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