Separated by 5000 Miles, Art and Stuart Urge Supreme Court to Respect Their Marriage and Their Family and Strike Down DOMA
My name is Art. I am a music teacher in San Antonio, Texas, and a veteran of the U.S. military. Most of my life I have spent pursuing mastery of my instruments: the piano, the organ, and the voice. I also love computers and social networks, which is where I ultimately met my (now) husband, Stuart.
In the summer of 2009, I saw a news report on television about Facebook, a now-ubiquitous social networking site that had at the time become a part of my life, as it had for so many others. As a curious computer person, I logged in and discovered how fun it was to meet all sorts of people from around the world. With this new site, many new friendships and conversations started. It was also time in my spirit to get “real” about who I was: a gay man ready to end a 20-year heterosexual marriage. I had already come out to my siblings and friends at college and they loved me for who I was. However, they were always worried about what would happen to me if I told certain people (for example: my wife, church friends, co-workers) about my sexual identity. On Facebook, I didn’t have to hide who I was; I just had to restrict my friends and the content available to them. This gave me some freedom I had never had before. My relationship said “It’s Complicated” because that’s exactly what it was.
As 2009 ended, I had a large list of Facebook friends—in the thousands. One of these people I had “friended” was Stuart. I don’t really remember exactly what it was that caught my attention about him. It was probably something witty he said to a conversation post that made me click his name and check out his profile. I looked at Stuart’s profile for quite a while and then browsed through his photos. Ultimately, I came to the first video he posted on Facebook. The British accent charmed me instantly. I had lived in the United Kingdom for over four years when I was serving in the U.S. military; that country has always been like a second home in my heart. I wrote Stuart a message in response to the video caption. He was putting himself down for how he looked on video camera. I told him he didn’t look bad at all. And so began a conversation of texts, chats, and e-mails. At one point, Stuart mentioned another program called Skype. My co-worker had just mentioned this new program and touted its benefits. On April 26th, 2010, I made my first Skype call to the United Kingdom to talk to Stuart. I was so nervous! Hearing the accent, all I could say was, “Hi! I like Monty Python!” Stuart kind of rolled his eyes and suggested I check out Catherine Tate videos as a more updated form of British humor.
Oh yes, we started over the months chiding each other about spelling words (humor versus humour) as well as driving on the left. Our relationship began as a friendship where two guys would share funny videos, laugh about stuff going on in the world news, and have intelligent conversations about nearly everything under the sun. It was fun to have our occasional Skype talks while we also commented on mutual friends’ Facebook pages.
My coming out process continued. In 2010, I filed for divorce with my wife. Stuart was one of the biggest emotional supports along with my family during this dark time. In fact, my family had begun talking to him on Skype and approved of his positive influence on me.
It was in the middle of this dark summer that the precious four-letter “L” word finally was spoken. Stuart was on holiday in Egypt—and he was spending vast amounts of money and time just trying to talk with me on Skype. It was me who quietly said it one evening; we were commenting on the full moon setting over the Nile River in the west just as it was managing to rise in my South Texas sky. I dedicated the song “Somewhere Out There” from the movie An American Tail to Stuart in the form of a video. I admitted to Stuart that I was falling in love with him. He also admitted to me that he was in love with me and couldn’t stop thinking about us. Stuart dedicated the music video “All the Man I Need” by Whitney Houston to me. Crazy as it may sound to people, the relationship was founded on trust and open communication—not a physical in person meeting, at first. This is quite opposite to the way many couples actually form, though in this age of the Internet it is certainly becoming more common. One might even suggest that we had a Victorian-style courting courtesy of the digital age.
My divorce was finalized in November of 2010. Stuart visited me soon afterward. At the top of the Tower of Americas in San Antonio, I dropped to my knee and asked Stuart to be my husband. He said “yes”. We spent the next 19 months or so discussing getting married in the United States and other important family matters—especially his role as a stepfather to my children. The more we got to know each other, the more eager we were to spend our lives together and plan our future.
In summer of 2012, Stuart and I visited my parents to get their official blessing for our marriage. They gave it whole heartedly. Then, we went to my hometown in Massachusetts to be married by a long-time friend of the family. Although the actual civil ceremony was at most five minutes long, it was a major milestone for Stuart and me. He became my husband and took on my surname.
His visits to the United States are met with great anticipation and preparation. However, even with the joy of his arrival, there is the looming sadness that the clock is ticking until he has to return to the United Kingdom. As his departure dates get closer on each visit, I go into a terrible depression. After I drop him off at the airport, I become terribly emotional and then, as a result, physically ill.
Each time we part it feels like I am my entire being is being ripped out of my body and tossed away into the garbage. There is this sense of unfairness I experience over and over because I have to lose my loving spouse on a technicality while an opposite sex couple in the same situation gets married on a whim but enjoys full equal civil rights, including the right to petition for their spouse for a green card. The depression and accompanying illness gets worse with every visit because we ARE married and should be together. Losing my spouse for such long periods of time tears me apart spiritually and emotionally. Our home runs so beautifully when our children have two loving fathers physically at home. When I am stuck being a single father again, it overwhelms me.
Holidays are especially difficult. For three years now, I have not decorated the house or acknowledged the special days other than having to play extra services as an organist. I long for the day that I can wake up on a Christmas morning to have a cup of coffee with my husband and spend the quality time together. Then I will have the tree and all the trimmings to once again make the holidays special. Until that day when equality is truly reached, my house will not play host to the holidays.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I am not able to successfully sponsor Stuart for a green card. He cannot become a productive member of our community, he cannot be present as a stable and loving stepparent to my children, we cannot build a family life together. This is the case even though we are legally married already under the laws of Massachusetts. Because I have children as well as my extended family here in the United States, I cannot just pull up stakes and move to the United Kingdom, but I would not consider leaving my country and being forced into exile, regardless. I am an American. I have the right to live in my country with the man I love, and raise my children here. I will not be shoved out of my own country.
We are currently stuck in a pattern where Stuart has to work an absurd number of overtime hours to afford plane tickets from London back to San Antonio. Even then, he can only stay at most three weeks about twice each year. No marriage should have to endure that kind of separation. Even the military respects the hardships that deployments put on a couple. How much more difficult is our situation because of an unfair and unconstitutional law discriminating against gay and lesbian binational couples and their families?
My husband and I are fighting for the chance to be together here at home with our children. We fully expect the same civil rights and privileges that other loving couples enjoy. Together with nearly a hundred other DOMA Project participant couples and thousands of others who have supported this campaign, we are urging the Obama administration to respect our legal marriage, to give real meaning to “states’ rights” and stop standing in the way of our marriage. Stop keeping us 5,000 miles apart.
As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8, we join with thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples to raise the profile of DOMA’s cruel impact on our families. Please consider sharing our story with friends and family to expose the true sinister nature of DOMA and how it threatens to destroy (not protect) so many loving families. With much hope, prayer, and effort, we eagerly work to persuade others that this discrimination has to come to an end. We are not sitting on the sidelines waiting for a decision from the Court. We are engaging in advocacy by sharing our story because we believe that we have the power to bring about change. Help us keep up the fight against DOMA in the three months left until the Supreme Court rules.