DOMA Forces Mother and Son to Move to the U.K. to Start a New Life Where Her Relationship is Recognized

Ris and Bree

Ris and Bree

My wife and I met by chance.

UsWe both say it was divine intervention. It had to be. Our worlds would have never intersected without it. I was a ‘heterosexual’ female married with a child living in a small town in the Midwest. She was a ‘heterosexual’ female with a long-term boyfriend who shared a home in northwestern England. Independently of each other, we both had long sensed that we were in fact gay and decided to test the waters by logging on to a lesbian chat app.

Neither of us had been logged on long before I came across her photo. A photo I never should have seen. The app was set to only bring up other users within a certain radius from your location. Nonetheless we began chatting.

I was smitten at first chat! We couldn’t get enough of each other that entire day. It was the one of the best days of my life until tragedy struck my world.

That night my father unexpectedly passed away from a massive heart attack. I was devastated and it changed my outlook on everything. My father was young, only 56. If I only had twenty more years on this Earth I wasn’t going to waste it.

As a grieved for my father I leaned on Risa for support. I don’t know how I would have made it through that time without her.

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Funny thing is that chat app quit working after that first day. We were never able to log onto it again. Good thing we had already exchanged email and Facebook profiles.

Many emails, Facebook chats and phone calls strengthened our bond. I knew I was in love.

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We both ended our previous relationships. We began chatting on Skype and finally met in person. We decided to spend the rest of our lives together.

We spent all our savings travelling between the US and the UK. In the end the decision was made that I would move to England. It was a hard decision. The U.S. government wouldn’t recognize our relationship. The United Kingdom would.

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It wasn’t fair. I had a great job. I had friends and family who I didn’t want to leave. I had a son who had to make the hard decision, move with mom or stay behind with dad.

We had a great life in the U.S. and because of DOMA we had to give it all up. I sold everything I owned to afford the visas and airfare to go to the United Kingdom. My son and I moved to England just with what we could pack in a couple suitcases.

Ris and Bree at Stonehenge

It took over a year for me to find work in the U.K. Adjusting wasn’t easy. We set up a special phone line so that we could keep in contact with family. At first we would receive care packages from home but the cost of postage between the two countries is high. The expense to stay in the country is even higher.

My son has special needs. In the U.S. he was entitled to benefits. In the U.K. we were entitled to none. I felt that I was no longer a citizen of any country. It is a depressing feeling. Not that everything would have been easier in the U.S. but at least I would have had family to rely on. Here I felt cut off from everything I knew.

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I am American, the home of the free and brave. The greatest country on Earth, which forced me to choose my country or my wife. I chose my wife. I never should have been placed in that situation.

It’s time for the United States to apologise to every bi-national couple they have hurt over the years. It’s time for my country to rid itself of DOMA and ensure equality under the law for all its citizens. That is why we are sharing our story.

Our families matter. We must not remain silent.

Nine Years Later, David and José Are Still Planning For A Future Without DOMA

TIMES SQUARE625

I was raised in small town Paradise, California.  José was raised in Talca, in central Chile’s wine country.  In 2004, we were both living in Miami. I had relocated to Miami from my work from New York,  when both our paths crossed.   A mutual friend,  invited José and I to meet at his home for dinner.  He knew we would become fast friends, but little did he know how fast.  When we first met,  I knew José was the “one.”  As funny as it sounds, for us it was “love at first sight.”   Jose later told me it was my smile that won him over.  We talked for hours at our first meeting, and immediately made plans to meet again.   Nine years later we are still talking and planning and spending our lives together.

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That first day, into two, and then two to three.  Before we knew it we were spending all our time together. From that point on, José and I were pretty much inseparable.   We have so much in common and complement each other completely.  In the beginning we were looking for every opportunity to spend time together.  Since we were both in South Beach, Miami, we spent a lot of time just walking.  We must have walked miles and miles just talking and getting to know each other.

Being from the west coast, we had a lot in common: Chile and California are a lot alike.  We’re always comparing our origins and lives and taking about our families.  José told me a lot about how his mother were always very close.   He told me about his life and how his mother, was a woman of strong convictions, and a secret community organizer for democracy in Chile.  He told me about,  how his father, disappeared under that regime for over 6 months and that he never spoke of it.  José’s first experience in democracy was to vote in their referendum to overthrow their dictator.   José loved his mother dearly.  She was very happy that José and I had met, and was very supportive of us being together; she called me “son” when they talked.

Our lives have had its ups and downs, It has not always been easy for José, living in the US.  But the one thing we know: together we were strong and could accomplish anything.  Any problem that occurred that first year just seamed to disappear.   Together we were the two halves that were meant to be together to be whole.  We created a home together, moved to Coconut Grove, and adopted our first Dog, Lola, from the Humane Society,

One of the most important moments of our relationship was the morning when Jose and I discussed about getting married. “David, Are you serious about our relationship?” My answer was that I loved him and I knew it from the first moment I  first saw him and knew we would be together.  That was the moment we decided to become engaged.  We read that same sex marriage was now legal in Massachusetts, and we would be ready for it.  On New Year’s Eve  2005 on the steps of the Basilica in Coconut Grove,  Miami, Jose and I became engaged.  We both made a commitment to each other that night that we would marry when the time was right.

Our lives soon took us to New York, where I had lived previously.  After almost a three year engagement, in July 2008, I read that Massachusetts would permit out of state same-sex couples to be married in that state, and that former New York Governor David Patterson had decreed that New York would honor those marriages.  I was so excited when I read the news, that in my typical  not-so “romantic” approaches I “texted” to Jose,  “Will you marry me?”  He responded, “Yes.”   That was it.  Yes, I proposed by text message.

CHURCHThe next few months were all planning: the date, location, days off work, flowers, etc.  The one thing I knew was that I had to be married in the Church, since growing up I had always been a devout Episcopalian.  I found a priest that would do it and a Justice of the Peace for good measure to solemnize the occasion.  “I don’t want anything to go wrong,” I remembered telling José.  So on October, 3, 2008 we were married at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston.  A Priest, A Justice of the Peace, the acolyte for the Mass, the photographer and José and me.  The most private, yet most sincere and blessed event in our lives.   José reminded me how nervous I was that day, and I remembered seeing how scared he was; how serious he was to the commitment we had made to one another. That day we became David & José Jones-Munoz!  Our families were waiting to hear about our marriage, José’s mother and family in Chile and mine from California.  The big surprise was the two Lei’s sent from my aunt, from Sacramento, I was surprised by that choice, since Lei’s were not from our familiar traditions.  She told me that she had read that the lei was the symbol of love and she wanted us to be surrounded by love on that day.  We realized how perfect that was.

The  overarching impression we got that day was the loving acceptance that those who lived in Boston presented to us. From the clerk at the registrars office who took extra time with us, while she made the line of twenty wait, to get all the details correct, to the local café where we stopped for a quick champagne to celebrate for pictures, and telephone our families, where the entire restaurant passed a card around congratulating us on our great day.  In the Boston Commons as we passed those with business suits, strangers said to us, “Thank you for getting married in our city.”  To us that was the sign that our marriage was like any other marriage. It was real in all respects. From our priest and the Church ceremony, to the Justice of the Peace the impact was exactly what we expected.

Upon returning to New York, there were many issues DOMA that we confronted us in our day to day lives: we planned to buy a house, but we were limited by the opportunities and the programs that we could have applied from HUD.  José’s status would not permit us to do so. Even the State-run First Time Buyers programs  accepted our marriage but due to DOMA, we could not use his income as qualifying income. In another instance, José’s income disqualified us on a New York City local option. It came back to us over and over, that since DOMA was the law they could not help us with any process to buy a home.

Wedding Smiling

2010, was a hard year for José.  His mother had been suffering  from Alzheimer’s.  Jose had been making attempts to make her life more comfortable, but eventually she passed away in her sleep  That was a sad day for us both.  The pain he felt and the pain I felt knowing that he could not go home to see his family during this time of great sadness was indescribable. All I could do was to support him during those dark days, and let him know that his family was here for him. I never got to meet the woman that was such a great inspiration to José and made him the strong person that he is today, the person I love so much.  I would have loved to meet her because of her strong influence in her community and her family.

When New York passed Marriage Equality it was a great day for New York. We wanted to be a part of it, so, on the first day, July 24, 2011, we waited in line for 4 hours, and in front of a New York Court Judge Marcy Kahn, at City Hall we were married again. Our witnesses were a couple that had been together for over 25 years,  and inspiration for our relationship.   José was so emotional that the Judge had to ask if he was ok?  He was, He always cries when he’s truly happy.  (There was a lot of crying that day!) In New York we had all the experiences we didn’t the first time.  The crowds, friends and the reception put together for all the newly  married couples at the LGBT center in NYC by City Council President, Christine Quinn.  People stopping us on the streets to congratulate us from the sanitation man riding on a truck, to a waiter in a store, to a small kid with his parents, and tourists in Times Square all applauding and wishing us a happy marriage.

DOMA has placed so many obstacles in front of us that opposite sex couples don’t face.  The lack of immigration for José, his ability to work freely and have  economic security.  Our desire to buy a house.,  The Ability to travel home and mourn with his family when his mother passed away,  The security that if something would happen to one of us  how would the other survive?  So many rights and privileges that the Federal government provides to Opposite Sex Couples.  As   Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg said federal marriage benefits “touch every aspect of life. Your partner is sick. social security. I mean, it’s pervasive. It’s not as though, well, there’s this little federal sphere and it’s only a tax question. It’s — it’s — as Justice Kennedy said, 1,100 statutes, and it affects every area of life.”

After DOMA, our lives would totally change almost completely.

VIDEO: Surprise Marriage Proposal By American Visiting Partner in London, Another Couple Separated By DOMA

Celebrating Their Engagement

Celebrating Their Engagement

I departed San Francisco last week to again visit my partner in London. This visit was different however, as I brought along with me a ring and a secret.

After meeting two years ago, Michael and I had no idea how difficult it would be to just be together. As a binational couple, we have been forced to live apart for the last two years, with the exception of frequent visits back and forth. The Defense of Marriage Act prevents me from petitioning for him to be able to immigrate to the U.S. to live with me.

Michael and I are both the type of people that never let anything hold us back—any problem can be overcome. But what we were not prepared for, is that in this case, the law is designed to keep us apart by not recognizing our relationship. This was particularly hard for me to grasp since my brother was able to sponsor his foreign-born wife, while Michael and I had no similar option.

Throughout this time, most aspects of our lives have been put on hold, while careers, housing, doctors, and finances have all been in constant flux. It is also enormously difficult to nurture and grow a relationship while in different countries. When you love someone, you want to build a real life with them, not speak to them online. And yet, we know we are lucky because many couples cannot even enjoy visits because of limited financial means or lack of access to visas. I go to London regularly so that we are together as often as possible and Michael has spent a lot of time in the US, but it is difficult for us to manage the financial burden of a relationship that must be maintained over thousands of miles.

He is catching on to the surprise.

He is catching on to the surprise.

I believe that as we continue to tell the stories of our lives we will advance our country to one where all couples are treated equally under the law. Michael and I see a future in which the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, and we are able to live together permanently in the United States with access to a green card based on our marriage.

Back to the proposal! I flew to London for one of my regular visits and, secretly, I had planned to propose. As I decided how I would do it, I thought about all that we’ve been through. So much of our experience has been isolating and lonely. Moving frequently, friends not knowing how to ask how things are, and feeling unsupported by my government. I knew that I wanted this gesture to show community and support as we continue our fight to be together. I did not do this proposal quietly or in a private place. Instead, I used the cafeteria of the London office of my company and, as you can see in the video below, I involved a few hundred people in the project.

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Five minutes before the proposal, all of the TV screens in the cafe showed a timer countdown. At about 10 seconds, Michael remarked “it’s really busy in here. Also, what’s the timer for?” I won’t ruin the ending, but I think you’ll enjoy watching this video.

Please feel free to share this with others, and if you are a binational couple impacted by DOMA like us, share your story with The DOMA Project. It is through telling our stories that we show the impact that these policies have had on our families, and we stand up and are counted. We know our love will conquer any of the barriers put in our path.

For Eight Years, Jason and Oscar Have Fought For Every Day, Separated By DOMA and Denied Visas

Jason & Oscar

Jason & Oscar

Eight years ago, I met Oscar, and the moment we met there was magic in the air. We knew something very special was happening.  I had originally booked my visit for 2 weeks, but extended it another two weeks. We spent those weeks getting to know each other in so many ways. We explored many places outside Lima, hiking and playing volley ball on the beach.

One night, 4 days before I was scheduled to leave Peru, Oscar and I decided to explore a local winery in Lurin, a suburb of Lima.  We bought a bottle of wine that night, nearby in a local park some sort of celebration was taking place so we decided to check it out. While there we got some food and then walked in the park, we found a nice secluded bench, opened our wine, and enjoyed our food. It had been a semi-overcast evening as the fog rolled in from the ocean, but as we sat on that bench together the clouds rolled away to reveal a gorgeous full moon. Oscar looked at me and said he never wanted to forget that moment; it was the first time he said, “I love you,”  to which I replied the same. Even now, writing about this after so many years, I still get goose bumps. It truly was the moment.  We knew this was the beginning of of a beautiful relationship.

Needless to say, the goodbye and my subsequent return to the U.S. was very very emotional for us both. Every year after that I would return to Peru, feeling both sad and happy the moment I boarded my flight in LA.  I feel happy because I know the happiness waiting for me, but sad because I also know that weeks later we will have to say goodbye again.

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We have been unable to get Oscar a visa to even travel to the U.S.  He studied at Cordon Bleu in Lima, graduating at the top of his class. He was invited by a student exchange program and the Canyon Ranch in Tuscon, AZ to work in the U.S.  They made a great offer.  Everything was set, but when he went to the American Embassy in Lima, the consular officer denied his application without even looking at his documents.  We suspect this happened because the very first time Oscar applied for a tourist visa in 2005, he was asked where he would be staying and what his relationship was to me since I intended to support him initially.  He truthfully told the officer that I was his boyfriend.  Hearing laughter in response, Oscar was told, “well, you are not going to see your boyfriend.”  And with that, a dream was crushed.  But we won’t give up.

Following Oscar’s unsuccessful interview, I traveled to Lima each year.  Oscar and I would chat almost daily on the phone and Skype sometimes for hours. Sadly, in 2009, I was diagnosed with cancer.  While I was going through treatments, I could not travel.  This was especially difficult for Oscar because he wanted so badly to be here with me, to take care of me.  We both cried lot.  After what seemed like forever, I was told that my cancer was in remission in November, 2011.  At last, in 2012, I was finally able to travel and be with the man I love.  To this day, it seems hard to comprehend why my government or anyone would want to keep couples like Oscar and me apart, especially when we most need to be with one another.

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Oscar and I  have already celebrated the union of our love in our hearts and minds a long time ago. Now we want the freedom to express and live that in front of our family and friends in a ceremony the legally unites us as one.  Once DOMA is history, we will finally be able to live our dream of sharing our commitment in a publicly recognized marriage.

I have great hopes that in 2013 our long awaited dream of marrying and being together will be fulfilled.  We eagerly await the day when we will be able to share and live our lives each day as a couple.  I am happy that we have a president who believes in equality for all, including the right to marry the person we love. With all three branches of the government considering the fate of DOMA, we know it’s a matter of time.  But, our own experience has shown that we can’t take time for granted.  That is why we are sharing our story with you today.  We need to make sure that our elected officials and judiciary are well aware of the impact that DOMA has on couples like us.  It’s time for DOMA to go.  Please share our story far and wide to keep up the pressure for DOMA’s demise.

 

John and Shaun Attend Their Green Card Interview, Determined to be Treated Like All Other Married Couples

Shaun John Interview

All smiles after the interview

Ever since we married in January 2012 and later decided to file a green card petition – the same way an opposite sex couple would- we knew, if we were lucky and our case was not denied outright because of DOMA, that we would have to face a green card interview.  We spent the last year working closely with The DOMA Project, visiting both of our U.S. Senators and our Representative, to educate them and their staff on the issues married same sex couples face under current immigration law. We fought to win their support to have an abeyance policy implemented, so couples like us could have our marriage based green card petitions placed on hold, until DOMA was finally struck down. (Below is a short video of our wedding reception in January 2012, narrated by our attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway.)

Outside of that, our life was just like any other newly married couple.  For the first time in more than 11 years, we no longer had to face constant separations when Shaun had to leave the US and return to the UK for months at a time, because we made the decision that he would not leave again and that we would not be separated. Instead, we decided that we would fight for the green card that should be ours, the future and stability that should be ours and the respect and equality under the law that should be ours.  Aside from this legal process, for the first time we spent all our time together uninterrupted by travel after a short visit, we established a more robust social life and adopted two orphaned kittens. Our house became a real home and finally we had a true sense of being a family.   Imagine that for 11 years we made do with visits and separations and had such a fractured life as a couple. We now had a home.  For sixteen months, Shaun and I have experienced what so many other couples in our situation are denied because of DOMA: the simple right to be together in this country, in our home.

Then we received our interview date, and reality set in.  We were not like other families.  No one had introduced a bill to defend our marriage, or to ensure Shaun would be able to stay here.  Even after 13 years together and a legal marriage, we had to once again be reminded that in the eyes of the federal government, we are no more connected than two strangers on the street.

As we gathered all we needed on the night before the interview, we were tense.  I tend to withdraw under stress and Shaun snaps easily.  We ended up having one of the first arguments we had since we married.  The pressure and fear of the unknown, of being one of the first same sex couples to attend this kind of interview, really got to us.  By the time we arrived for the interview the next day, we were both emotionally on edge.

Our appointment was set for 1:30 pm. We sat waiting with our lawyer Lavi Soloway, who always helps relieve our anxiety.  For many binational couples like us, our relationships are sustained by years of visits.  Each visit depends on the judgement of an immigration officer at the airport when the foreign partner lands and seeks entry as a visitor. Those experiences are stressful for both of us. We never knew when it might be the last time Shaun would be permitted to visit me. So when it comes to facing an immigration officer, we experience tremendous anxiety. Everything rides on it.  Shaun had many bad experiences with immigration officers in the past.  Some had been rude and did their best to be intimidating.  Having our lawyer with us yesterday as we waited to be called for the interview made Shaun feel like the little kid bringing his big brother along to defend him against the bullies.

After waiting a short while, Shaun’s name was called and we were led to one of the interview rooms. We sat in a pleasant, brightly lit room.  No bars on the windows, no lights ready to be shined into our eyes like interrogations on TV cop shows.  We were politely asked to take seats while the officer briefly read through our file.  One of our fears was that they would ask me questions about events that happened so long ago, and that I would not recall exact details; those fears turned out to be groundless. They did not ask the color of his shirt on our second date.  They did not ask him what the shoe sizes of my parents were.  We laughed after that we had been worried about those things.

We went to the interview with photos, bank statements, utility bills, letters from friends who vouched for our relationship.  We brought all the evidence we had to prove that we had a real marriage, that we lived together, and that we lived our lives as a married couple.  This is the process for all other green card marriage interviews, and it was in a way comforting to be able to go through this process and have our marriage treated like all other marriages, in this way, even if we could not leave that day with an approval of our green card petition.   The officer looked through our photos with all the captions showing our lives together from our first date in 2001 to the present and he asked a few basic questions about how we met, how much time we had actually spent together.  The majority of the time he reviewed through our petition and application that we had filed with the Immigration Service in February 2012 and reviewed our joint legal documents, insurance policies etc.  He asked Shaun a series of questions to determine his eligibility to be an immigrant to the United States. He reviewed our financial documents and Shaun’s medical exam that had been submitted previously.  Throughout the whole 45-minute interview the officer was polite and respectful to us. There was no language used that treated us differently from an opposite sex couple. In fact our sexuality was not mentioned and DOMA was not referenced at all.

During the interview we knew that we were not alone.  We knew that we were there representing tens of thousands of gay and lesbian binational couples who are engaged in a fight every day for the right to be together with the person they love.  We knew that the world was changing outside the four walls of that office and that change did not happen on its own; the momentum toward equality resulting from the courage of so many who came before us. That courage and that momentum toward equality was also with us during the interview. In a sense, DOMA was with us as well, though it felt very much that the old statute from 1996 was on its last legs.

At the end of the interview our lawyer went over some legal and technical aspects of a same sex marriage application with the officer. We were the first gay couple interviewed at this particular office.  The DOMA Project has filed green card cases for approximately 70 same-sex couples since 2010, some have been denied earlier in the processing when it is discovered that they are a same sex couple, and others made it to an interview.  Of those who were interviewed, some were denied at the interview itself. We knew we were lucky that we had made it to this stage. We knew that  The DOMA Project had won 10 cases at the Board of Immigration Appeals ordering the Immigration Service to re-open denied cases and conduct interviews where they had not taken place.

All that being said, we know that at any time after our interview we may receive a letter in the mail denying the petition based on Section 3 of DOMA. Despite what some people think, the Obama administration is still not willing to do what is within their power to do:  to hold all same sex applications in abeyance, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA. With our entire future in the balance, and we continue to speak out and encourage others to join in the fight to defeat DOMA.

Brian and Alonso Have Endured Five Years of Expensive Travel Between Kansas City and Peru, Separated by DOMA

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Brian and Alonso

In late summer of 2008, I began talking to Alonso online on a chat site. Alonso was working at a ski resort in Mt. Hood, Oregon on a cultural exchange visa. I was living in Kansas City. We quickly grew together and realized that we not only had a lot in common but were also drawn to each other. We soon decided to meet in person. We arranged a trip in early 2009, and Alonso flew to see me in Kansas City. We had a wonderful time. Knowing that our time was limited by the short duration of his visa, we were able to arrange a second trip so that he could see me in Kansas City before he returned to Peru. The trip was brief but well worth it to both of us. By the time he got on the plane, we knew that we wanted to stay together.

As we stayed together, we soon found out that the cards were stacked against us. Plane tickets between Kansas City and Peru are quite expensive. Yet, in the summer of 2009, I was able to fly to Peru to see Alonso and meet his family. We had a wonderful time together and life was very good for those days; however, my looming departure date was a sadness for us both. We did not give up though, and that winter Alonso was again able to obtain a cultural exchange Visa to work at a supermarket in Colorado. I had missed Alonso a lot and flew to Houston so that he and I would be on the same flight to Colorado so that we would have some moments together before his godparents picked him up at the airport. We kept in contact by cell phone and online while he was in Colorado. At the end of his trip we again arranged for him to visit me in Kansas City before returning to Peru. Once more we were delighted to be together.

AlonsoandBrian

After Alonso’s return to Peru, we stayed in contact almost daily through Skype and were falling more deeply in love. Toward the end of the summer in 2010, I was again able to travel to Peru to see Alonso. We had a great time and knew that we would keep fighting for more moments together. However, our visits were becoming harder due to the cost of international flights, and we both needed to save money for future trips. Alonso was having trouble finding work in Peru and spent most of the next two years working on cruise ships to earn money to save for himself and his family. We did not let this stop us either as we kept in constant contact through email and were occasionally able to see each other on Skype or talk on the phone. I sent him letters weekly and he was also able to send some as well even though he had very little time other than to work and to sleep.

Our love was strengthened, not weakened by being physically apart. Alonso later applied for a tourist visa so that he could come and spend a month with me in Kansas City. We enjoyed many sites and special moments but the best moments were not because of what we were doing but simply because we were together. More determined than ever to get with Alonso, I have once more purchased airline tickets to visit Peru in late summer of this year. As with all of our trips, we are both looking forward to it. Being apart is hard on both of us even though we talk and see each other nightly on Skype. There is no comparison to being with the one you love and not separated by a computer screen and thousands of miles.

Marriage should be a fundamental right to everyone, but DOMA prohibits me from exercising that right. DOMA prevents me from beginning the process of sponsoring Alonso to emigrate to the United States as my spouse–a right enjoyed by thousands of heterosexual couples every year. If it weren’t for DOMA, we could have had a fiancé visa approved by now. We have written Senators, U.S. Representatives, and looked for any and all legal options that would allow him to stay here and start a life together with me. Yet, every road we go down leads to a brick wall because gay couples are not afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples in the United States of America.

Our story is one of love and also of loss. Because of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), the time we have to be together is limited to a few weeks per year. We’re forced to spend large sums of money just to be together for that limited amount of time. Because of this, we lack the stability that a heterosexual couple would come to expect in our situation. Nonetheless, we have grown in our love, and we have known that we wanted to spend our lives together from the beginning. This love motivates us to keep going through the most difficult of times. It also motivates us to raise our voice and share our story. Please share our story far and wide to raise awareness of DOMA’s cruel consequences for gay and lesbian binational couples like us. By sharing stories like ours we continue to change hearts and minds, ensuring a swift end to DOMA and a smooth transition to the post-DOMA reality.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share our story. By doing so, you bring us one day closer to Alonso’s and my dream of building a life together.

I love you, Alonso. -Brian

Struggling to Adapt to a Place that Won’t be Home, DOMA Exiles, Rowen and Anna, Share Their Story

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Anna and Rowen

Anna and I met in March of 2010. I was living in San Francisco, working as a painter. One day, in the middle of a painting, I was looking at an international dating website while the paint dried. Anna’s pictures stopped me and then I read her profile–an artist who could “turn my hand to anything”. Then I saw where she lived—Leeds, U.K. That was that, I thought, and went back to my painting.

But then I kept going back to her pictures and profile.  Out of everyone I’d seen on the website, Anna still stood out.  So I decided to write.

“Who knows,” I thought, “anything’s possible.”  I wrote her that I was an artist also and talked about my art.

I had planned a trip to Berlin in August of 2010.  I hadn’t been out of the U.S. since 1986.  I had missed Berlin on that trip and wanted to see the art and what the city was like. I had several friends in San Francisco who were from Berlin.  I thought it would be a possible way to meet Anna since it was not far from the U.K.  I mentioned that in my message too.

A week went by and no response, so I thought she wasn’t interested.

It turns out that she was not a member of the website and could not message me back- luckily I had sent my email address when I wrote her and that is ultimately where I saw her message. From that day on we started writing, at least once a day, talking about our art and what we wanted to do with it.  We talked about what we had done, sharing pictures of each other and our families.  We had so much in common, especially in music.  After a week we decided to talk on the phone.  We already knew what each other would sound like.  It continued to be amazing because it was like we were together from the start.

We continued talking at least twice a day everyday despite the 8 hour time difference.When August came we decided on a hotel in Berlin and made a plan to meet and spend 8 days together. We had waited five months for this and couldn’t wait.

I was in Schiphol airport in the passport line when Anna ran up to me.  We got on the plane together for Berlin and spent an incredible 8 days together, exploring each other and Berlin. Anna and I are over 40.  We had both come out in the 80’s and had many relationships between us. Never before had either one of us wanted to marry or make a lifelong commitment to anyone else. We knew we had to be together.

How? I had limited time off, and Anna has her own small business making headpieces.  Of course, flying back and forth is expensive.  We did not want the separation.  We wanted to settle and have a home together.  The U.S. government does not recognize our relationships.  We had no legal options or way for Anna to be in the U.S. for very long, even though we wanted to live in San Francisco.

Fortunately, the U.K. has recognized same sex relationships for immigration purposes since 1997, and more formally, broadly recognized same-sex couples by offering civil partnership status in 2005.  Sadly, the only “choice” we had at the time was for me to leave and immigrate to the U.K.  It’s a decision I was forced into.  Little did I know what an emotional roller-coaster it can be to leave behind everyone and everything you have known your entire life.

I took more time off from my job in San Francisco in November 2010 to fly to Leeds for 10 days. I met Anna’s mother and sister and explored Leeds for the first time. I continued visiting Leeds, taking more time off, since it was impossible for Anna to come to the U.S.  We continued planning our lives together.

We went to a solicitor on one of my visits to see what we would have to do.  Sadly, he was so negative towards us. As Lavi Soloway discussed in The DOMA Project’s green card workshop on April 14, it is important to find an attorney that gives you a good vibe.  Though rather risky, I ultimately decided to do my own immigration paperwork.

When Anna and I weren’t together we were counting the days until we would be together again. To save money after all the thousands of dollars spent on travel, time off, visas, and living expenses, I moved out of my apartment in San Francisco.  I moved in with a neighbor looking for a housemate and got rid of everything, much to the disbelief of those who wondered how I could leave it all.

In February 2012, I applied for my British Proposed Civil Partnership Visa.  (In a post-DOMA universe, we might otherwise have applied for a Fiancee Visa for Anna to join me in the U.S.)  To apply for the Proposed Civil Partnership Visa, I submitted 9 lbs of relationship evidence and got my visa one month later.  This is the first visa.  It allowed me to enter the U.K. and register my civil partnership. We registered our civil partnership on July 2nd 2012.  Soon thereafter, I applied for and received my 2-year residence permit July 5th.  In celebration we had a reception on July 14th with family and friends.

Anna and Rowen's Wedding Kiss

Anna and Rowen’s Wedding Kiss

Because of the distance and expense, I didn’t expect or invite many friends, but my closest friend and her partner were able to come. That’s something you give up: being able to call a friend to meet for dinner because she’s 5,000 miles away. That’s just one example of the reality that we DOMA exiles live with every day.

There is no way you can prepare yourself for actually living in another country.  It’s not a visit. This is real life.  You leave it all and move completely into someone else’s country, someone else’s culture, someone else’s family and friends.  You’re happy and excited that you can be together, but that’s all you can be. You are given the right to work, but there are so few opportunities–it’s a tiny place in the middle of a stubborn recession.

People often ask me why I’m here, being from the U.S. which is so often admired as the land of opportunity.  People find it odd that we are not allowed to live together in the U.S.  Having come from such a beautiful open city, there would be so much available for both of us.  It’s where we want to be.  There is opportunity my wife has never known; there is no comparison.  I want that for her.

Being here, I’ve struggled to integrate, which means we can’t really settle into what we know as a “normal life”. As someone who worked in the U.S. for over 30 years, it’s important to meet people, learn about the culture, and live our lives together, and having something of our own.  Without that, life starts to feel very unstable and insecure.

Anna and Rowemn Brighton Pier Nov 2012

Anna and Rowen on the Brighton Pier

So what now?  I have the most beautiful supportive wife I could ever imagine.  Our love and commitment has never wavered, and there is no question that we will remain together. But the reality of finances, homesickness,  distance, worry of being able to re-establish ourselves back in the U.S. can be overwhelming at times.

Encouraged by the sudden focus on DOMA and its impact on gay and lesbian binational couples like us, we have decided to speak out and add ours to the stories already shared through the DOMA Project.  These stories have a very real impact on those that read them.  Far too many people in the U.S. remain unaware of the sorts of decisions couples like us have been forced to make to keep our family together.  As the Supreme Court considers DOMA’s fate, we want to make sure we’ve won over the court of public opinion.  The best way to do that is by getting people to read our stories.  After all, I believe a large majority of Americans would be outraged by the fact that I (an American) has had to go through so much just to be with Anna, whom I love more than anyone else.  Please reach out to others or even share your own story.  Together, we will make sure that lesbian and gay couples falling in love today will not be forced into exile.

Live Streamed Workshop: Answers to the Questions Most Frequently Asked By Lesbian and Gay Binational Couples

Answering Questions from Gay and Lesbian Binational Couples

Live Streamed Video Workshop by Attorney Lavi Soloway

workshopfinal2In this workshop, the DOMA Project founder, attorney Lavi Soloway, will answer the most frequently asked questions that have been submitted to the DOMA Project by gay and lesbian binational couples.  This workshop is the second in a series of workshops provided by the DOMA Project in conjunction with the Love Honor Cherish Foundation.

Please note: all our workshops are provided for informational purposes only.  The answers provided in this workshop do not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such.  We cannot directly address the personal circumstances of any individual case, but we encourage you to continue to submit general questions until the date of the workshop.


This workshop was originally live streamed on Sunday, April 28

View our previous workshop recording: Green Card Basics for Same Sex Couples After DOMA

Forced to Travel Between the U.S. and Australia to Care for Parents, Retirees Susan & Julie Share their Story

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Susan & Julie, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

I never intended to fall in love with a non-U.S. citizen. As a naturalized U.S. citizen myself, I was fully aware of the fact that, married or not, my Australian partner, Julie, and I would face multiple hurdles in trying to stay together. A mutual friend introduced us online in 2006. I was living and working in Hong Kong and Julie was in Australia at the time.

We sometimes hesitate to say we met online, as that implies we met on a dating site, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Our mutual friend was having surgery and introduced us to each other so we could share any information we had about this friend’s recovery. We started writing to each other and kept realizing we had a lot in common. We were both musicians, we both knitted (!), we both had similar upbringings, and we both like the outdoors. For two years we just emailed. Then, along came Skype. Julie had a webcam, but I didn’t. On our first Skype session (still just friends), Julie didn’t realize I could see her since she couldn’t see me! I bought a webcam pretty quickly after that!

Susan & Julie at Bash Bish Creek, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

After 2 ½ years of writing and Skyping, we finally met each other in person in 2009. I knew that Julie was smitten, but I also knew that the binational thing was going to be a problem, so I resisted falling in love. My resolve lasted for about 12 hours after we met. It did not take long for both of us to realize that our friendship was going to take on new boundaries. About three months later, Australian laws changed so that Julie could sponsor me for residency as her partner. For the next year, we carefully kept documentation to show we were a couple. A year later, the 5-inch stack of documentation was submitted. Even though the Australian residence permit I received was a temporary one, having that in my passport was both exciting and reassuring. Two years later, it would became a permanent visa!

We both took early retirement to make it all work and to be together. We are of an age that makes it difficult to get a working visa, given the ageism rampant in our society. This is one more reason why existing immigration alternatives offered to U.S. citizens are not sufficient for gay and lesbian binational couples like us.

But that is only half the story. My parents are elderly citizens and have been in poor health. Even though Julie has a Masters in Nursing, and could have been a huge help for me in caring for my parents, we’ve had to tread very carefully in bringing her to the U.S. I have had to leave Julie behind in Australia while I have come every six weeks or so to the U.S. to care for them.

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Susan & Julie, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

Julie and I are lucky to have loving families-of-origin. While some of our siblings are more conservative than others, they all love us. Susan’s parents have been “in the loop” for a long time, and not all of that time was easy. But they have been more than supportive as we’ve discussed immigration woes, marriage plans, and our future.  In fact, Julie has chosen to take my family name as her own. When Julie tentatively asked the question of my parents, they immediately said, “We’d be honored!”

Americans who learn about the unfair limitations DOMA imposes on us have been flabbergasted that Julie is not considered my spouse for immigration purposes. Granted, we live in New York state, which is certainly a more liberal place to live, but most heterosexual people have no idea that even though we are legally married, Julie still must take huge risks when she comes into the United States on a non-immigrant visa. Australians can’t believe it either. We’ve used their confusion to teach and explain about the discriminatory nature of DOMA. I believe it has made a difference!

In August of 2010, just after New York passed marriage equality legislation, we contacted a well-known LGBT immigration attorney in New York, hoping she would tell us we could go ahead and marry. Imagine how dashed we felt when she told us not to marry. She explained how Julie would risk being banned from the U.S. for three years if she were to answer truthfully about being married to a United States citizen. It wouldn’t matter that she had a return ticket, or that she had a mum, son, and family in Australia, along with rental property. If they knew she were married, they would assume she had intent to immigrate. We have carefully managed Julie’s entrance to the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program, but it has meant that I often visit the U.S. on my own. For retired people, my frequent trips between the U.S. and Australia have really put a drain on the pocketbook, not to mention the strain on our hearts.

Wedding rings, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

Courtesy of B Docktor Photography

Fast forward to December 2012, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Windsor v. United States. We read every amicus brief, every SCOTUSblog entry, joined Immigration Equality, started following The DOMA Project, poured through websites pro and con. And we decided the time was right. We set our date for March 2013, and held our ceremony in a beautiful New York State Forest near our home. It was a crisp (OK, freezing) day, and it was supposed to snow/rain in the afternoon. Imagine our delight when the sun shone brightly throughout our ceremony!

On May 1st, the 2014 Diversity Visa Lottery results are out and on June 28th, the U.S. Supreme Court will let us know if we will have Liberty and Justice for All on this side of the pond. I am hopeful that I will soon be able to sponsor Julie as my spouse for permanent residence in the U.S., and that we will finally be able to tell the Visa Waiver Program good-bye.

In the meantime, we must and will continue to raise awareness about DOMA’s unfair impact on families like ours. The more the public and our elected officials know about stories like ours, the more we change hearts and minds, paving the way for a more favorable Supreme Court decision and a smooth transition to a future without DOMA. We hope you will join us and the many other couples who have already shared their stories with the DOMA Project by distributing our story or even by sharing your own. We are a family. And we will continue to fight for all families.

Exiled to Paris Because of DOMA, Ruben and Bruno Share Their Dream to Return to the U.S.

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Ruben and Bruno

My name is Ruben and I am a citizen of the United States of America.  Over 6 years ago, Bruno and I met in Los Angeles and it may sound cliché but it was “love at first sight”. Bruno is from Belgium and was in the US on a work visa, working hard at managing a US business here. I was a successful real estate agent selling beautiful homes in Beverly Hills.

We really “clicked” and it was just a matter of months before we moved in together. We even got a small dog and spent wonderful weekends in our California desert house.

After a year of living together, Bruno asked me if I would move to Europe with him. He felt the need to go back to his roots for a little while and be close to his family as he had been away for so many years. I didn’t hesitate and told him I would be up for it, as long as I could stay close to him.  We were really in love, and being separated was not something we could ever conceive.

When he found a job in Paris, we were both excited to move to the “City of Lights”. Paris is an amazing city to visit but moving here from Los Angeles wasn’t easy. I didn’t speak French, and the culture is very different; but I was up to discovering new things as long as I was with my loved one.

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We married in Belgium in 2008 where gay marriage had been legal for many years and so it was nothing out of the ordinary for the Belgians. I got to know Bruno’s family and got close with everyone.  We choose the Greek islands as our honeymoon destination, and we will forever keep wonderful memories of that trip.  Really, it was an amazing feeling to get married as a gay couple, something I never dreamed would happen in my lifetime.

Though my adjustment to our new life in France was not easy, I eventually learned French.  One nice thing about France is that even though gay marriage is not yet recognized there, French immigration law prohibits families from being separated–seems pretty obvious, right? So I was able to get residency and legally work. After a few months I joined the real estate company I used to work for in California as they were opening a branch in Paris. And after selling beautiful homes in Beverly Hills, I was lucky enough to be selling amazing apartments in Paris.  We know that many couples in a similar situation of exile have not been so fortunate.

After almost 5 years of living in Europe, we both missed the US and wanted to come back.  I especially wanted to return since I was never able to completely adapt here. We were planning on moving to NYC as there were work opportunities in both our fields and being on the East Coast would make it easy to go visit our family in Belgium.

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As I am U.S. citizen, it had never occurred to me that I would not be able to bring my husband with me to my own country but because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that is the case. Even though Bruno has a terrific resume and has no problem getting job offers from U.S. employers, our broken immigration system makes it incredibly difficult for him to get a visa these days.

If my sister had a Belgian husband, she could sponsor him for a green card without any problem, but because DOMA was signed into law in 1996, I now have to choose between my own country and my own husband. This is not a matter of a traditional institution of marriage but a matter of equality and civil rights.  It is now time to strike down DOMA.

Friends and family in the U.S. and here in Europe always seem surprised when we tell them about the situation we are facing with DOMA. As marriage equality is recognized in more U.S. states, people think that it would be easy for us to move to one of those states and have our marriage recognize there.  Sadly, this is not the case.  However, by sharing our story, we continue to increase awareness of DOMA’s unjust consequences for binational couples and push for change.  Please join us by sharing our story with your family and friends.  The more hearts and minds we’re able to reach between now and the upcoming Supreme Court ruling, the better our post-DOMA outlook will be.  There is no time to lose.

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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.