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