position could ever be. But they are struggling not knowing if they will be able to reap the benefits of their tireless work.

After all, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still in full effect, ensuring that even though these upstanding and dutiful women are married, Becky cannot sponsor Sanne for a green card to live and work in the United States, as is possible for opposite-sex couples. Without a green card, Sanne has no legal status in the United States, despite having entered legally. Raising a family solely on Becky’s modest middle school teacher’s income is almost impossible. Both women are desperate to “root down” and plan their future, for themselves and for the well-being of their beautiful daughter. Instead, even the most basic decisions such as whether to splurge on a new kitchen table, are soured by the inevitable question: “what if?”

When you announced that your administration would no longer defend DOMA in federal court, Becky and Sanne hoped that you would take steps to ensure that they were recognized as deserving of the same rights and protections of all American families — especially the right to be secure in calling this country home. Like so many other binational same-sex couples, they know that you can implement interim solutions offering them at least a temporary reprieve from the anguish and uncertainty that haunts their every day. Now more than ever, executive branch action in defense of families like Becky and Sanne’s is an imperative.

As President, you have championed equality for gays and lesbians, including the right to have our marriages treated equally under the law by the federal government. In your recent inaugural address, you noted that “if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” The love Becky and Sanne share is inviolable, strong, and precious. It is equal and it must be protected.

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Taking no action is inconsistent with the ideals fought for by brave citizens at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. If we are to carry on the fight for civil rights, every day counts. Becky and Sanne are doing their part. As President, you can ensure that their green card petition is not denied, but instead put on hold until either the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act or Congress passes an immigration reform bill that includes the gay partner provision you put forward.

You are the President who spoke of change. These are your faithful warriors. Help them get to the promised land.

_______________________

The video posted here is the second in a series of short films titled Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA produced by The DOMA Project in collaboration with the DeVote Campaign.

© The DOMA Project

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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.