After a Valentine’s Day Wedding, Ray and Benjamin Are Ready to Fight DOMA, File Green Card Petition
Our story begins in May 2011, when I was passing the time in a generic internet chat room. At first, all I could see was that Ben was 23 years old and from the UK. By chance, somebody mentioned something about a musician that both Ben and I liked, prompting us to begin our first conversation, which lasted well into the night. After close to ten hours of talking, I returned to reality and thought about this stranger with whom I felt such a sudden and strong bond. Being from Texas, it was very rare that I had the opportunity to be so open with someone and talk about life, being gay, and growing up in such a religiously influenced part of America. It was from this point our daily video conversations via Skype and phone calls back and forth began. We spent the next few months getting to know each other, talking daily, learning more about things we had in common, backgrounds, thoughts on growing up on different continents, our passions and ambitions, etc. Discussions became plans, and plans turned into actions.
In September 2011, Ben made arrangements to come to Texas on a six month tourist visa. He arrived in mid-September and over the next six months we fell in love. As Ben’s six months here were coming to an end, we discussed our options as a gay binational couple, which seemed quite limited. Ben was aware that the UK had recently begun to recognize civil partnerships. After a lot of emotional ups and downs and some confusion, we decided that I would return to the UK with Ben and get to know his friends, family, and the place he called home. Our relationship continued to strengthen; we overcame many obstacles. Finally, on June 1 2012, Ben and I had a wonderful civil union ceremony. We felt a wave of optimism immediately after exchanging our vows. After consulting an immigration attorney in Britain we were told that due to recent changes in the immigration requirements applying to us as a couple, Ben wouldn’t be able to sponsor me for a visa to stay there with him permanently because he could not show he earned sufficient income to sponsor me. So despite the UK having provisions that allowed for the immigration of same-sex partners, this option was not open to us, despite being in a legally recognized British civil union. We had discussed our options of staying together in America, but we were already aware that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) stood in the way of my petitioning for Ben as my spouse.
So in September 2012, I returned to Texas, with a heavy heart and no plan to resolve our separation. Ben and I gradually became very upset without each other. It had been a full year of spending every day with one another, going to bed and falling asleep next to each other every night, feeling inseparable. It was during the recent election that I spoke to Ben for long periods of time about our hopes of our future together. With more and more media coverage and political debate focusing on same-sex marriage, DOMA, and the future of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans like me in binational relationships, we felt a renewed hope. After Barack Obama was re-elected, the focus on equal rights for LGBT citizens and their families only continued to sharpen. We watched as more and more couples spoke out and shared their stories, and gay and lesbian families mobilized and made the general public aware of the harm we suffered because we were denied equal rights. More and more States were weighing in on the debate with legislation moving to legalize marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. For me and Ben, it was clearly the right time to join this fight.
Knowing that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear cases debating the constitutionality of DOMA and California’s anti-gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, we made plans for Ben to come back for another visit to the United States. Ben flew from Britain at the end of November and both of us eagerly awaited the moment when we could hold each other at the airport and know that for at least some time, we were together once more. From the moment that the love of my life landed at his first layover in America, I eagerly awaited a phone call letting me know he was here and fine. I received a phone call, except it wasn’t Ben’s voice I heard through the phone. It was an U.S. Immigration and Customs officer informing me that my partner was being questioned and held until they knew the full story of who he was here to visit, how long he would be staying, and in what capacity he was related to me and my family. I came very close to falling apart in the next three hours, not knowing what was happening or whether Ben would even be allowed into the country. I finally got a call from Ben, distraught and sobbing on a public payphone in the middle of the airport where he had, after three hours, finally been allowed through customs and into the U.S. I comforted him and assured him that he would soon be home with me, and after another transfer flight, we were re-united.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14 this year, my husband and I were legally wed in the State of Washington under its newly passed marriage equality law. It was a day that we both had discussed and debated so much, never truly knowing if we would have that chance. The day was beautiful and we had an intimate ceremony with a few close friends and witnesses. After such a formal civil ceremony, we dressed casually and exchanged our vows and our rings above a waterfall before enjoying a quiet walk through the woods. The rest of our day was spent talking of our plans for our lives together, celebrating with our friends and dreaming of what could be. We spoke of our sacrifices and gains, our failures and triumphs. Our plans to apply for Ben’s green card, to stand proudly in front of an immigration officer and declare our commitment and love to one another. We want for nothing more than to be recognized and respected for what we are: a committed, loving, married couple, a family. We have spent so much time reading the many other stories written by couples in the same situation as ours, and we take great comfort in the feeling that we are not in this alone. We want the same treatment and the same rights as any heterosexual couple, or any other committed couple, for that matter.
We are prepared to be a part of this grass roots effort, to keep building this community of binational couples who take affirmative steps to realize their own equality. We are not willing to wait for a court or government to tell us what we already know: our love is equal, our commitment is equal, and we deserve to be treated equally under the law. As Ben is on a tourist visa, which will eventually expire; we now have no other option than to stand up and demand equal treatment, equal rights, and the right to a future together. We want to file a green card petition that won’t be denied purely because of DOMA, though denials continue because the Obama administration insists on enforcing the law even though the Attorney General determined the law to be unconstitutional two years ago. I love my husband and do not wish to see him walk away again, not knowing when our next meeting will be. As an American citizen, I want my president to stand up, and take immediate action to defend my rights and the rights of every other gay or lesbian citizen in the same situation. President Obama can do this by directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue policy that our green card case should be accepted and put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA. We want President Obama to use the prerogatives of his office to allow us to pursue the American Dream.