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