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