DOMA Project at the Supreme Court: Conference Call this Sunday, March 31st

THE DOMA PROJECT AT THE SUPREME COURT

Analysis of Oral Arguments and Likely Rulings That Will Strike Down DOMA

Join the DOMA Project co-founder Lavi Soloway this Sunday evening at 8:00 pm EST (5:00 pm PST) to hear his analysis after he attended oral arguments this week in United States v. Windsor at the Supreme Court.

SCOTUS Conference Call

Lavi Soloway will describe the experience of attending the oral arguments from his vantage point seated in the second row in the well of court, directly behind the attorneys who presented arguments to the nine justices, and he will explain the most likely outcome of a Supreme Court ruling expected to come at the end of June. We will also discuss how oral arguments have impacted our strategy and address the most pressing issue facing binational couples fighting for full equality: what can you do in the next 90 days to ensure that we defeat DOMA at the Supreme Court and in the Court of Public Opinion and ensure a smooth transition to a post-DOMA universe.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT ON WEDNESDAY? HOW WILL WE DEFEAT DOMA AND WIN FULL EQUALITY? SIGN UP FOR OUR CONFERENCE CALL TO FIND OUT!

RSVP for this conference call sending an e-mail to [email protected] with the subject line “DOMA Project SCOTUS Conference Call” and you will receive instruction for calling in by reply e-mail. 

If you will be unable to attend the conference call due to the time-zone difference, please contact Derek Tripp at [email protected] for other arrangements.

Marriage Equality on Trial: Listen to Oral Arguments in the Case Against DOMA at the Supreme Court

AUDIO: Marriage Equality on Trial: listen to oral arguments in the case against DOMA at the Supreme Court.


DOMA at Supreme Court

Listen to oral arguments in the case against DOMA at the Supreme Court

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Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Defense of Marriage Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: On March 27th, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Windsor v. United States, a challenge to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Section 3 prohibits the Federal Government from recognizing same-sex marriages, including for the purposes of immigration. Because of DOMA, tens of thousands of legally married gay and lesbian Americans are not able to petition their spouse for a green card or apply for a fiancé(e) visa to bring their partner abroad to the United States.  The result for many couples is that they are forced to live thousands of miles apart and only able to spend time with their husband or wife for weeks at a time. Other couples are exiled from the United States all together, and must relocate to another country in order to live with their spouse.


 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Contact: Lavi Soloway
Phone: 323-599-6915
[email protected]
[email protected]

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MARRIED GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES CONTINUE TO BE DENIED ACCESS TO GREEN CARDS BECAUSE OF FEDERAL LAW

 

Binational Couples & The DOMA Project Co-Founder Lavi Soloway Rally Outside the Supreme Court for an End to Law Which Keeps Families Apart or Exiled Overseas

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On March 27th, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Windsor v. United States, a challenge to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Section 3 prohibits the Federal Government from recognizing same-sex marriages, including for the purposes of immigration. Because of DOMA, tens of thousands of legally married gay and lesbian Americans are not able to petition their spouse for a green card or apply for a fiancé(e) visa to bring their partner abroad to the United States.  The result for many couples is that they are forced to live thousands of miles apart and only able to spend time with their husband or wife for weeks at a time. Other couples are exiled from the United States all together, and must relocate to another country in order to live with their spouse.

At issue in Windsor v. United States is whether the Federal Government was permitted to tax the estate that Thea Spyer left to her wife Edith Windsor as if the two were legal strangers. While estates left from one spouse to another are not typically taxed, Edith Windsor was given an over $360,000 tax bill.  The Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether DOMA violates the Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution and whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has standing to defend the challenge to DOMA. In 8 lower Federal Court decisions, each reviewing court has found that DOMA violates the constitution because it discriminates against lesbian and gay Americans.

“The DOMA applies as a matter of federal law whether or not your marriage is recognized under state law. Your spouse is not a person of the opposite sex.  Therefore, under the DOMA your petition must be denied.”

The DOMA Project has filed over 40 green card and fiancé(e) visas for same-sex couples since the campaign began in 2010.  While U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has continued to deny these applications based solely on Section 3 of DOMA, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has, in every case it has reviewed, told USCIS that is must determine the validity of these marriages on their face, and cannot deny these applications out of hand. The Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security have the prerogative to hold these applications in abeyance; neither approving nor denying these applications until the Supreme Court issues a final decision in June.  An abeyance policy would respect the marriages of American citizens and allow gay and lesbian foreign-born partners to be reunited with their US citizen spouses in the United States.


For more information about today’s announcement, or to schedule an interview, please contact Derek Tripp or Lavi Soloway.  Lavi Soloway is an attorney for couples participating in The DOMA Project and co-founder of The DOMA Project.

Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder – Phone: 323-599-6915 – [email protected]

Derek Tripp, Project Associate – Phone: 646-535-3788 – [email protected]


Hernan and Carlos: Separated by DOMA, United by Their Love For Each Other and Hope for the Future

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Our love story began three years ago when I was logged on to my Facebook account one day and noticed a “friend request” from Carlos, someone I did not know. As any Facebook user knows, friend requests are a fairly constant feature of social networking. I don’t usually accept the friend request of a stranger, but on that day something made me want to know more about this person. At the time, I had no idea that the face staring back at me from the screen would become the love of my life, the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.  Those realizations came later. On that day, I accepted his request and joined his friend list.

Days went by before we happened to be on line at the same time and we started talking.  I was nervous but curious. I greeted him and asked who he was. He introduced himself to me in a way that caught my attention; he was very captivating. With time, our conversations became more frequent and it got me wondering why he had sent me that friend request in the first place. Turns out, a complete coincidence, and luck brought Carlos to my Facebook page.  My first name and last name are the same as one his relatives, and he had sent the request mistakenly thinking I was that person.  That didn’t matter much, as soon as we started to get to know each other were glad the coincidence had brought us together.

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It did not take long for us to realize there was a very strong chemistry between the two of us. We kept on talking over the internet and got to know each other better and better. Later we got to exchange telephone numbers and were able to communicate via Blackberry Messenger and Whatsapp. And, little by little, what had started as a friendship (since neither of us had even acknowledge yet to the other that we were gay), started to get more intense. And we would talk all day, up until late at night.  The direction our friendship was heading to made me develop feelings for Carlos. Even though I did not know him in person, ours chats felt as if we knew each other throughout the whole life. And since we became good friends, I felt like telling him about my sexual orientation. One day, while chatting I told him: “Carlos, I am gay. I hope that does not bother you.” I was anxious to know what he would think about it, when he replied: “Do not worry…me too.”

This was a very special moment for the two of us, it felt as if it was meant to be. We were now talking daily and I couldn’t keep my feelings to myself any longer.  I told him: “Carlos, you know what? I like you.” I did not know what his reaction would be, but he replied instantly: “I also like you a lot.” He asked if he could call me and I could not resist to his request, I had to listen to his voice. When he called and I answered the emotion that took over us was mutual and we decided that it was about time to go on Skype. We set up a date and saw each other. Ever since that, we keep in touch through web camera, we meet every time we have some free time and share everything together.

We went on like that for days, talking whenever we had a chance, getting to know each other better and better. We started dreaming about meeting in person, and this was exactly what happened. Thanks to Carlos’ job which allowed him to travel to different cities in the US frequently, we got to plan our first date. He had to travel to Washington, DC and this trip presented our first opportunity to meet in person; I waited anxiously for that day until it finally happened. I took three days off work to go to DC. That day, Carlos arrived in the morning and I got there in the afternoon. He was waiting for me at the airport. We could never forget that moment, when our eyes met for the first time, when we first hugged without being able to say a word such was the emotion. All we did was cry, happy to know that we were now together.

Those were the best three days of our lives, we were always happy even though we knew that the moment to say goodbye would come sooner than we could imagine. During those three days, we went for walks, had dinner, and shared beautiful moments which made us decide that we would start a formal relationship, without caring about the distance that would separate us. The final day came too quickly, and we had to say goodbye. His flight going back to Colombia was scheduled for the morning and I had to go back to Boston in the afternoon. That was a very hard and sad moment, we did not want to let go of each other but we knew that was how things had to be. Later that night we spoke again on Skype and it was even harder to see each other on the computer. Ever since that day, we sleep with our cameras turned on so that we can feel that we are close and that we live together. For the past two years, we have had the good fortune to be able to see each other every three months or so, either I go to Colombia, where Caros lives, or he comes to the United States. Last Thanksgiving he suggested that we have a wedding in Colombia which was a very special occasion. We started to plan when would be the best time to do it.

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On January 17 of this year, I went to Colombia to attend our wedding which was to take place the next day; and then 3 days later we had to say goodbye one more time.  Like all binational couples, we experience repeated heartbreaking separations. The goodbyes at the airports are always so hard and emotional, and this one, coming right after our wedding celebration, was no exception. These are unending moments, leaving our hearts anxious and uneasy, almost as if they were taken out of us. The loneliness of having your loved one far from you is truly indescribable; although we have the constant faith that we will meet soon again.  The experience of spending time together and then separating again, has tested our relationship and has made it stronger.  Our desire to be together and to build a happy future here, in the US, is bigger than any barrier that we encounter in our way.

Our wedding in Colombia is recognized under Colombian law as a de facto marital union (“Union Marital de Hecho”) which is performed with public notary and is similar to “common law marriage.” This provides the same benefits as heterosexual marriages in Colombia.

We hope that one day soon that we will be able to end this separation and live each day together in the U.S., building a home and a life together just as all other loving couples.

We thank The DOMA PROJECT for the great work that they have done and the support they have given to make come true not just our dream, but also the dream of all of those couples who are on the same situation.

WATCH OUR POWERFUL VIDEO: Winning the Future, LGBT Americans Produce Groundswell of Support for Marriage Equality in Advance of Supreme Court Rulings

By Brynn Gelbard and Lavi Soloway

In the last week we passed some incredible milestones in the fight for marriage equality. First, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) became the first sitting Republican U.S. senator to declare his support for marriage equality, and after a career of voting against our rights, no less. Then, by video, Hillary Clinton endorsed the right of same-sex couples to marry, and it was the strongest such endorsement by any American political leader so far. Finally, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that support for marriage equality has skyrocketed in just two years, with a staggering proportion of every demographic supporting equality for lesbian and gay couples. Overall, 58 percent of Americans polled said that they support our right to marry (previous polls had been creeping above the 50-percent line, but this was the first dramatic leap toward 60 percent). A third of Republicans, nearly two thirds of independents, almost three quarters of Democrats, about half of senior citizens and an astounding 81 percent of young voters polled said they support marriage equality.

 

 

What to make of this surge forward on marriage equality? There can only be one conclusion: LGBT families are standing up, assuming equality and challenging everyone to see their humanity. By reaching out to our neighbors, families, co-workers, fellow congregants, employers and friends, and by living open and honest lives, we have changed the hearts and minds of more than 100 million Americans, but we must keep up this pace. We have work left to do.

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Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA is a series of short films produced by the DeVote Campaign and the DOMA Project, featuring lesbian and gay spouses discussing life under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents the federal government from recognizing their marriages for immigration purposes. For many in the U.S., DOMA is an obscure law that has no effect on them, so they don’t even know what it is, but for the couples portrayed in these pieces, their entire lives are at stake because of it, but they are fighting back by sharing their stories while ultimately ensuring that their lived experiences are archived as history never to be forgotten or repeated.

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We must defeat DOMA so that our marriages are recognized at the federal level, putting an end to the catastrophic discrimination faced by countless same-sex spouses, including binational couples, who are denied green cards despite being legally married. We must demand that our federal government, like all our state and local governments, treat our families with dignity and respect, and that our laws do the same. We have come a long way in a short time because we have truth on our side. Ultimately, however, our success is not the result of momentum inevitably moving in our favor. Rather, it is the collective voices of LGBT Americans and their allies that are changing our world.


Originally published on Huffington Post on March 20, 2013

Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Brynn Gelbard started the DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. For more, visit devotecampaign.comfacebook.com/devotecampaign and twitter.com/devotecampaign.

In 2010, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, Lavi Soloway launched the DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples. For more, follow domaproject.orgfacebook.com/thedomaproject and twitter.com/gaybinationals.

Forced Apart: Alison and Michele Fight Back Against DOMA, Urge Inclusive Reform and Humanitarian Parole

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Alison and Michele

I met Michele in August 2010 after moving to the Rocinha favela, one of the slums in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I sold my car after graduating from Colorado University in Boulder with a degree in International Relations, packed two bags, and landed in Rocinha to teach English at a non-profit organization. It was here that she swept me off my feet with her winning smile and easygoing attitude. Michele and I were inseparable right from the start. Over time, she became my best friend, my girlfriend, and the person I wanted to spend my every waking moment with. We would stay up talking for hours until the sun came up over the ocean and I knew I had never felt so comfortable being myself around someone as I did when I was with her.  As I learned how to speak Portuguese, our relationship blossomed even further and I felt more connected to her, while better understanding her culture and where she came from.

Our relationship began to develop and my original 5-month stay in Brazil stretched out to one year. Eventually one year turned into two. I couldn’t fathom life without waking up to our morning conversations or our romps around the city. I didn’t see any reason for us to be apart but I was tired of living far from my friends and family and working informally as an English teacher without a chance to provide a better life for us. On my birthday, May 5, 2011, the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court unknowingly gave me the perfect birthday present by handing down a decision requiring same-sex civil unions nationwide. We took it as a sign.

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Michele and I knew we were in love and wanted to be together without worrying if I was going to be deported or how I was going to keep working. After talking about the value of our relationship and how much it meant to continue being together in the same place, we decided to get married. Quickly after, we were contacted by a television channel asking us to participate in their new show, Chuva de Arroz which highlights wedding styles outside of the norm.  Since the law had recently been passed, they wanted to feature one gay couple and one lesbian couple on their show. At first, I was completely against the idea. I didn’t want to expose my life to the whole world because I’m a fairly private person but I began to realize that it would give us the chance to commemorate our love with the close friends that had supported our relationship and possibly inspire other same-sex couples to realize that their dreams of getting married could come true too.

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By the time of our wedding, we still hadn’t obtained a marriage certificate because it took five months to be approved. We were not expecting this delay since heterosexual couples are approved in about a month. But the show had to go on!  We had a beautiful ceremony in the middle of sprawling gardens with about 70 of our closest friends and Michele’s family. Only months after our wedding, we were informed that we were in fact the first female couple to obtain a marriage license in Rio and possibly in all of Brazil.

After the show, we had positive feedback by other couples that wanted to start getting married now that the law was passed. We were invited to attend a joint wedding between 50 same-sex couples at the Ministry of Justice building in Rio where we both cried with happiness seeing so much love in one place!  Unfortunately, for these couples, the process was just beginning because they were only granted preliminary status as “stable unions” and each couple would still have to go through individual processing in order to obtain a marriage certificate. Certain judges were simply not upholding the law as they should have. We were featured in the first gay wedding magazine in Brazil that will now be published once a year as well as in a music video by Marcelo Jeneci. Lots of times we would step back and look at how far Brazil had come in such a short time and how accepting Brazilians were of same sex relationships. This is not to say that this is true everywhere. There are many places in Brazil where gays still fall victim to discrimination and incredible violence. Still, I was shocked that Brazil had somehow beaten the United States, a country that prides itself on freedom and equality for all, at allowing same-sex marriages to be recognized on a federal level.

cerimonia_0295Our wedding was beautiful but incredibly bittersweet for me as my American friends and family were not a part of it. I got through the day reassuring myself that in the near future we would have a wedding in the U.S. where my friends and family could also give us their blessings. We had decided that, while we both love Brazil, it was not a place for us to grow in our careers and future goals. We started planning a move to the U.S.  It didn’t take long to realize this would be easier said than done since the U.S. does not recognize marriages between binational same-sex couples. I cannot even sponsor Michele for a green card like binational heterosexual couples can.   And, to make a long story short, this is how, like so many other binational couples, I came to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon be deciding the fate of DOMA and would possibly strike down this destructive law that has been tearing families apart for years. In October 2012, I came to the U.S. to visit with my family; I had been away for so long and we decided Michele would come on a tourist visa in January 2013 after finishing her studies as a Cultural Event Producer. The six-month visa would give us the chance to be in the U.S. to celebrate what we hope will be a victory at the Supreme Court in June, and to be able to spend quality time with my family.

When Michele’s first interview rolled around, I have to admit we were not as prepared as we should have been because we were told that Brazilians were easily obtaining tourist visas to the U.S.  The Brazilian economy was doing so well and the U.S. encouraged them to come here and spend their money. We also consulted an immigration official about whether or not to include information about our relationship on her application. We were informed that we should always tell the truth, even about our relationship so as not to risk being denied a spouse visa in the future. When I got the call at 5:00 am on November 29, I was devastated to hear her sobbing on the other line, saying she had been denied the tourist visa. We were in shock. We were not at all expecting this outcome when I left Brazil. Michele said it was very clear in the interview that she was denied because we were in a relationship and the U.S. consular officials did not believe Michele would return to Brazil. Now, months later and after extensive research, I realize this was the worst advice we could have received because, without context and evidence of our strong ties as a couple to our home in Brazil, it left only the impression that Michele  would not return to Brazil.  It took a while to compose ourselves over the next few days as we tried to work out a Plan B.

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Now apart for four months, we re-applied for another tourist visa, this time determined to prove that Michele was only coming for a visit and returning soon after to Brazil. She went in with confidence, with a letter from the Secretary of Culture saying she needed to do research in New York for a cultural project she was developing, an invitation from Long Island University to come give a talk about independent artist movements in the favelas, documents proving she had clients in Rio as well as lots of money in the bank and proof we had a residence together in Brazil. At her interview on February 8, 2013, she was denied a second time where it was made clear once again that despite all of the supporting documents, the reason for denial was our relationship. Now that she has been denied twice, it will be a very long time before she will be considered again for a visa.   Sadly, we do not yet have access to the most obvious solution, that of sponsoring Michele for a green card as any heterosexual couple would be able to do.  Rather than wait for change to happen, we are taking part in the important advocacy work, joining other binational couples from all around the world, fighting DOMA by sharing our stories, our experiences and the impact this law is having on our us and our extended families.

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DOMA is a law that has been destroying the chance for couples like us to be together for years. I know there are couples that have been living in this limbo for decades longer than we have and my heart goes out to them.  Many have children and deal with the constant issue of shuffling between countries, between visa expiration dates and heavy hearts at departures. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.  This country was founded on the principles of equality that are so blatantly lacking in this situation. Michele and I deserve to be treated the same as any heterosexual couple is, where at the very least, the American partner is able to sponsor his or her partner for a green card.

Now is the time to raise our voices and make our stories heard.  Every day that goes by with DOMA in effect is another day that justice is denied.  That is why we must continuously pressure our U.S. Senators and Representatives to adopt LGBT-inclusive language in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform that is currently being debated in Washington.  We refuse to be labeled a “distraction” from the key issues; our families are not an expendable trading chip in the immigration debate.  We also join other separated and exiled couples with The DOMA Project in urging President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to implement a humanitarian parole policy that would allow gay and lesbian Americans to bring their foreign same-sex spouses/fiance(e)s into the country as DOMA’s end draws near.

Since we found out that Michele is not eligible for a non-immigrant visa and I cannot sponsor her on a green card as my wife until the Supreme Court makes a ruling in favor of all same-sex couples, I have come to the decision that I will return to Brazil to be with her. It is unfair to be forced to be apart while a group of judges debates the value of our marriage, and at least in Brazil we can wait together where we are recognized like any other couple. After participating in a march for marriage equality in Washington D.C. on March 26, I will board a plane to go back to Brazil. I’m arriving on March 27 which is our one-year wedding anniversary. It’s a date that is too important to miss and six months apart during our first year of marriage was hard enough to get through. While I am thrilled to be with Michele again, I’m incredibly disappointed that it has come to moving back, which was not at all in our plans. We have the right to build our lives together in the United States. I hope the judges understand the full weight of their decision and what it means for all of our families.

Help us and thousands of separated and exiled couples as we fight to reunite in the U.S.  Please share our story with your family, friends, and elected officials.

 

Laurie and Caroline, Married Lesbian Mothers of Three Sons, Fight DOMA For Their Family’s Future

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Laurie and I first met in August 2005, we both joined an online lesbian dating agency called The Pink Sofa.  When you are interested in someone you send them a smile, Laurie sent me a smile and I immediately smiled back!  From that moment on we were both hooked; there was an instant bond between us.  We had so many common interests and shared all our most intimate thoughts; it was like we had known each other forever. Even though Laurie was from Massachusetts and I was from West Sussex England that didn’t deter us.  We believed that if we were meant to be together somehow we would find a way. Every possible moment we could spare was spent either sending “instant messages” and e-mails or talking on the phone.  It might sound crazy to some but we actually fell in love without ever seeing each other in person.  But soon all we desperately wanted was to actually be with each other.  Modern technology could only do so much!

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On October 4, 2005 I made the journey from London to Boston so that at last Laurie and I could meet face to face, we were both so incredibly excited waiting for that moment I would walk through the arrival doors at Logan Airport and we would see each other and be able to hold each other, really connecting for the first time!  The moment came and it was incredible, we hugged and kissed, it was the most amazing time of our lives and one we never ever forget. Despite it being our first time meeting in person, we spent eight wonderful days together without a moment of disappointment or regret which only went to prove just how much we loved one another.  The night before I had to leave we decided we wanted to commit to each other.  We exchanged rings and celebrated with a bottle of champagne.  It was a huge mixture of elation and sadness knowing that we wanted one another forever but that I had to leave the very next day to a country an ocean away.

Our parting was terrible but it only made us realize how hard we had to work to make sure we could be together all the time.  That time came in November 2005.  I luckily arranged to work from home so I could have more flexibility in my schedule to permit constant travel. Then as soon as I could, I headed back to Laurie in Boston.  We both had family commitments and, so, like all other parents, we had to divide our time more equally.  In January 2006, Laurie gave up her job in the medical field so that we could start a grueling bi-weekly travel plan, all so we could be together while also seeing our families.  It is hard to describe to others the sacrifices we made during that time to be together; flying back and for twice a month from the U.S. to the U.K. to spend as much of our time together as possible.  Still, we knew we wanted to settle down together.

Our Wedding August 18th 2006

On July 29, 2006, just shy of a year after we first met on line, Laurie and I got married in Massachusetts.  We wanted to make “official” our relationship, our commitment to take care of each other through thick and thin, and our love for each other.  We very much wanted a public ceremony to celebrate our love with our friends and family. Ours was a beautiful Hawaiian style wedding in which our three sons took part. One of our close friends officiated the ceremony and I sung “Both Sides Now” to Laurie as that was one of her favorite songs.  We also wanted to include our UK family and friends, so we had another ceremony in Midhurst England on August 18, 2006.  Again, our three sons took part, walking us down the aisle.  We had a fantastic celebration that went late into the night.  With our vows exchanged on both sides of the pond what more could we do to proclaim our love and commitment to one another? We spent our honeymoon on the big island of Hawaii.  It was such a deeply loving time; it could not have been better in any way.  The only bad thing was having to go back to reality!

Hawiian Honeymoon

As I was a photographer in the U.K. and Laurie had been a keen amateur, we decided to establish a photography business in the U.S.  We know that this would enable Laurie and I to maintain a flexible lifestyle while keeping up with our extreme travel commitments.  We did the bi-weekly travel for another 18 months.  During this time Laurie, my two sons, and I traveled to India at the conclusion of a fundraising campaign I had headed up for tsunami relief.  We had raised enough money to rebuild a tsunami-hit school in the Tamil Nadu region and were invited for the official inauguration of the school.  It was an extraordinary trip that remains imbedded in all our minds and makes us feel so grateful for all that we have, and grateful for the precious, wonderful family we had become.

After 18 months of bi-weekly trans Atlantic travel we had drained our financial and emotional reserves; we had to make a new plan.  We decided to commit to buying a home in the U.S. together and to start the process of establishing our life and business in one place.  It was so good to call just one place home after all this time spent traveling, we even added a dog and cat into our fold too!  Around this time Laurie’s dad had a massive heart attack followed shortly by a severe stroke which left him almost totally incapacitated.   Of course Laurie wanted to be very close at hand at all times, especially as her mother had already passed away, so we decided that we needed to put down our roots in the U.S.

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We have now been married almost seven years and our love has only grown deeper and stronger every day.  During that time, we have made incredible sacrifices.  We have drained our finances on travel and legal fees.    To this day, the two of us struggle to keep up with our mortgage payments and maintain our photography business while also maintaining a loving environment for our children.  In spite of all our hard work and sacrifice, there is not a day that goes by that we don’t appreciate starting this magical relationship of ours, and we hold on to it for dear life.

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We have spoken with so many binational couples since we have begun sharing our story, and it is heart breaking to hear from couples who have been forced into leaving the United States.  Laurie knows that our home is here and there is no way the federal government will force us out of this country just because we are a same-sex couple.  We have been amazed by that amount of support we have received directly from celebrities and our wedding couples, not to mention our family and friends, it confirms for us that sharing our stories is the ultimate way to bring about change.

At the moment we are facing such a critical time, everything hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court considers the fate of DOMA.  But we are not resting until a decision in June. We are fighting in every way possible to raise awareness of what DOMA does and how it is the cause of so much unnecessary suffering for gay and lesbian binational couples.

There are solutions available, long advocated for by the DOMA Project, which would treat same-sex couples fairly until there is a final decision on DOMA.  Holding green card applications in abeyance would allow couples like us to start the process of having our family recognized.  It would also permit me the ability to work and travel while our application was pending.  We want and deserve our marriage to be recognized just like any other.  We hope that in June we will be celebrating the end of DOMA.  On that long-awaited day, Laurie will be able to petition for a green card for me as her wife.  That day, we will finally be able to breathe easy, knowing that our future together will be secure.  But until that day, we stand up for ourselves, for our three sons, and for every couple like us.  Our action today is the only thing that will shape our future.

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Misstep? State Department Posts First-Ever LGBT Travel Info, With Advice For Gay & Lesbian Americans Forced into Exile Because of DOMA

Former Senator John Kerry, Now Secretary of State, has long advocated for lesbian and gay binational couples

Former Senator John Kerry, who recently succeeded Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State, has long advocated for lesbian and gay binational couples

In an unprecedented move last month, the U.S. State Department (DOS) addressed the specific needs of LGBT Americans traveling abroad by posting a page entitled, “LGBT Travel Information” on its website. In addition to alerting LGBT tourists to inhospitable and dangerous places where they are at risk of being imprisoned or killed, the page rather strangely includes three immigration related questions, seemingly unrelated to typical travel advice.  Stranger still, the questions all relate to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the context of same-sex binational couples. DOS advises that DOMA prevents gay Americans from petitioning for green cards for their spouses, and follows with this question: “How can I obtain a foreign residence and/or work permit so I can live abroad with my foreign national spouse/partner?” This rather straightforward acknowledgment, on a DOS website, that gay and lesbian Americans are forced to expatriate because of DOMA struck some as insensitive and surprising. (Obviously, we welcome the U.S. government offering meaningful assistance when relocation is necessary, but the DOS did not even come close here.) The actual answer to the proposed question provides a link that leaves gay and lesbian Americans who are contemplating exile to search through a list of embassies and consulates of other countries.  (More on that link, below.) We were left scratching our head at the juxtaposition of this Q&A series with the language at the top of the page that quotes former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It strikes us as awkward, and that’s being charitable, for the administration to be championing the human rights of LGBT persons, while also acknowledging that it is showing the door to some lesbian and gay Americans because of DOMA.  The exile of lesbian and gay Americans is presented briefly and superficially, as if the tragedy of being uprooted from friends, family, workplace, and community, constitutes no more of a burden than planning a trip abroad.

“By fighting for the rights of so many others, we realize that gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”  Secretary Clinton – December 6, 2011

The DOS website’s guidance is also inconsistent with the spirit of President Obama’s declaration (which remains posted on the White House website) that “Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love.”

We acknowledge that DOS may have been sincere in the effort to be helpful, believing that it can assist gay and lesbian Americans forced to leave their own country with links to foreign embassies. What we find objectionable is that this information is delivered by an administration that has refused to implement policies that would end the forced exile of gay Americans, such as humanitarian parole and deferred action.  By refusing to put such policies in place, the Obama administration is complicit in the continued exile of gay Americans, even as it declares DOMA to be unconstitutional and refuses to defend the law. We should expect more from a President who has spoken so eloquently about equality for lesbian and gay couples, who has directed his Department of Justice to aggressively fight DOMA all the way to the Supreme Court.

Even if well-intentioned, the guidance from DOS is a poorly conceived “how-to leave the United States” guide directed at lesbian and gay Americans.  We urge Secretary of State John Kerry, a long-time advocate for same-sex binational couples, to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, and offer real solutions like an LGBT-focused “How To Stay in the United States with Your Partner and Family” guide backed up by policies that keep our families together until the Supreme Court has ruled on DOMA.

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To make matters worse, the actual “information” provided to lesbian and gay Americans forced into exile is actually a link to a full list of prospective countries (Afghanistan through Zimbabwe) where they might find a refuge outside the U.S. However, as the State Department warns on the same page, many countries on the list are too dangerous for an LGBT American citizen to travel, let alone settle as a same-sex couple. Given the trauma and sacrifices that thousands of lesbian and gay Americans have suffered in exile, this sloppy approach to this issue is unacceptable. Rick, an American who has lived in exile for three years in Taiwan with his husband, Brian, notes:

“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.”

John Kerry, as the newly appointed Secretary of State, will have a vital role in assisting exiled binational couples in their return from foreign countries. As Senator, John Kerry was personally well aware that forced exile is not a “choice” for lesbian and gay Americans with a foreign partner, including many who were his constituents; as Secretary of State he should encourage the administration to develop a humanitarian parole policy designed specifically for same-sex binational couples and their families.  Humanitarian parole is just one necessary measure to protect same-sex binational families from further tragedy. The Obama administration can implement other policies that would keep LGBT families together and prevent exile in the first place.

    • The President should create a humanitarian parole policy that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to admit the foreign partners/spouses and children of lesbian and gay Americans as “parolees” immediately so that gay and lesbian binational couples who are currently in exile will immediately be able to return to the United States.
    • The President should instruct USCIS to stop denying fiancé(e) and marriage-based “green card” petitions for same-sex couples, and put all such cases in abeyance until the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA.
    • The President should extend deferred action for the foreign partner/spouses and children of lesbian and gay Americans who are already residing in the U.S. without lawful status.
    • The President should immediately put in place a moratorium to stop the deportations of the partners of gay and lesbian citizens, rather than leaving deportations to the discretion of individual deportation officers and ICE prosecutors.

These policies, long advocated by the DOMA Project, would allow the Obama administration to act consistently with its prior statements of support for gay and lesbian binational families.  In the stories of couples profiled by The DOMA Project, the need for the above policies (especially humanitarian parole) is overwhelmingly apparent.  These stories illustrate just a glimpse into the needless harm caused by the Obama administration’s continued reluctance to adopt interim policies to reunite binationals exiled by DOMA with their families in the U.S.

For any binational couple, uprooting one’s family is no casual matter, but making an impossible choice to leave behind an elderly parent in the U.S. or separate from a foreign partner overseas can be excruciating.  Few couples’ stories illustrate this better than DOMA Project participants, Martha and Lin, whose nearly 15-year commitment to one another and their children was threatened by DOMA forcing the couple to travel back and forth between the U.S. and the Netherlands every 6 weeks for nearly 2 years.  In 2000, Martha made the emotionally difficult and costly decision to relocate to Amsterdam from Silicon Valley, California.  Eleven years later, Lin wrote,

“One day [Martha] will have the right to live in the same country as her mother, her sister and her brothers, the country in which she was born – and to do so without having to leave me, her spouse, behind. We deserve that simple but critical right.”

Martha and Lin and thousands of binational couples like them have waited far too long.  Today, in 2013, binational families like Martha and Lin’s continue to be needlessly separated or exiled because the Obama administration’s failure to implement policies like humanitarian parole and deferred action.  There is no excuse for delay.

Exile affects not only binational couples and their children, but their extended families as well.  Jesse and Max,  one of the founding couples of The DOMA Project, are an American-Argentine couple who have been exiled in Europe for more than ten years.  They are sorely missed by their tight-knit American family.  Jesse’s sister, told The DOMA Project in 2011,

“until DOMA is repealed, my family will continue to suffer. My parents save their hard earned dollars to make the expensive journey to Europe once a year to see Jesse and Max, while we otherwise satisfy ourselves on their ability to make infrequent visits here. This injustice must end. I join other family members of binational couples who fight against this discrimination.”

Jesse’s mother adds,

“As an American and as a mother, I feel that it is important to add my voice to this issue and demand that my government cease discriminating against my son.”

Recently Engaged, Indira and Kim Fight to be Together with Their Two Children in the U.S.

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Indira and Kim

Like many couples in the twenty-first century, Indira and I met through an online dating site. It was an almost accidental meeting as she had joined a local southern California site not knowing that her profile would appear on a larger, international one. I saw her photo and found her interesting and very cute, but didn’t think I fit her criteria so it was a pleasant surprise when she sent a “smile.” That smile led to an exchange of several emails over the next few days (and the discovery I am from Barbados).  Eventually, we connected via text messages and later by video chats. In spite of the time difference we talked for hours about anything and everything.

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With my birthday coming up, I asked her if she wanted to come and celebrate with me and she did!  The connection we felt across 3,900 miles only strengthened in person.  We found something that we wanted to pursue. Over the next few months we talked about being together. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any good options for a long-term plan. Because of Prop 8, same-sex marriage was (and continues to be) banned in California.  Due to DOMA, even if we married legally in another state or in another country, our lawful marriage would not be recognized by the federal government for immigration purposes. On the other hand, not only is same sex-marriage a far-fetched notion in Barbados, homosexuality is officially illegal. This left us with little choice but to either end our relationship or carry on long distance until circumstances change.

With the distance between us, as well as work and family commitments, we have been lucky enough to manage to alternate two trips each per year. But leaving each other and being apart has become increasingly difficult, and it is frustrating and heart-breaking not being there when the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with needs you. The high cost of flying back and forth is also financially draining.  Indira has joint custody of her two children, fifteen and twelve years old, and maintaining a relationship between two countries means that she has to choose between spending time and money to come visit me, or on the kids. If the same immigration laws—providing marriage-based green cards, or fiancé(e) visas to those intending to marry—that apply to heterosexual couples applied to same sex couples, our only choice would be where to go for a family vacation.

In spite of these challenges, Indira proposed and we got engaged six months ago.  Connected via Skype, we looked online for hours for our perfect wedding bands.  During our next visit together in California, we took a road trip up the coast.  On the way back, we stopped at a jewelry store and had them made. Upon our return to San Diego, we took the rings out to admire them.  Although Indira planned to propose while we were overlooking the ocean, she couldn’t stand to put them back in their boxes or wait another minute to ask. It was very sweet and very her. She was nervous about asking, even though we had talked about marriage and knew it was something we intended to do. Like I would’ve said no!

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Indira told the kids the following day. The youngest commented that he wouldn’t have a step-mom, he’d have a second mom. Neither of the kids understands why two people who care for each other should be kept apart. We also shared the news with our friends and family who were excited about the engagement, but frustrated and upset about the restrictions imposed on our family by DOMA.  My cousin, who is from Canada where marriage equality has been the law now for ten years, is still trying to wrap her head around the fact that our marriage would not make me eligible to apply for a green card. Friends from outside the U.S. often ask for updates on the progress.

Ideally, we would like to have a lovely outdoor wedding, under the trees, with close friends and family in attendance and begin our lives together without the fear of being separated.

We are hopeful that the increasing call for equality will encourage the Supreme Court to do the correct thing and strike down the travesty that is DOMA so that loving couples will be treated equally under the law, just as the Constitution guarantees.  Like many couples involved with The DOMA Project, we are not content to sit by as the Justices consider the fate of DOMA.  We have chosen to share our story and we will continue to press President Obama for intermediate solutions now, so that our family is not forced to be apart one day longer.  Considering the range of executive actions available to the President as the Supreme Court considers DOMA and while Congress considers immigration reform legislation, it is absurd that we must continue traveling back and forth at such great financial and emotional cost.  Executive actions like humanitarian parole and deferred action are within existing precedent and would immediately end the separation and exile of thousands of binational families like ours.  The time to raise our voices is now.  We ask that you share our story to raise awareness of the urgent need for such measures.  There is no time to lose.

DOMA Exiles Dave and Eric Urge President Obama: “Bring Us Home”

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I will start our story back in the last week of October, 2008. I was in the U.K. visiting my boyfriend Eric.  It was  another of my many trips back and forth between San Francisco and London over the previous two years.  As in every visit, we wanted to maximize what little time we did get to spend together, knowing that we would soon be thousands of miles apart.  On this trip,  we went  to Cornwall.  We  hiked to an incredibly scenic point on the cliffs overlooking the  North Atlantic.  I  turned to face him, and with the setting sun shining in my eyes,  I asked him to marry me.  He blinked a couple of times and didn’t say anything.  Frankly my heart stopped for a moment.  A split second later, he smiled in that particular way he does, making my knees go weak.  He then looked at me and said, “I already said yes a long time ago.”  I returned  to the United States  a few days later.  While sitting on the long eleven-hour flight, I looked out  at the Atlantic Ocean 36,000 feet below and one thought kept ringing through my head like a trumpet blast. We were engaged! 

After the initial excitement settled, Eric and I became increasingly aware of the obstacles faced by gay and lesbian binational couples in the U.S.  Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government would not recognize Eric as my fiancé, nor would they recognize him as my spouse after our marriage.  On election night 2008,  Eric and I were hopeful that the new president would work to pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a piece of legislation that the founders of The DOMA Project helped write in 1999. For more than 13 years, the UAFA has gained support in Congress, but it has never come close to passing. It was modeled on the solution that countries like Australia, Canada and the U.K. had adopted for same-sex binational couples in the 1990s, by recognizing our “partners” and providing immigration rights based on those relationships at a time before any country permitted gay couples to marry. The UAFA would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their partners to come to the United States, just as non-gay Americans now do for their foreign-born spouses. We even added our voice to the lobbying effort on this issue by creating a  YouTube video that  was shown to lawmakers as part of the push to get a vote on the UAFA.  Yet as 2009 moved into 2010 it was clear that the road to LGBT-inclusive immigration reform in the U.S was still a very long one. Decades after this movement for binational couples was founded, immigration rights for same-sex couples still seemed to be an elusive goal. By comparison, Marriage Equality, including the fight against DOMA, had started to pick up considerable momentum in recent years, particularly with the leadership of President Obama and favorable court rulings. Still there were no policy solutions coming from the White House that would keep us together in the U.S. while the fight for equality continued.

Faced with this reality we had to make a difficult choice. We could continue the back and forth long distance relationship as we had since 2006,  or we could pursue Plan B.  As a British citizen, Eric was able to sponsor me to join him in the U.K. So in the spring of 2010, we applied for my Civil Partner Visa. This visa allowed me to travel to the U.K. and later register our Civil Partnership. After registering as Civil Partners, Eric was then permitted to sponsor me as his spouse to settle in the UK.

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The Civil Partner Visa application process took about nine months. The documentation required was very daunting. We had to prove everything about our lives together, our job histories, our financial history and provide any other evidence that our relationship was legitimate. On top of that,  it was not cheap. Trying to do this on your own is a lot like trying to perform surgery on yourself.  It’s possible, but all it takes is one error to effectively make a huge mess of it.  So like many couples we used an agency to represent us. This only added to our costs. In the end, we got my Civil Partnership Visa in October 2010, nearly two years after we got engaged.

Finally on Monday, January 17th, 2011, in the  Lewisham County Registry Office, Eric and I entered into a legal “civil union” in the United Kingdom, the closest that the British come to marriage for same-sex couples. For us it was our wedding day, and it was amazing.  We celebrated with friends and family from as nearby as just down the street and as far away as  New York City, Dallas, and Omaha.  As we celebrated, we busied ourselves in putting together all the documents and material for the  application for  my permanent Settlement Visa to settle permanently in the U.K.   The confirmation email from the British Consulate said that the processing time for Settlement Visas is at least 50 days from the date the application was received. So we resigned ourselves to waiting until at least late March  before expecting any response.  So, when my blackberry buzzed two weeks later to alert me I had just received an email from the  British Consulate in Los Angeles, my first thought  was not a happy one.  I figured the email must be because the  application had been rejected.  Surely, I thought, we had forgotten to include some document or some piece of paper that would now doom us to  go back to square one.

With a sense of dread, I opened the email.  I had to read it through three times before it finally registered in my brain what  it actually said.


From: [email protected]
To: My Office
Subject: Your Visa Application @ Los Angeles  (Ref: *******)
Sent: Feb 18, 2011 10:06 AM


Your application has been approved and the visa has been issued.

Please check your visa immediately on receipt to ensure that we have completed your visa correctly. Please send details of any errors or omissions to [email protected] ASAP.

The rest of that day is a bit of a blur.  I immediately called Eric in London.  Both of us spent the rest of the day in a slight state of shock. Our long journey was about to be complete.  After three years, thousands of dollars in legal and government application fees, and more than 20 trips across the Atlantic, we finally had the legal authorization to live together, work, and build our life together in the U.K.   Two weeks later, I had a  final interview for a new job  in London.   All of which meant I would be  leaving  my job in San Francisco, packing  up my life there and moving to our new home in London.

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All in all, we are lucky.  Things have worked out for us.  Many binational couples are forced to remain in separation if they lack sufficient finances for the visa application process or if the foreign partner does not happen to be from an egalitarian country like the U.K.  Even still, we are aware every day that we had no choice.  To be with my legal spouse, I had to leave my country.  Because the Obama Administration fails to implement interim measures like humanitarian parole or deferred action for LGBT families impacted by DOMA, binational couples like us continue to be forced to accept exile or the anguish of long-distance separation.  In light of what we hope is DOMA’s imminent demise, we join the thousands of separated separated and exiled couples in calling on the Obama Administration to implement humanitarian parole and other measures to end these unnecessary exiles immediately.  How many more gay and lesbian Americans must be forced to choose love over country before we’re let back in?  The time to end DOMA exiles is now, not later.

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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.