Mike & Erdi: Love Story That Began On Father-Son Trip Leads to Filing of Fiancé Visa Petition and a Move to Turkey

Mike and Erdi

Mike and Erdi

My name is Michael Curtis. I am 38 years old. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the past ten years, I have lived in California; first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, I moved to Turkey to be with the man that I love.

The story of how I came to meet and fall in love with Erdi begins with an e-mail I received from my father deep in the winter of 2012. (Deep winter meant 65 degrees and brunch outside at Joey’s Café in sunny West Hollywood.) It had been six months since our trip to Germany together in August 2011 and my Dad wanted to have another father-son trip. Since he chose Berlin last time, he left the destination of our new adventure up to me. “Istanbul,” I told him. I’d never been to that part of the world. Together my Dad and I had traveled not only to Germany, but England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hong Kong and China and all over the United States. Traveling is what we loved, our way of spending quality time together, and it was time to make it even more interesting—a Muslim country at the crossroads of East and West.

Mike and His Dad in Turkey

We were one week into our two-week excursion through the Turkish west coast. We began in Istanbul, and a couple days later took a bus to Gallipoli to see the war memorial and hang out in the coastal town of Canakkale, then Izmir and Selcuk where we toured Ephesus. This second week would be all Istanbul, we had planned. We flew in from Izmir on Monday, August 20. My friend of ten years, Damian, who was currently living in Belfast where he’s from, had arrived to meet us the night before; we toured the Hagia Sophia that afternoon. I had never seen anything more beautiful. That was until later that night, when, after Dad had gone to sleep, Damian and I decided to visit our first Istanbul gay nightclub, Tek Yon, in the Taksim area of the city.

It was a Monday night and the club was not particularly crowded. The club itself was nothing new to us. Having lived together in London, and in West Hollywood myself, and San Francisco before that, Damian and I were abundantly familiar with gay nightlife, and, perhaps humorously, there really wasn’t much of a difference between our experiences with gay nightlife in various cities or even different countries. But this night would prove to be much different than any other typical night out.

We were having a beer in the outside patio, debating how much longer to stay, when I quickly and without much thought turned my head around to look behind me. Standing there alone several feet away was, without a doubt, the most beautiful man I have ever seen. And clichés be damned, our eyes met. It took a second to register that we were truly staring. But it was quickly unmistakable and I nodded to acknowledge him. He nodded back. I turned to Damian, and turned back—he was still looking, and then I waved him over to talk to us.

He spoke perfect English. We introduced ourselves, I mispronounced his name, Erdi, and he immediately began a conversation with Damian. They chatted and chatted while I stood next to him. This is cool, I thought, and then inevitably began wondering if it was me that he was interested in. Just as the knots in my stomach began, he injected into his conversation that he thought I was attractive, and put his arm around me. No more questioning. Soon Erdi and I were saying goodnight to Damian, and hailing a taxi.Mike and Erdi Kiss

By morning it was clear this was no simple holiday romance. This was special. Erdi made me laugh. Though I was in a very foreign city, in a very foreign country, I was perfectly comfortable in his home. I was with this young Turkish man—originally from a small village in the east of the country—but I was at home. I was at peace. I didn’t really need to, but I asked if I could see him again. He smiled, said yes, and we spent every day together for the next week. Being with him was so easy, natural. We talked about world politics, economics, our cultures, music, film, gay life in the U.S. and Turkey. Mostly we laughed. We watched YouTube videos of ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. Indeed, that was what connected us most deeply—our recognition of and appreciation for the absurd all around us. We understood each other. And I admired him. He was born poor by any country’s standards, but pulled himself out by disciplined study, earning scholarships to the best schools in his area, finally being accepted at one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities, Istanbul University, to study economics.

It was a struggle balancing my time with Erdi while still trying to make the trip about Dad and me. It wasn’t easy. I introduced my father to Erdi one afternoon, and we toured the Grand Bazaar. It was awkward. Dad could feel the tone of the trip shift and it saddened him. It was clear I had met someone important, and we had a long, emotional talk about what was happening. In the end, Dad understood this was no fling, and accepted the situation. Two months later, my father would buy my plane ticket to return to Istanbul and so I could be with Erdi again, and today he couldn’t be more supportive. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful father, and to have had him at my side when I first fell in love with Erdi in August 2012.

My final night with Erdi, that initial trip, ended in tears and uncertainty. I asked him to marry me. “Why not?” I said. He said yes. Of course, knowing each other for such a short time we jointly acknowledged that we were half-joking, but I truly felt the possibility, and so did he. There was obviously never a question whether I would see him again, just when and how. And so I returned to the United States, but my heart did not leave Turkey or Erdi.

MikeErdiDOMA3

After one week of constant emailing and messaging on the Viber app (then Whatsapp and Tango), we graduated to Skype. Our first Skype call lasted six hours and it felt like minutes. This became the norm. Erdi would stay up until 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning to talk with me when I got home from work. We never went longer than two hours, when we were both awake, without texting. Our connection grew, and so did the torture of being apart. There were times I felt I could reach through my computer screen and touch him, and the fact that I couldn’t was almost too much to handle. Going through the process of developing a relationship is filled with obstacles enough. Add to that a distance of 6,000 miles, and all the cultural differences… let’s just say it wasn’t easy. But neither of us was going to give up. Still, we knew that too much time apart would strain our relationship irreparably, so I planned a return trip to Istanbul as soon as I accumulated enough vacation time at work. I put the plane ticket on my credit card, later covered by my Dad (as a surprise birthday present), and planned ten days over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was so excited to be back with Erdi.

Would it be the same, we both wondered. We were scared. Every conversation leading up to my return made us feel more connected. We shared everything about our lives, but we hadn’t spent exclusive time together, physically in the same place. We only really knew the euphoria of the first meeting, with a defined expiration date, and, possibly, with the “safety” of no specific commitment. This trip would be an opportunity for us to truly determine whether we would go forward as a couple, really make a commitment and endure all hurdles and barriers that make it a challenge for a couple from two different countries, not to mention all the life changes ahead of us to make such a relationship succeed. We were convinced, and remain convinced, that our love for each other will conquer all.

Erdi Mike Baby

The good news is that it went better than either of us could have hoped. We spent every moment together. He took me to meet his family in Izmit, who were warm, stuffed me with food and joked about me in Turkish, knowing I couldn’t understand.

I met Erdi’s parents, and six of his seven brothers and sisters. We spent the days cooking, watching movies, talking and laughing, sharing our lives. He loves electronics, so we spent quality time at several electronics stores. The only thing that had changed was that we were closer. And we knew we were in love. We knew it was big, life altering. And getting on that plane home was absolutely excruciating. Immediately we put in motion our plan to be together permanently, as soon as possible.

The next two months were the hardest of our lives. We were empty in our daily lives without each other. And we weren’t exactly sure what to do. Could he get a tourist visa and visit for a few weeks? Could I go back to Turkey once I accumulated more vacation time? But we would have to deal with the awfulness of separating again, and the pain of indefinite uncertainty. We wanted stability; we wanted a chance. We wanted to get married and have children. Often we talked about how we would raise them; when we did, I admired him more. This was the man I wanted to be a father to my future kids.

I arranged to meet with immigration lawyer, Lavi Soloway, who I had met through friends. I knew he specialized in immigration law and had worked with thousands of binational couples. I had followed his work at The DOMA Project. We went over the details of filing a fiancé petition with the U.S. government, and he explained to me the current and changing nature of various relevant laws. I took the perspective that as a United States citizen I should have the same right as anyone to sponsor the man I love to come to the U.S. as my fiancé so that we can marry, establish a permanent home and raise our family. And so we are moving forward.

While I began the fiancé visa process I also knew that I didn’t want to spend any more time apart. It was a strain on our relationship. So I decided to move to Istanbul to be with him. My life in West Hollywood was becoming meaningless without him. When I broke the news to my roommate, who is also my closest friend in Los Angeles, she told me she already knew it was coming, because, really, emotionally I had already left. I was emotionally with Erdi.

With Erdi's Family in Turkey

With Erdi’s Family in Turkey

I moved in with Erdi in Istanbul on February 2, 2013. I continue to work remotely as a consultant, writing and copy-editing for the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, and am in the process of applying for a residential visa for Turkey. Erdi and I spend every moment of the day together­­­—we cook, watch movies, shop, take walks around the city in the foggy cold and rain (I’m trying to get used to it), visit family, do what normal couples do, and we talk about the future. My father is planning a visit in the summer, while my mother and brother and his family will come in the spring. Our dream is to return to the United States later this year once the fiancé visa is approved so that we can marry in New York State.

Mike Smile625

To all those reading this, who have fallen in love with someone far from home, who face unjust laws that put barriers between them and the future they seek to build, I can only say that for me there was never a question. Love must come first. That means it must be valued and defended. Our stories must be told and shared. It will be a struggle, but it will not defeat us. Every day our love grows stronger, and so does my resolve not to be forced into exile by my own country. I want to come back home to my life in California with Erdi. The fiancé visa petition that I have filed for him can only be approved if DOMA is struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. The act of filing this petition is both an act of optimism, and an act of defiance. We do not accept the status quo. We do not accept that we are not equal. We have the power to make change happen by standing up and defending what is right, and good, and just. One day very soon, our collective efforts will achieve full equality.

In Texas, Joe & Gabriel Celebrate Five Years Together, But DOMA Threatens their Future

1

Joe and Gabriel

Five years ago, on April 5th, 2008 I was enjoying my last afternoon in my first New York trip and I decided to spend it at an Expo at the Javits Center. I never thought that day my life was going to change forever.

My name is Gabriel Zamora and I am from Mexico. I was working as an EFL/ESL Teacher in Mexico. Joe Lee, my partner, is from New York, and he is a banker.

That afternoon at the Expo I bought a sandwich and a soda for lunch and I sat at one of the tables. I started eating my food when I noticed the guy seating in front of me was staring at me. I got intrigued about it because it was the first time in my life I was in a situation like this one. We looked at each other for some time until our eyes crossed and I smiled. Then, I saw he was getting ready to leave with his friends, and I saw him approaching to me. He didn’t say anything to me; he just gave me a piece of folded paper and walked away. I opened the paper and it said “You look better when you smile” and his phone number.

I got so excited and I did not know what to do. That evening I went to the theater and I could not focus on the play. I called him that evening and we decided to meet. When our eyes met, we knew we were soul mates. We went for a hot chocolate to Starbucks and we talked and talked. It felt like we knew each other for a long time.

He took me to the airport next morning and that goodbye was so difficult for both of us. When I went back to Mexico, we started a long distance relationship through phone texts and Skype. We traveled back and forth regularly. We spend thousands of dollars and got into debt due to the high costs of plane tickets.

I started looking for options to move to America. I wanted to come legally and I could not find any options in New York. A friend of mine told me about an Alternative Certification program in Texas to become a bilingual teacher that sponsors work visas. I applied and got selected to come to Texas. Joe moved down to Texas to be with me. In 2009, I quit my safe job in Mexico and we moved to Texas to start our life together.

Joe is the most beautiful man in the universe. He is tall, kind, and he has the biggest and most beautiful heart ever. He protects me and fills my life with love, happiness, joy, and laughs. He is not 100% healthy though. He has Marfan’s syndrome, Chiary type 1 malformation and fibromyalgia. He needs medical attention in a regular basis so moving to Mexico is not an option for us.

2

We have two dogs that we love so much. They are our kids. We bought Jerry in Mexico at a Walmart’s parking lot. She is a multi-poo who couldn’t even walk when we got her. Our second dog, Stephan, is a Manchester-terrier. They are both spoiled by their dads.

We could say we are fortunate we are both working and living a life as normal as possible. However, I might lose my job this summer and with that I will lose my immigration status. I am looking for other options but I haven’t found anything in concrete yet. I may be facing the same decision  thousands of binational gay couples face: stay in the country without a visa or return to my country and be separated from the man I love.

Last week, Joe and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. We went to celebrate in Las Vegas and we had a great time. We have shared some fun and great memories during a few trips we have made together. We have visited Atlantic City, Mazatlan Mexico, and Shreveport. But this trip to Las Vegas was really special because 5 years is a lot of time together and I can’t imagine my life without Joe and our dogs. We are the Lee-Zamora family and as a family we move forward together.

3DOMA does not let us live our lives without the constant fear of the  “what if.” What if I lose my job and have to go back to Mexico? What if Joe gets sick and I have no rights to be with him at the hospital? What if we want to buy a house but there is no job security and I can’t get any other job due to my immigration status? What if I want to study for a Master’s degree but I can’t access any student loans?

What if… what if… what if… This sort of insecurity makes it hard not to feel like Joe is a second class citizens in his own country, and that our family does not count.  We know better. We know that our love for each other is strong and that we deserve the same respect and equal protection of the laws.

We hope and pray that the Supreme Court strikes DOMA down because we want to get married in New York, where we met, and our plan is for Joe to file a green card petition for me on the basis of our marriage. Our goals are reasonable; we want to be treated like everybody else. Only then we would be able to start making plans to establish ourselves in a place for good. Buying a house or a car is not an option right now.

One thing is for sure. Our family, the Lee-Zamora family, will stick together. We thank The DOMA Project for everything to help encourage binational couples to face and fight back and against the horrible consequences of DOMA. Thank you to the whole team for all your support and hard work, and to the huge community of binational gay couples out there. We are going to win this together!  Above all, thank you for reading this far.  Please share our story when and where you can as it is the best way to make sure that when DOMA is gone, binational couples like us will be able to make the transition as smoothly as possible.

Married Lesbian Binational Couple in Kentucky Celebrate Ten Years Together, Share Their Story and Fight DOMA

JoyLujzaNewer625a

Joy and Lujza

In June, Lujza and I will celebrate our 10-year anniversary as a couple, and our 2-year wedding anniversary. A decade together is a milestone and achievement for any couple, but because we are a binational same-sex couple, we have had to fight for every day of those 10 years.

Like many young couples, Lujza and I met while she was a college student and I was a recent graduate, working an entry level job. We met online in the summer of 2003, when Lujza, who was an international student from Budapest, Hungary, was looking for friends in her new home. Almost immediately we fell in love. I was amazed by her stories of working as a translator for social workers and ministers helping the homeless in her hometown of Budapest, Hungary. She was and is kind, empathetic, and has a fierce commitment to justice and fairness. When she emailed me one of Shakespeare’s love poems, I was smitten. We soon discovered that we could not imagine living without each other, no matter how many challenges we would face.

At this stage, we would have begun planning our wedding and applying for a fiancée visa for Lujza, but because of DOMA, both of those dreams were impossible. The door to any family-based visa was closed. We were even told that if we married, we could jeopardize her status.

Instead of a wedding, we embarked on a 10-year nightmare of debt, anxiety, and dreams deferred. In order to keep her student visa, Lujza must carry a full-time course load, and is not eligible to work anywhere off-campus. We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on tuition for Lujza because it has been the only hope we had to stay here together. As a foreign student, she can never qualify for in-state tuition or most financial aid. For years we had to beg relatives, take out loans and credit cards, panicking each semester, fearing that we wouldn’t be able to scrape the money together.

The emotional toll has been as heavy as the financial one. Lujza has given up years of productivity and livelihood to remain a student so that we could be here together. We have delayed having a family, although our dearest wish is to have a child, because of the precariousness of our situation. All of our decisions have been informed by the fact that we could at any point have to leave the U.S. if she lost her student status due to lack of funds or some official noticing that she isn’t making progress toward a degree. We have a home, friends, a community, and a church here in Lexington, Kentucky yet we have always lived with the anxiety that this could be taken away, that we could be exiled by the U.S. government.

Lujza has made an immense sacrifice for our relationship by choosing to remain in the U.S. indefinitely, because we know that the chances would be extremely slim that her student visa would be renewed if she left the country after so manyyears. Lujza has not been able to see her mother in 10 years, even when she had cancer. Even though my mother-in-law supports our relationship, I have never met her in person. In addition, we have spent hundreds of dollars on therapy and medication to deal with panic attacks on my part and depression on Lujza’s part, resulting from the fear and anxiety we have endured for a decade.

JLWEDDING

Ten years has been too long. We are so tired of the uncertainty and sacrifice that seem to have no end in sight, but we are not defeated; we have always fought to be together and we will not stop fighting now. DOMA has done this to us, no other law, no other obstacle, just DOMA. For us that means, winning our freedom to live our lives and plan our future requires defeating DOMA. We cannot afford to continue postponing our lives, for we can never get back these years. This is why we chose to travel to Connecticut to marry in 2011, mere weeks before Lujza’s beloved aunt died, so that she could see that dream fulfilled before she passed away. We have sacrificed money, tears, and wishes, but we can never replace those moments that we lose in waiting and postponing the important events of our lives. We are ready to fight for the same rights that every heterosexual American enjoys by applying for a green card based on our marriage now and fighting to have it approved.

We encourage others reading this story to contact The DOMA Project and share their story. The Supreme Court will rule on DOMA, but that is not an excuse to sit around and wait. The burden we have all borne for so many years has taught us that our love is worth fighting for. Let’s keep up that fight and educate everyone about the extreme harm caused by DOMA, and why it must be defeated once and for all.

Forced to Move Back and Forth Between Los Angeles and Johannesburg, Avril and Rika Share Why DOMA Must Go

avrilrika4

Avril and Rika

Rika and I met in 1997 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we were both born and raised. We are both film and television editors. I had been on my own for twenty years and had begun to believe that was how it would always be for me. Then, I walked into an edit suite one day and there she was! We worked on a few productions together and found that we enjoyed the experience tremendously. I guess it was inevitable that, in the year 2000, romance would sneak into our relationship. We moved in together in 2001.  Following a traumatic experience that made in living in South Africa really difficult for me, I applied for an EB-1 immigrant visa (one of the rare employment based “green card” categories for which you can self-petition, Employment Based First Preference Alien of Extraordinary Ability)  and it was granted four years later. In 2006, we came to the U.S. and I was admitted as a lawful permanent resident with my green card. We loved it here – being out and about and not having to rush home before dark. We could walk everywhere and, for the first time in our lives, we felt free. On that trip, we met with my immigration lawyer who told us that there was no way I could sponsor Rika as my partner. If we were a heterosexual couple, none of this would be an issue; Rika would have been eligible for a “green card” as my spouse, as a “derivative” family member when my EB-1 petition was granted, or later I could have petitioned for her.  But of course, as a same-sex couple we had none of those rights because our relationship was invisible under the law. The fact that we had been in a committed relationship for six years, had no value in the eyes of immigration law. Therefore, becoming an F-1 (student) visa seemed to be the only option for Rika, until we figured out some other solution that would keep us together in the same country.

avrilrika3

Following our first visit to the U.S., we went back to South Africa to pack up our belongings for our move to the U.S. At the end of May 2007, we began our new life here, together. Even though she already had two university degrees, Rika enrolled at a U.S. college and studied for 18 months. She was then allowed to work for a year after graduation (this employment authorization is known as “post completion optional practical training”). After a few months, the anxiety set in. What would happen when the year was up? We had already spent our savings on her education and the move across continents, how could we make this work for any length of time? The strain on our relationship was often almost too much to bear. 

Avril and Rika

So, in her late 30s, Rika became the oldest intern at a large company! Like many foreign students, her internship led to a job offer.   Her vast experience in post-production led the company to agree to apply for an H1B work visa – everything looked good to go! But the H1B numbers ran out (they are only available in limited number each year and the supply is often quickly exhausted) and we missed the boat. We were devastated. We tried to stay positive. We focused on our relationship, our love, our commitment to each other. Over cardboard boxes and packing tape, we celebrated our 9th year of being together.

avrilrika2

And we knew that even if we went somewhere else together, I could not leave for an extended period (we were told to limit my absences to less than six months at a stretch) to maintain my status as a permanent resident of the United States (we did not want to jeopardize that). We also knew this would mean we may have to be apart. We had been out of the country for about three months when Rika was offered her old job back – this time the H1B petition was submitted early enough and there were still visas available. We came back to Los Angeles in late 2010 and in September 2011, I became an American citizen. It was a huge event in my life, but it was bitter-sweet. Instead of the two of us standing side by side pledging allegiance to the flag, we were separated by immigration policies that refuse to see us as a family. We are in the process of applying for Rika’s second 3-year work visa. The strain has been enormous:  Rika feels that she constantly has to push herself to do better than everybody else, because if she loses her job, we lose the life we’ve built, the plans we’ve made, and goals we’ve set for our lives together.  However, now that I am a United States citizen I am more keenly aware than ever that I should be able to end this anxiety and stress by petitioning for Rika as my spouse, as any other American citizen would do.  Yet DOMA prevents that.

avrilrika5

Rika is the love of my life. I am in my mid-50s and cannot keep starting over in a different country. This is my home and now the country of which I am a citizen. This is a country that I have grown to love and where I voted proudly for the first time last year.  All the same, I am all too aware that DOMA’s continued existence means that my 13-year commitment to Rika is not fully respected in the country we’ve come to call home.  

Joining the many brave DOMA Project couples who have shared their stories against DOMA, we have decided to share our story to help raise awareness of this injustice.  Every time a story is shared, we continue to build momentum for marriage equality and equal recognition of our relationships at the federal level.  The greater our momentum, the more likely is a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court to be.  So, please forward our story to your family and friends via email, Facebook, twitter, or any other means!  Together, we will make sure that laws like DOMA will never again cause the kind of inhumane circumstances that we and other couples have had to suffer.  With much determination, I know that we can and will make a difference.   I look forward to the day that I will file a petition for Rika’s green card as my spouse, but until that day happens we are both committed to working with all binational couples to bring about change by winning over the hearts and minds of most people who have never pondered the extraordinary harm caused by DOMA to our families.  We will win, and we will not stop fighting until we do.

Jen and Rachel: Making Every Day Count in the Fight to Defeat DOMA

JENRACHEL3MINUTEPASS

Jen and Rachel at the United States Supreme Court on March 27, 2013

You could call it fate, coincidence or the stars aligning, but against all odds (including two broken down subway lines), our paths happened to cross in the most unlikely little corner of Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York. Whatever led us to Ginger’s Bar on that hot, sunny July afternoon ultimately altered our lives forever. When I met Rachel, there was no denying immediately the connection we shared. I was so comfortable being near her. It was instantly as if we had known each other for a lifetime.

4

Like most Americans would be, I was enamored with her Liverpool accent. I was taken by her beautiful blue eyes and her witty rapport. We spent a few hours together at the bar before we had to go our separate ways. The next morning I was off to St. Louis to see my nephew for the week. Rachel and I spent the whole week on the phone, texting, talking and sending pictures back and forth. We got to know a lot about each other before we even had our first date; the night I got back from St. Louis. The connection between Rachel and I was so strong that I told my dad, within the first two weeks we were dating, that I was going to marry her.

7Marry is exactly what we did, only five months later on December 22, 2011. Rachel’s family had a trip planned to come in from the U.K. and since it was glaringly obvious to Rachel and I that we would be together for the rest of our lives, we didn’t see any point in waiting. During her parents annual holiday trip we decided we would go to City Hall, with our close friends and our families present and make it official.

It felt so great to able to say “my wife Rachel.” Over sixteen months later the excitement of being able to say the words “my wife” with pride have not lessened to any degree. Marriage is so sacred and so important, but it is so because of the two people who make it that way, not because of any other defined characteristic.

I have always been proud to be an American and I love my country. I love that we can have all types of people who can disagree so deeply about certain topics and we can each speak out about that. I truly respect this country for that. I am proud to say that I won a gold medal for my country in 2010, when I was selected as one of 45 women in this country to participate in the first ever international Women’s World Championship of Tackle Football (hopefully a prelude to football becoming an Olympic sport). I don’t want to have to make the choice to leave this country to be with my wife, but if I must make that decision, I will go wherever she goes, or wherever she is forced to go. I believe that this country will get it right and not force us to make that decision. Unfortunately, Rachel overstayed the authorized stay as a visa waiver visitor. She was planning on leaving the U.S. to go back to the U.K. despite her love for this country, because she was tired of living in fear of deportation. That was when Rachel and I met and it was obvious that this is where she is supposed to be.

Rachel and I live our lives very much like any other married couple. We live in a nice one bedroom apartment in New Jersey with our two cats. We spend time with my parents, extended family & friends on a weekly basis. We talk about our finances and what we would like our future to look like. We both have a passion for life & we live it to the fullest. As a cancer survivor, and having nearly lost my mom to five brain aneurisms this past November, I take nothing for granted. Both Rachel and I know that it’s important to find new ways to make each other laugh and get the most out of every moment we are blessed to spend together.

Rachel is a talented artist whose work has been exhibited throughout galleries in Chelsea and Tribecca, and her work has been featured on the MTV show “Downtown Girl,” and on USA Network’s Royal Pains. Rachel regularly donates artwork and her time to non-profit organizations. Rachel has had to turn down lucrative contract offers, as well as, overseas and long distant private commissions for her artwork, because of DOMA.

Like many other gay binational couples, we have been closely following the DOMA cases as they made their way through the courts from the beginning. When we learned in December that the U.S. Supreme Court was going to hear the challenge to the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8 we were elated and just knew that we had to be there.

1

On March 26, 2013, Rachel and I jumped in the car after work and headed down to Washington D.C.  After checking into our hotel, and following a wonderful dinner, we decided to head down to the court after dark to just breathe it in. I will never forget the moment Rachel and I walked up the stairs towards the Supreme Court. Its colossal size reminded me of the colossal moment in history we were facing. As an attorney, well aware of the legal fight that would be going on inside those enormous walls, and as an American citizen so deeply affected by the fight, I instantly became overwhelmed by the gravity of that moment in history and I began to sob uncontrollably. Rachel grabbed me and we embraced on the steps of the Supreme Court. The moment was captured on camera by John Zangas, of the DC Media Group, who was nearby filming those that were lined up in hopes of being admitted to the oral argument the next morning on the Windsor case.

Photo: John Zangas, DC media group

The following morning we were up in the early hours and on the steps of the Supreme Court to be a part of this historic day. The energy was electric. Thousands of supporters rallying together for Edie Windsor & the rights of our community. After waiting online for almost three hours we were fortunate enough to get our hands on a five minute pass into the oral argument. It was such an incredible, humbling experience to be a part of what we hope will be the decision that will change this great country’s history in the right direction.

We continue to advocate and share our story over social media and encourage other binational couples to do the same. Every day from now until the Court rules, is a day that we can contribute to the defeat of DOMA. If we sit back and wait, we are failing ourselves. In the end, to perfect the idea of the more perfect union, to bring about change, and to achieve full equality for LGBT families, we must be fully engaged. We encourage others to share their story and to join The DOMA Project. Every day counts.

8

Jen and Rachel

VIDEO: Watch Our Workshop, “Green Card Basics for Same-Sex Couples After DOMA”

laviworkshopThis video is the first in the series of live streamed workshops produced by the DOMA Project and hosted by co-founder, attorney Lavi Soloway. It was live streamed on Sunday April 14, 2013. 

Green Card Basics for Same-Sex Couples after DOMA focuses on the law and procedure for marriage-based green card petitions and fiancé(e) visas petitions for couples in the US, couples who are separated, and couples who are abroad.


Originally live streamed on You Tube on Sunday, April 14, 2013 

Supplementary outline:

Download (PDF, 1.41MB)

If you participated in the workshop, please take our follow-up anonymous survey in order to help us improve our future work

TAKE OUR SURVEY

ONLINE WORKSHOP: Green Card Basics for Same-Sex Couples After DOMA

 Green Card Basics for Same-Sex Couples After DOMA 

Live streamed on You Tube on Sunday, April 14
9 a.m. Pacific Time / 12 p.m. Eastern Time/ 5 p.m. British Summer Time

VIEW WORKSHOP RECORDING

greencardworkshop0414

The workshop will focus on the law and procedure for marriage-based green card petitions and fiancé(e) visas petitions for couples in the US, couples who are separated, and couples who are abroad.

View Presentation

Supplementary outline:

Download (PDF, 1.41MB)


Love at First Sight: Jamie and Vanessa Fight DOMA to Plan a Future Together

Jamie and I in Chicago

Jamie and Vanessa in Chicago

It all started in 2010, during the Women’s Football World Championship in Sweden over the summer. Six nations, including Austria and the U.S., competed against each other, and there she was. Jamie. After playing against her, seeing her off and on the field, watching her passion for this sport, the way she acted, I just couldn’t stop thinking about her.

Some people may think that there is no love at first sight, but I think that they are plainly wrong. I had nothing else in mind but to find her. Back in my home country of Austria, the journey began. My goal was to find this mysterious person, whose name I didn’t know – who’d turned my head and kept my undivided attention. I had the idea of looking up all those names that were published in a folder that was handed out to all the teams while we were in Sweden. After some time, I found Jamie on my personal Facebook ‘hunt’. When I sent her a friend request – I was so nervous!  I tried my luck, and I was praying for her to answer. It didn’t take her long at all, but it took me days to actually gather all my courage and send her a reasonable message. There I was, thinking about how to not make a jerk of myself and start a conversation that wouldn’t stop after one or three responses.

Fortunately, we rather easily struck up a conversation.  Our daily talks kept going and neither of us stopped replying. We shared something special that neither of us could explain, since we’d never experienced it before. It took me a while to admit that Jamie was the one I was looking for – that she caught my attention during our stay in Sweden. This confession led to many sleepless nights.  Walking to one another continuously, knowing that there was more between us, than we both dared to say.  Then came the first attempt of defying the distance. We had a little countdown going, on Facebook and on a poster, where we crossed out each day we had to wait to finally meet each other in Chicago, close to where Jamie’s family lives.

 cdwn-e1365295633206

We both were so nervous.  She waited at the airport for me to arrive while I went through U.S. customs. We longed for this very moment for the last five months. We were so happy to spend Christmas holidays and New Year’s together. Living with Jamie’s brother, his wife and kids, we did various fun activities and I felt like a family member from the first day on. We went to Chicago a couple times, visited a museum, a zoo, went to the movies, out for dinner (where we found our restaurant – Rainforest Café) – just like any other couple; but as we were enjoying ourselves, we both knew that I’d have to return to Austria soon.

After that trip, we both knew that we wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of our lives together. What we didn’t know yet, was how difficult it all would turn out to be.

vanessa-jamie3

After four months of struggling with the long distance, Jamie booked her flight to Vienna, Austria. We were happy to finally have her meet my family.  My family and close friends loved her the instant they met her and didn’t want her to think having to return to the U.S. again. However, we both knew that keeping her here wouldn’t have worked out, and so we made the best out of her stay. We went sightseeing, spent a lot of time with the family and friends, and also went to Budapest one time (where I had a football game). It was great to have her back, to be able to fall asleep and wake up together, kiss and hold each other whenever we wanted – and just act like any other couple, forgetting all the sorrows and struggling we had to go through the last couple months. Of course, this trip ended with a heartbreaking goodbye, without knowing when we’d see each other again. This time, though, it was even worse because we became so accustomed to be with each other that we couldn’t think of leaving the other one behind.

In the same year, in August, I was able to afford another plane ticket to the U.S. This time, I met Jamie’s mother for the first time.  Since I stayed for a month, I was able to meet even more of Jamie’s family than before. Everything felt so familiar. We went to a football game, Six Flags – Great America, to Wisconsin, to the movies, again, to our favorite place – the Rainforest Café, Lake Michigan, and did all those fun activities normal couples would do. Staying a month gave us a little more time, but also made the upcoming separation worse. We became so accustomed to being with each other that the thought of separating once more was unbearable. We loved being with each other, sharing experiences, falling asleep with each other (there’s nothing better than that) and being there for each other. We always knew that one day, we’d get married; but this trip, we promised ourselves that once we can afford it (Jamie had no serious job and I was about to start college), we’d take this step. We didn’t know there were laws that would stand in the way.

Leaving Jamie and her family after a month hurt tremendously, also because we both knew that the time we could spend online would be reduced yet again. With college being right around the corner, and Jamie desperately searching for a job and returning to working jobs that were right at those times we both would’ve been able to talk to each other, there was nothing we would look forward to.

As it became unbearable for us to go on like this, I decided to take the rest of my saved money, to buy Jamie a ticket to Vienna (I couldn’t fly myself, since I had to go to college), and made her come here. It was the first time she accepted such an offer, and I was happy she did. We spent two wonderful weeks in Austria together, that gave us new motivation and ambition to fight for our final forever.  We enjoyed our time together, even though we knew that we’d soon be separated once more. We tried not to think about it, but the thoughts were present. We kept ourselves busy, went to college, attended family festivities. Also, Jamie got to know my newborn god-daughter. I loved being with Jamie and the family. I loved to have her as a part of my life in Austria and would have loved the thought of keeping her here. Even though it was only two weeks, it strengthened our relationship and made us continue to walk our path.

vanessa-jamie2

At the Rainforest Cafe

Probably the most important thing that happened during that stay is the promise we gave each other. Since we weren’t able to marry at this time, we bought rings, giving each other the promise to get married whenever it’d be possible for us to do so.

In the following three months there was nothing on our minds other than the thought of being with each other again. As often before, there was hardly time to talk to each other due to different things that would come up, preventing us from talking to each other. Jamie was working a job that was usually at the times we would have been online – and until then, we hadn’t found a way to call each other without the result of paying a fortune. Usually, at the times she worked, I went to college.  The time difference seven-hour time difference led to weeks of loneliness and the craving for the voice and presence of my other half.

Luckily, I had enough money saved to buy a plane ticket that would bring me to America. I could hardly wait to see my love and her family again, since the last three months were stressful and left both of us desperate and lonely.

This time I stayed for one and a half months. It was the longest we ever were together. I loved every second that we were able to share. Also, this trip was the first time we got to spend my birthday together. It is great to spend holidays and special personal days, like birthdays with one another. In the last two years, we weren’t able to celebrate any special days together – other than New Year’s in the year we met. We both became so used to the situation of being together, that the day I had to leave was worse than ever before. Of course, every time we had to separate, we broke down and cried, not wanting to let go of the other and not knowing how to cope with the situation, but this time was different.

Since day one, we always had in mind to spend the rest of our lives together. We never really talked about where we’d actually live, but with Jamie having landed a job, and me, being in the position and age to start a ‘new life’, some other place, we agreed on me moving to the U.S.

I started my research and found out, that as a gay bi-national couple, we aren’t granted the same rights that straight couples are. It caught me off guard that it might be the case that we’d have to wait a long time to be able to get the basic human rights that straight couples do have. We were suddenly gripped with the fear that if we married I might lose my right to enter the U.S., since Jamie’s home state of Indiana does not permit or recognize marriage for same-sex couples.  Fortunately, we later learned during one of The DOMA Project’s recent conference calls that this fear was unfounded.  Once DOMA is off the books, immigration law will recognize any marriage so long as it is legally valid in the state or country where it was entered.

vanessa-jamie

Jamie and Vanessa

I have to admit that we didn’t think it was going to be so difficult for me to move to the U.S. We didn’t know about DOMA, and we didn’t know about all the various visas that permit temporary (but not permanent) stays. There is no way for me to obtain a green card or work permit given our circumstances. Even though I went to a technology school in Austria, where I received an above average high school education, I probably wouldn’t be able to find someone who would offer me a job and would also be willing to sponsor me for a visa.

It seems like Jamie and I are always hitting dead ends and come back to the same spot where we started. If DOMA were repealed or invalidated, we’d be able to marry.  We wouldn’t have to worry about when we’d see each other again.  We could simply move together, start our forever, living through the good and bad times.  With the stability that is obtained through federal recognition of marriage, we would be able to dream our dreams and eventually grow our own family. It would give us the rights we deserve, because we are not different. What people need to understand is that we, as a gay couple, are no threat to the community.  We enjoy the same sorts of things that heterosexual couples enjoy, from Six Flags to Football to the Rainforest Café.  Just because of our sexual orientation, we should not be forced to subsist with a second-class marriage in the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter.

It is time to change things, to not separate families anymore.  Inspired by the many brave DOMA Project participants, we refuse to live our lives in limbo as the Supreme Court determines DOMA’s fate and our future.  By sharing our story, we are helping to build awareness and support for a swift and unambiguous end of DOMA.  We’re also helping to draw attention to much needed interim remedies like a green card abeyance policy.  Such and abeyance policy would allow Jamie to petition for a green card for me, with the final outcome pending until a final ruling by the Supreme Court.  This would allow me to remain with Jamie without fear of separation starting now.  Such a policy has precedent and would be quite easy to implement.  There is no excuse for delay.  Jamie and I belong together.  We hope we can count on you to share our story (or even share your own) and take action to bring our message to an ever-broader audience.

Paul and Micha Refuse to be Uprooted from their Colorado Community, Share Their Story in the Fight Against DOMA

Paul&Michael

Paul & Micha

My name is Paul Dankers and I am from St. Croix Falls, WI.  I grew up as the fourth in a family of six children.  I was raised in a relatively fundamentalist Christian home, went to Valley Christian School, and attended the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church with my family three times a week.  I pursued music for my career, playing piano, violin, flute, and guitar as well as singing, arranging and composing.  I have a Master’s Degree in choral music education and taught in the public schools for 8 years before accepting my current job as music director at Snowmass Chapel, near Aspen, Colorado.

My husband’s name is Michael “Micha” Schoepe.  He is from Munich, Germany.  He was also raised in an Evangelical Christian home, the second of five children.  He holds degrees in Music and Theatre as well as in Marketing.  He was a professional singer with the group, vocaldente, when I met him.

It was almost four years ago exactly; the phone rang and the voice at the other end of the line belonged to John Martin Sommers.  John is a Snowmass Village resident who wrote a song for John Denver that many people will remember, “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy.”  John explained to me that “vocaldente,” a German a cappella group would be performing his popular song.  He was hoping this group could do a concert in Snowmass Village so that he could hear them sing his song.  He asked me if I would be willing to host this group’s concert at Snowmass Chapel?  I said, “You bet!”

100_3639

On our wedding night with our sisters, Lisa and Dorothea.

When vocaldente showed up at Snowmass Chapel for the concert, I enlisted Micha to help me move the altar furniture.  We would later remember that it was while carrying the altar that we fell in  “love at first sight” as we say, or “Liebe auf den ersten Blick” as they say in German.  About a month after the concert, Micha and I began an e-mail correspondence that totaled 630 pages over the course of the following year.  I did not see him again for 11 months.  It would be more than a year after our second meeting before he was able to extricate himself from vocaldente and move to the USA to be with me.

We both had a very rosy outlook about how easy it would be for him to move here.  Neither of us could have guessed how difficult it would be even for Micha to spend time with me on temporary basis.  He came here initially on a visa as a “visitor for business” that was extended so he could stay for a year.  During that time we were married in Iowa (because Colorado currently has a law on the books prohibiting same-sex marriage).  As Micha’s stay as a visitor came to an end he was able to get a trainee visa in marketing through Blue Tent Marketing in El Jebel, CO.  He is currently in the United States temporarily on that visa, which will expire in January.  All in all, we have already spent several thousand dollars trying to keep Micha here for these increments of time—money which we couldn’t afford, since until this year, Micha was not able to earn money in the USA.  Our living expenses and these visa fees all had to come out of my music director’s salary at Snowmass Chapel.  It will probably be another year or two before our finances can recover from that first year.

It would be hard to clearly explain to anybody how many ways the lack of marriage equality has hurt us in both tangible and intangible ways.  Let me begin with the tax code.  For the first year that Micha was here, I was the sole “bread winner” in our family.  I should have been able to claim Micha as a dependent on my taxes, but I was not able to do that.  Because of DOMA, I could not petition for Micha for a “green card” as my spouse.  This meant that he had to find an employment-based solution, and in this economy that is nearly impossible—even for a highly educated, highly qualified person like him.  Because Micha did not have a green card, there was no employment available to him and that cost us dearly.  People would offer him jobs, but he had to turn them down because he was not eligible to work.  When we were married, we could not have our ceremony in Colorado.  This meant that almost none of our friends could attend the ceremony and it also meant that we incurred very large travel costs that we could not afford.

We are fighting to defeat DOMA because, for us, like all married gay binational couples, everything is at stake: Micha’s visa will expire and if we run out of options.  We do not want to be forced to leave the country to stay together.  It is amazing to me how many people will ask us why we don’t just move to Germany.  I find it astonishing that this thoughtless solution seems like a viable answer to people who don’t stop to consider all of the implications:  employment, housing, possessions, friendships, language and cultural barriers and so on and so forth.  Moving to another country can be a daunting experience.  What is so frustrating is that this is a needless waste of our time and energy—who gains from our hardship? Who gains because the U.S. government refuses to recognize my legal marriage to my husband?  Nobody.

100_3023

Saying “I do” at our wedding.

I find it inconceivable that my own country values us so little that it would force us to consider finding another country in which to live, forcing me, as an American citizen, into self-exile solely because I’m gay.   I have a Master’s Degree—an investment in human collateral—with so much to contribute to my community.  I personally founded Lomira Community Theatre and the Snowmass Village Winter Concert Series.  I am the music director at Snowmass Chapel and the interim director of the Aspen Choral Society.  I have directed productions for Theatre Aspen and Aspen Community Theatre, and I have performed solo roles in numerous local groups.  Since Micha first visited America, he  has founded “Theatre Hotspot” and has appeared in numerous concerts and theatre pieces.  He also leads singing at Snowmass Chapel on a regular basis—all volunteer, since he can’t be paid.

100_3605-cropped

We just want to be together and to continue contributing to the community where we live.  We aren’t asking for “special” rights or unique consideration.  We have many hopes, dreams, and plans that we want to make, but without the stability that straight couples take for granted, reaching for those dreams is needlessly costly and complicated, and most often, out of reach. We do not want to put our lives on hold; and we should not have to wait one more day to be equal.  As the media prematurely proclaim that gay marriage has already won, the uncertainty looming on our horizon shows that until DOMA is officially off the books, we have not yet won.  By sharing our story with friends and family, we are shaping public opinion in a way that will help ensure a swift and certain end to DOMA.  Our elected officials and judiciary need to hear our voices and our stories now more than ever.  We urge you to join us by sharing our story (or by sharing your own).  We also encourage you to visit the DOMA Project to find out more ways to get involved.

Celebrating 18th Anniversary: Allen and Jean-Francois in Exile Call for Humanitarian Parole, End to DOMA

IMG_8563 (2)

Allen and Jean-Francois

It was a very warm Los Angeles day in June 1995 and I was going to the gay pride parade and festival with my friends. I had a lot of friends in Los Angeles and we used to go places and do things together. I had been single for years and had basically decided to remain single unless I met someone very special, someone that would make my life better. I wanted true love and nothing less would do. On our way home from the festival my friends wanted to stop in this little local bar, so in we went and there stood this tall, handsome guy with beautiful blue eyes. I said, “Hi my name is Allen,” and he gave me a big smile and said his name was Jean-Francois. We started talking and he had the nicest French accent. He seemed really nice. From that moment on, and for the last 18 years, I would not be alone; love had finally found me.

Our life in Los Angeles was splendid. We both had jobs, lots of friends, a love for the city, and a wonderful dog named Zelda the Doberman. We just enjoyed our life together. We had saved and really worked hard to buy a condo. After selling our condo we purchased an amazing mid-century modern fixer home. For three years we worked on our house every weekend until it was completely renovated. We were happy being together and really enjoyed our life; it was like a dream come true. The life we created was the life we wanted and had worked so hard to create. Little did we know our life was soon going to change drastically and not in a good way.

We shared an office in the house where Jean-Francois did his writing and I worked in real estate. Jean-Francois was a writer for French magazines and newspapers. He was in the US on a media visa that was renewable every five years and sponsored by his employer in France. I had worked most of my life in hotel management but had recently changed careers to become a real estate agent and really enjoyed it. Then it happened, Jean-Francois received a letter from his employer in France notifying him that the magazine (the sponsor for his visa) was closing down. Without his work visa he could not legally stay in the US.
Jean-Francois & Allen February 2009 102 (3)

We went to see an immigration attorney thinking there must be some way we can get Jean-Francois the right to stay in the US. The attorney advised us that because of the so called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) we basically had two choices. We could move to France (where Jean-Francois would be able to sponsor me as his partner) or we could separate. There was no way were going to separate. We were happy together.  We had been together for over 10 years already.

So, we sold our home, left the city we loved, left our friends, left our old life behind, and moved to the island of Saint Martin which is French and Dutch. We chose Saint Martin because it is the closest French island to the United States. My mother by this time was in her 80’s and I did not want to be too far away from her. There was also the financial concern that I would be required to fly back to the US every 90 days until I obtained a Carte De Sejour (French green card). According to the French law you can obtain a Carte de Sejour one year after you are PACS’d (French civil union). We arrived in Saint Martin in May 2006 and had our civil union (PACS) in June 2006.

Allen & JF Nov 13 - 1995 (2)

One year later, we had to go Saint Martin Immigration to apply for my Carte De Sejour so I would have the right to stay and work in Saint Martin. We had spoken to other people on the island and knew we would have to arrive at immigration very early at 3 o’clock in the morning so we were far up enough in the line to speak to someone at the immigration office between 8 am and 9 am. Well, the first time the window was closed in front of our face so we had to go back the next night at 3 am and this time we did get to speak with someone in the immigration office around 8:30 am in the morning. The person told us we were misinformed and I needed to fly back to Los Angeles and apply for a French visa there at the French Consulate. We knew if I did fly back there was the possibility the visa could be denied. At this point we realized that this small island had not had gay couples apply for the right to stay and work based on their relationship. We needed to hire an attorney in Paris to write a letter on our behalf to the local immigration office clearly stating what the law is. The local immigration people said they wanted a judge in France to make a legal judgment on our case before they would issue my Carte De Sejour, the judge ruled in our favor.  Close to two years after our arrival, I no longer had to spend loads of money to fly back to the US every three months; I was able to stay.

This May will be our 7th year living on this island and it has been hard. We have very few friends here and feel isolated, career potential is very limited here, and it’s expensive to live here. I have applied to all the hotels to try to get a job here but my French work papers are not honored on the Dutch side of the island where everyone speaks English and I do not speak French well enough to work in a hotel on the French side of the island.  I have managed to get work managing a few vacation rental condos which helps us get by. My husband manages a small boutique hotel here carrying the majority of the burden of supporting us both. At times he feels bad, guilty, like it’s his fault we have to live here because he is not an American. I tell him it’s not his fault; discrimination against us is not our own doing. Discriminatory laws need to be overturned or repealed. The important thing is that we are still together, and we are empowered to help undo the discrimination against gay and lesbian binational couples by sharing our story today.

jf&allen036-cropped

Some people have asked me what it’s like to live in paradise surrounded by so much beauty? I wish I could see the beauty here, I really do. Many people dream of living on a Caribbean island, but this was never our dream. I feel like a large piece of our life was stolen from us, and our life has been placed on hold indefinitely. I have written my representatives many times, written the President, written every person I thought could help change this situation, and signed every petition I could for years. Sadly, back in 2006, we had no other option but forced exile. However, after nearly a decade of relentless activism in solidarity with tens of thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples, things have finally started to change. DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) deportations have virtually ceased and efforts like The DOMA Project are actively advocating for much-needed interim policies like the abeyance of green card petitions and implementation of humanitarian parole for the foreign partners of gay and lesbian Americans. Humanitarian parole in particular would allow Jean-Francois and me to resume the life we left behind in Los Angeles, to resume our dream. As the fate of DOMA is considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, the time for humanitarian parole is now.  We have been forced to put off our dream for too long; time is too valuable.

Our 18-year anniversary of being together is in June. Our 7 year French civil union anniversary is also in June, and our 2 year wedding Anniversary in Massachusetts is in July. This year it would be great if we could celebrate all of our anniversaries in the United States and be allowed to stay. The Supreme Court has our life and our future in their hands and I hope they strike down the discriminatory DOMA. In the meantime, we will continue to do our part by sharing our story and informing others about the cruel consequences of DOMA.  Everyone from your next door neighbor to Chief Justice Roberts needs to hear about the lives of couples like us who have never hurt anyone and love each other very much.  In the end, our lives and our dreams are at stake.  Please join us in fighting for our future, humanitarian parole, and an end to DOMA.  We want to come back home!

Page 2 of 3123
© The DOMA Project

Attorney advertising

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.