Relocation from New Zealand to North Carolina, a Student Visa, Crushing Tuition Fees: Ron and Arthur Fight DOMA

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Ron and Arthur

I would not be writing this story if not for DOMA. But it’s not what you think.

Because of DOMA, my dear friend Leif was forced to move to New Zealand to live with his partner, Morris. I traveled to visit them in February 2011, and during that trip… well let’s just say I joined the binational couple community myself. Leif moved to New Zealand in part because there was no immigration path for Morris to come to the United States. Like all binational, same-sex couples, Leif and Morris simply wanted to be together and were fortunately able to make that happen in New Zealand, a country that includes same-sex couples in its immigration policies.

While stomping around the grounds of Auckland’s annual “Big Gay Out” celebration with these dear friends, I met a Kiwi named Arthur who was in Auckland on vacation from his home on the country’s South Island. Our attraction to each other was nearly instantaneous and what I thought was a “holiday romance” quickly unfolded into something more. I returned home to South Carolina a week later and learned to navigate Skype. Through this technology, we discovered there was a lot more to our connection. After countless hours on Skype and Facebook, we decided that we had to have more “real time” together, so we planned for Arthur to visit the U.S.

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In June 2011, Arthur came to visit me in my home state of South Carolina, and we spent nearly three months together, the maximum time allowed under his visitor’s visa. The trips, trials and tribulations during our time together further cemented our bond. I was also able to introduce Arthur to my family and friends. Somewhere in that period we fell in love and acknowledged we wanted a life together. All too soon, our 89 days together expired, and Arthur had to return to his native country.

However, we were already planning our next opportunity to reunite. As I am sure any couple apart knows, there is only so much that social networks and Skype can do to satiate the yearning and need to be with that special person you love. Thus, I traveled back to New Zealand in November 2011 to see him. I went on a second trip in February 2012. On these trips, I met more of Arthur’s friends and family, and we spent our time exploring beautiful New Zealand and reveling in every moment we had together as we were all too aware that our shared hours, minutes and seconds were limited by my return plane ticket.

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For us, there has been a respite in our separation as Arthur’s life plan included a return to university to complete his degree; he decided to make that happen in the U.S. by applying for an F-1 student visa. Arthur applied and was accepted to a college in Charlotte, N.C. Soon after, I was able to relocate to Charlotte, and we have been living in the Queen City for over a year now. Arthur is well on his path to getting his degree but has very limited work options with his visa. Though challenging at times, we make ends meet and understand the extra financial burden of attending college as an international student is just another sacrifice we have to bear in order to be together at this time. We know and appreciate the limitations of our current status, but it is definitely an improvement over our previous separation. We remember waiting for that Skype call and managing the 16 hour time difference just so we could speak to each other, even if only to say “goodnight, I love you.”

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As things stand, graduation will mean a return to New Zealand for Arthur. Though completely open to the idea, moving to New Zealand is not an option for me currently as I have an established career as a federal employee. The defeat of DOMA would be a huge step on our path to remain together as it would afford us the opportunity to stay a couple and contribute fully to our community here in the U.S. In less than a month, DOMA’s fate and our future will be decided. Let’s make sure that the justices do not forget about binational couples like us. We urge the justices on the Supreme Court to remember that our future is in their hands. Please join us in sharing our story and raising awareness of just why DOMA needs to go.

Gonzalo and Arturo: Binational Couple in Chicago Engaged to be Married, Joins Campaign to Defeat DOMA

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Gonzalo and Arturo

If you really want something, you have to do everything to reach your goal, or you’ll only be watching others succeed.

The first time I met Gonzalo in March 2011, I never thought a relationship between us would be possible; despite the fact that we’re both Latinos, we were living in different countries. Gonzalo was born in Colombia, he is forty-seven, an American citizen who has lived in Chicago for sixteen years. My name is Arturo; I am forty-two. I was living in Yucatán, México, when we met online.

I am anthropologist. Two years ago, I was doing the last year of my masters degree in environmental education science while Gonzalo was working on his research in the Latino community.

At first, we communicated via Skype. We were talking every day, two or three hours every night for approximately three months. We shared our worries and our personal dreams daily. We had had some bad experiences in past relationships, but we both agreed that these experiences made us stronger. Eventually, we started wanting to see each other in person and not just via a web cam. As I couldn’t travel because of my masters degree commitments, Gonzalo decided to visit me in México. He first came to see me in June of 2011 and we spent a wonderful time together. Face to face at last and closer together than ever before, we understood that we were falling in love with each other, day by day.

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On the last day before Gonzalo had to go back to the U.S., we talked about the wonderful time we shared together: talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company, and then Gonzalo asked me whether we had a chance as a couple, and if I wanted to be more than friends. Of course, I said yes.

One month later, on my vacation, I had the opportunity to visit Gonzalo, so I came to Chicago for the first time. I spent the entire August with him, so I could find out how the life with him here in Chicago would be, and I liked it.

I had to return to México to complete my degree. Finally, when I finished my studies, Gonzalo asked me if I could move in with him. Moving to the U.S. had to be the biggest decision that I ever had to make: it was not easy for me. I like Chicago, but I also know how hard it would be to try to do everything right with immigration hassles. I visited Gonzalo again in December, 2011, planning to spend some time together to find out how our relationship would work for us. I stayed in Chicago for six months; this time helped us so much to grow as a couple and at the same time made our commitment more solid.

Then, in June 2012, I had to leave since my tourist visa didn’t allow me to stay for more than six months at a time. Saying good bye to Gonzalo was so hard, because I knew I wouldn’t able to come back to spend time together with him any time soon.

Love is something that needs constant care, but distance is always hard to deal with, and puts a strain on relationships.

As we know, DOMA has been destroying binational families by ripping them apart. Like any heterosexual couple does, Gonzalo should be able to file for a fiancé visa for me, but he cannot, because of DOMA. We had to continue using modern technology (Skype) to help keep our relationship going on a nightly basis.

Gonzalo is the love of my life and we have a very mature relationship. We understand each other and we want to have the opportunity to be with each other, to make a family and to build a future together.

I love to wake up next to Gonzalo, and to make him breakfast. I like feeling his breath next to me when we are in bed, I love listening to Gonzalo’s stories about his life in Colombia. I enjoy being part of his life, and I want to make him proud of me as much as I feel proud of him.

At night, we relax on the sofa in front of the TV, or talk over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. I love dancing with him, even if he claims that he has two left feet!

Sometimes we talk nonsense. But even when we argue, there’s always a word that eases any argument. Most importantly, I know Gonzalo cares for me, as I care for him.

I had to wait four months to come back to Chicago to Gonzalo, but this time was much harder to get there. On the way from México, the immigration officer at the Chicago airport asked me why I returned when only four months had passed since I left the U.S.

“I wanted to visit my boyfriend,” I told him, and he laughed in my face. I felt so ashamed! He called another officer to take me to a separate room. After an hour of questioning, I was allowed through. The experience at the customs that day, made us think of taking the next step in our relationship and getting married. Not because of immigration difficulties, but because we both want this and we love each other deeply!

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To be honest, I don’t really need to move anywhere. In my country, I have everything that I would need: my career, my degree, my house, my things, my family, my culture, my friends. Even the legislation in Mexico is more gay-friendly now. But the fact is: Gonzalo cannot move to my country and I understand his reasons, so, if one of us has to move and if I want to have a relationship with Gonzalo, it’s going to be me.

I can leave my life behind. I don’t care, I love him. As many people do, I was waiting for the right person that I could fall in love with, and now I finally found that person, and fortunately he feels the same about me.

All we now need is to build our life together. We are planning to get married in July 2013.

As we join this campaign to defeat DOMA and bring about marriage equality from our home in Chicago, time is running fast. I hope our contribution to this struggle will result in great things to come for all the couples like Gonzalo and me.

Together for 17 Years, Jon and Christophe are Married, Living in DOMA Exile in France

I’m Jon Benfer, an American, 42 years old. In 1995 I went to the Central African Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer based in Bambari working on one of the Peace Corps’ first HIV/AIDS/STD prevention programs. In April 1996 I met Christophe Michaux, 36, a Belgian, living in Bambari with his father, who was working for the World Bank as a civil engineer at the time. We dated for about a month and quickly fell in love.

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Jon and Christophe

In May of 1996, civil riots and a military mutiny broke out in Bangui, the CAR capitol.  Peace Corps volunteers and most expats were evacuated by the French Army. Christophe and I flew out of Bambari in a French military transport plane side by side to the airport in Bangui, which had been secured by the French. While Christophe and his father returned to Belgium, PCVs were sent to Cameroon for a month of debriefing and processing. During very costly phone calls between Belgium and Cameroon, Christophe and I decided that I would not seek another post with Peace Corps and return home to the US, where he would visit me so that we could decide what to do next.

We traveled a bit during the summer of 1996 in the U.S.  We even lived for a time in a tent in a pagan camp in upstate New York.  It was an incredible experience to simply be with the one I loved in such a peaceful environment.  It really gave us the time and space we needed to plan our next steps.

One morning, we decided that we wanted to be together.  It was a moment the two of us will always remember.

Acting on the advice of an immigration attorney, we decided that the best route was for Christophe to come to the U.S. under a student visa and pursue his college education. We settled in Minneapolis.  Christophe later returned to Belgium to apply for his visa, come out to his parents, and announce that he was moving to the U.S. While his parents were able to pay for university for two years, his father soon lost his job, and we had to pick up the tab for his education. Sadly, my work with nonprofits didn’t pay very well.  To cover the costs, we bought a house at the right time and took second and third mortgages. Eventually it caught up with us, and we filed for bankruptcy, overwhelmed by the burden of skyrocketing college costs in the U.S.  We now realize that getting a student visa is not an easy route due to exorbitant international student fees.  For that reason, a student visa with beyond the reach of many binational gay and lesbian couples like us.

By the end of 2000, it was becoming clear that it would be increasingly difficult to keep stretching out the student visa. I was laid off and so started my own business. After months of struggling to find a way to make ends meet, we considered the unpleasant option of leaving the country and moving to France, where Christophe happened to have many friends. In then end, that is what we decided.  In 2003, we sold the house, Christophe went to France to find an apartment, and I joined him in late 2003.  While getting residency in France was far from easy, it was possible. By 2004, I had a temporary visitor visa, we were joined in a civil union (PACS), and were settling in to an apartment in Paris.

We were married in a beautiful wedding in Philippeville, Belgium, in October of 2004.

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Jon & Christophe on their wedding day.

By 2010, I obtained permanent residency (equivalent to a green card). We bought a house in central France in 2007 and now live a country life with dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and great neighbors. I estimate the total cost of our first 20 years together (because of the limitations put on us by U.S. as well as French immigration laws) at about $1,000,000. I earn in U.S. dollars, so I lose between 15 and 30% of my income immediately because of the exchange rate. We are lucky that my parents are in good health and come to visit every two years for a month and that Christophe’s parents decided to leave Belgium and retire very near us here in France. Our ultimate hope, however, is to return to the U.S.  As my parents get older, this is certainly a major concern for us.

Ultimately, we’ve decided to share our story to help show the kind of unnecessary hardship that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) creates for thousands of couples just like us over the 17 years of its existence.  Many couples have not had the luxury of being able to avoid separation by seeking exile in a third country.  Sacrifices like those we and others have made should never have happened.  Now, in 2013, we have an opportunity to ensure that such unnecessary sacrifices will be a thing of the past.

For this reason, we’re sharing our stories.  As all branches of the U.S. government are considering DOMA’s fate, there has never been a better time to share our stories and inform the public of why DOMA should not be tolerated a day longer.  Please join us by sharing our story with others or even sharing your own.  As a result of our efforts and our stories, we are helping to ensure that all gay and lesbian binational couples will have the security to plan their futures together without the uncertainty and great expenses that we have experienced.

Joel & Gabriel: Together for Ten Years in Exile in Mexico Because of DOMA

I moved to Mexico City after college and fell in love with the country and its people. After one year, I fell in love again, this time with Gabriel.  We met on the job and I will never forget thinking what warm brown eyes and a beautiful smile he had.  We had very few interactions and I soon quit my job and was off on a month-long trip to India.  After coming back to Mexico City, I was walking to my old office and ran into him.  It was difficult to imagine running into someone in one of the biggest cities in the world but sure enough, there he was.  We started chatting and he invited me to a party with some of the people from where I used to work.  Since it involved Salsa dancing, I agreed.

The following day we showed up in front of the office at the designated time only to find one other person waiting.  It turns out the party had been cancelled but no one had told us.  The three of us decided to go see a movie but on the walk to the theater, it became clear that there was a third wheel.  Gabriel and I found a moment alone and he invited me to a party the next day at a friend’s house to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.

We began seeing each other more and more frequently after that night and 6 months later we were living together.  Since then we have only been separated when he is on tour dancing or when I go back to the US to visit my family.  I have always wanted Gabriel to see where I grew up and meet my family but unfortunately, Gabriel does not have an American visa and therefore has not met anyone from my family as my mother has a medical condition that does not allow her to travel long distances.  For the past ten years we have shared a life together, travelled abroad many times, visited countless countries and even lived in Europe for two years.  I find it unacceptable that the one country that is off limits, is my own.

I am lucky to be afforded the option to live and work in Mexico, a country I love and have adopted as my own.  However, that does not take away the sting of knowing that my partner has not seen where I grew up or met my family.  This situation was made even more painful when our first nephew was born in May 2012.  I wanted desperately for Gabriel to meet him so I encouraged him to apply again for a tourist visa. The interview and the process were humiliating and in the end he was denied.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Although I consider Mexico my adopted country and have lived here for over a decade, I am still one year away from getting permanent residency in Mexico.  When I go to renew my work visa every year I cannot help but think about what the consequences would be if I were denied.  We would have to search for a third country that would extend work visas for both of us.  It is a frightening prospect and one that I should not have to face as an American citizen.  The stability of securing a “green card” for Gabriel would allow us to just live our lives like so many people do and take for granted.

Recently, I have begun taking online courses through an American university to get a second Bachelor’s degree in Speech Pathology in order to make a career change from teaching English to Speech Therapy.  My background would serve me well as a bilingual Speech Pathologist and I have been told to expect scholarship offers from schools in the U.S. to study my Master’s degree due to my language ability and experience abroad.  Getting a scholarship for graduate would mean the world to me.  However, I will not be able to take advantage of any scholarship in the U.S. unless I leave Gabriel behind – a sacrifice I am not willing to make.

In Tikal, Guatemala

If DOMA were repealed, I could sponsor Gabriel for a green card giving us a stability that we have never known while opening many opportunities up for us that had been previously closed.  We would finally be able to build our future together, and Gabriel would not be walled off from my family. It is time for this discrimination to end and we are sharing our story to add our voices to the others who have joined The DOMA Project to help achieve that goal.

Workshop: Answering Questions from Binational Couples Preparing for the Post-DOMA Universe

 Live Streamed Video Workshop by Attorney Lavi Soloway

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In this workshop, DOMA Project co-founder, attorney Lavi Soloway, will answer questions from gay and lesbian couples.  Register now to receive log in information by sending an email to [email protected]  To submit question(s) please send an email to [email protected]

This workshop is provided by the DOMA Project is a pro bono campaign of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC in conjunction with the Love Honor Cherish Foundation.


Please note: all our workshops are provided for informational purposes only.  The answers provided in this workshop do not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such.  We cannot directly address the personal circumstances of any individual case, but we encourage you to continue to submit general questions until the date of the workshop.

Workshop Slides:

This workshop will be live streamed on Sunday June 2, 2013 at 9am PDT, 12pm EDT. You will be able to watch the workshop on this page at the time specified.

 


Watch the recording of our previous live workshops

Senate Judiciary Committee Abandons LGBT Amendments to Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Ending 13-Year Effort to Pass the Uniting American Families Act

Republican Scapegoating of LGBT Families Leads Senate Judiciary Committee to Abandon Gay Partner Provision in Immigration Bill

Uniting American Families Act is Effectively Dead, After 13 Years in Congress

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats shocked advocates with a 180-degree reversal when they abandoned two amendments that would have included LGBT families in U.S. immigration law. Under threats and ultimatums from Republicans that a gay-inclusive bill could not have bipartisan support, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), reluctantly declined to hold a vote on either LGBT amendment. Four Senate Democrats, Durbin, Feinstein, Franken and Schumer, announced that they would not vote for the LGBT amendments because they believed doing so would risk Republican support for the larger immigration reform package. Gay organizations and LGBT families were outraged by the developments, as Democrats caved to Republican blackmail, and broke earlier promises to support the LGBT provisions.

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Senator Leahy waited until the last hour of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s mark up to initiate discussion of an amendment would have recognized the marriages of same-sex binational couples for the purpose of U.S. immigration law, by carving out an exception to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Leahy’s other LGBT amendment, the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), was not brought forward by the Chairman for discussion. The exclusion of UAFA was particularly surprising to thousands of binational couples and activists who have worked tirelessly on the bill for 13 years since it was first introduced in Congress in February 2000. Leahy stated: “I wonder if our grandchildren will look back on this day in the same way we look back upon the miscegenation laws of 40 years ago, and we ask, how could the Supreme Court even have had to decide the matter of Loving v. Virginia; why were those laws even on the books and respected and upheld where the Congress should have spoken up?”

DOMA Project co-founder, long-time immigration attorney and LGBT rights advocate, Lavi Soloway, reacted to the stunning loss in the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Senators from both parties failed to bring our immigration law into line with the reality of American families in the 21st century. Republicans behaved like brazen schoolyard bullies, showing contempt for compromise and negotiation, which are inherent to a bipartisan legislative process. Senators McCain, Graham, Flake and Rubio held Comprehensive Immigration Reform hostage by demanding that Democrats capitulate and agree to discriminate against LGBT Americans in return for bipartisan support. Shamefully, for months Democrats stood by while Republicans engaged in a relentless media campaign of anti-gay scapegoating, spreading the myth that LGBT inclusion was tantamount to a so-called ‘poison pill’ that would allegedly doom comprehensive immigration reform. The result is a crushing blow to more than 40,000 lesbian and gay binational couples who have fought for years to be included in family-based immigration provisions. Senate Democrats abdicated their responsibility to fight for and defend all U.S. citizens and their families.”

“It is unconscionable that the U.S. Congress will now move forward with a once-in-a-generation immigration reform bill that excludes LGBT families leaving lesbian and gay Americans to face continued separation from their partners and exile from this country. The failure of the legislative branch to keep our families together underscores the critical importance of the upcoming ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on DOMA. We must defeat DOMA and ensure that all families are treated equally under the law to bring an end to the nightmare that torn apart thousands of families. We will continue to fight to ensure a smooth transition to the post-DOMA future in which all families are secure.”

Without inclusion in CIR, the overturn of DOMA is the last and best hope for same-sex binational couples desperately fighting to be together in this country. By the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. If the Court fails to overturn DOMA, green cards will continue to be denied to same-sex couples. Foreign-born spouses of gay Americans could be apprehended, detained, and deported. Couples will be forced into exile. Spouses will be forced apart and parents will be separated from their children.

For more information about these evolving events, or to schedule an interview, please contact The DOMA Project at [email protected] or contact Derek Tripp, Project Associate, at (646) 535-3788.

Defeat of DOMA More Critical Than Ever as Key Senate Democrats Signal They Will Abandon LGBT Amendments to Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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BETRAYAL: BUT FOR THE VOTES, IT IS ALL BUT OVER.

Today will likely be the day many of us have long known would come. Twenty years of grassroots organizing and exhaustive advocacy have brought us here and yet it will now fail. The historic opportunity to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with an amendment providing for the unification of LGBT families is almost certainly gone.

Without an amendment in Committee, there stands zero chance of such an amendment being added next month on the Senate floor. Media reports (Politico, Washington Blade, AP) in the past few days have all but confirmed that at least two leading Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to empty Republican threats to sabotage immigration reform if lesbian and gay Americans are included. These two prominent members of the Senate Judiciary Committee could have stood up to the outrageous Republican scapegoating of lesbian and gay Americans, but they did not. If you have ever felt like calling a U.S. Senator, particularly if you live in New York or California, you should consider making that call now.

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Despite hearing from tens of thousands of constituents in recent weeks, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) have not budged. They will refuse to vote for either amendment, and as a result, Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy will likely not call either of his LGBT amendments (the one based on the Uniting American Families Act, which I helped write 14 years ago, or his historic and unexpected Marriage Equality “DOMA Carve Out” exception) for a vote, knowing that the amendments will fail to garner the necessary 10 out of 10 Democratic votes to pass out of Committee.

The betrayal of our community by Senator Schumer who voted for DOMA as a member of the House and fought for gay votes when he ran for Senate despite HRC’s controversial endorsement of his incumbent opponent, Republican Alphonse D’Amato, is appalling to put it mildly. After all his promises to fight for LGBT inclusion in CIR, he has signaled day after day that he won’t upset the bipartisan Gang of Eight applecart by standing up for our community. Dianne Feinstein, who, 35 years ago, became Mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, has once again failed to provide leadership when the going got tough. Her leadership on the repeal of DOMA via the Respect for Marriage Act notwithstanding, this was the moment that counted. This was the moment that required courage and leadership. The most vulnerable members of our community relied on Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein to stand up for us and end decades of catastrophic and irreparable harm to our families caused by DOMA and our exclusion from US immigration law.

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Today, it seems clear, they will betray us. Remember this when you are rejoicing about the seemingly inevitable momentum we are experiencing as one state after another passes Marriage Equality. Remember this when Facebook is filled with BREAKING NEWS telling you that 54 Senators have declared support for Marriage Equality. Remember this when staggering public polling results show support for marriage equality reaching new highs in places as far as Virginia, and with every demographic, including the oldest Americans. Certainly, this progress should be greeted with elation, but if our elected officials refuse to vote for our lives, for our equality, and for our future, our families will continue to be torn apart. Parents will continue to be separated from their children for years, couples will continue to be forced into exile or separated for many years, and foreign spouses and partners of lesbian and gay Americans will continue to be deported.

Who could have stopped this? Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein. Who has refused to prioritize the needs of their large constituencies of LGBT binational couples? Senators Schumer and Feinstein. Please, by all means, call their offices and let them know how you feel.  Regrettably, I am forced to conclude that at this point it is almost certainly too late to pressure them to change their position; nonetheless, they deserve to know what their cowardice means to our community. They have thrown us under the bus, caving to Republican threats, rather than challenging their GOP colleagues to be accountable for their inflammatory anti-gay messaging.

What’s worse, in my opinion, it is becoming clear that there was never any chance that either of them were planning to go to bat for us.  So, for weeks, we endured gay bashing by Republicans over amendments that were doomed to failure in Committee because they lacked the support of cowardly Democrats. This was a foregone conclusion, and it cost us dearly.

What remains? We must defeat DOMA (see more here) because these U.S. Senators, generally regarded with good reason as being allies of our community, refuse to exercise leadership when the going gets rough.  We must win a decisive blow against DOMA in the Court of Public Opinion, and ensure a smooth transition to a post-DOMA future in which all our families are reunited and secure.


-Lavi Soloway, Co-Founder The DOMA Project, Partner in the immigration law firm, Masliah & Soloway

 

Young Love Forced into Exile: Jodi and Amanda Speak Out Against DOMA Exile

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We should have the rights of any other person. We should not be excluded.

Hi, I am Jodi.  My partner, Amanda, and I met online two years ago through a virtual game site called Habbo Hotel. There, we both entered a ‘dating room’ for bisexual, lesbian, and gay teenagers. I had been in the room many times before, Amanda however had not. The dating world was new to both of us and meeting online seemed strange at the time considering all the bad stories and press about it.

Eventually, we exchanged emails and Amanda made a Skype account especially to talk to me.  Our main problem was that she was in Miami, FL, and I was in Scotland.  So time differences and an ocean made a relationship seem too hard but we gave it a try. And it was worth it!

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Our first day together

In the present day, Amanda and I are together.  We live with my mother in the U.K. while saving up for a house for ourselves.  Amanda is also an Irish citizen so she’s okay in the U.K. but she misses home.  We both know well that our hearts are set on living in the U.S. However, I cannot live in the U.S. since DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.  Thus, an American citizen like Amanda cannot sponsor her spouse for a green card.  However, like the many binational couples involved with The DOMA Project, we are determined to make that change and very soon.  As the polls show that nearly 60% of Americans support equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, the time for marriage equality is now.

Amanda & Jodi Miami

It’s so tragic to see couples torn apart from their loved ones. I’ve heard so many stories of men and women having to leave their homes in the U.S. so they can be with their partner in the U.K. or another country. It really is disgraceful and something needs to be done.  By sharing our story, we’re doing just that.  Our stories help challenge others to realize that we are human beings and we should have as much rights as they do.  Even though we are young, we realize this, so I’m sure that many older and wiser people will eventually see this and let us live our lives peacefully in the U.S.

I will raise as much awareness as possible, and please if you can try and spread the word too.  We are human, nothing more or less.  We expect nothing less than equality.

Debbie and Sjoukje in Exile: Twelve Years Together, Separated from their American Family Because of DOMA

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Debbie and Sjoukje

In a very short time there will be a ruling that affects a lot of people. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for and against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the Senate, legislators are working on an immigration bill. Sjoukje and I are two of those that will be affected by these events.  I have lived here in the Netherlands for 12 years. Sjoukje and I have been legal partners for 12, and legally married for 8. Because of that, I have the Dutch equivalent of a green card and can live and work here as long as I want.

Because the person that I fell in love with and decided to share my life with is a woman from another country, these coming events affect my life greatly. Because DOMA prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages, I am not able to sponsor Sjoukje for a green card in my own country, the U.S.  Instead, I live 4,000 miles away from my family, whom I see only once or twice a year. I am not able to spend the last years with my aging father. Don’t get me wrong; I am very grateful for the Netherlands where I have the right to live with my married partner and continue my career as a nurse. However, this does not change the fact that I do not have the choice to live in my own country.

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My Dutch patients are often curious why I moved here to the Netherlands, and I always tell them, “voor de liefde“.  That means I moved here because I fell in love.  They say, “Well why don’t you two live there?”  I tell them that because my wife is also a woman, we cannot live in the US.  They can’t believe that there is still such discrimination in the US in this day and time.

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on DOMA.  This law defines civil marriage as between one man and one woman for the purpose of all federal laws.  The President himself believes DOMA is unconstitutional and is not defending it.  In fact, his Attorney General and the Department of Justice has been going to court for the past two years and arguing against DOMA, in support of gay and lesbian couples suing the government.  If Section 3 of DOMA is deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, marriages of same-sex couples will be recognized by the federal government exactly the same way as marriages of opposite sex couples are currently recognized; we would be fully equal, including for the purposes of immigration laws.

Sjoukje and Deb

As for congressional immigration reform, if they will just add a very small phrase to their bill that includes “and permanent partners” we will also benefit from this immigration bill, though the “partner” provision will expire if DOMA is struck down.  It is ironically, now, a matter of fighting for both: defeating DOMA and passing inclusive immigration laws, just in case we lose at the Supreme Court at least we will have the possible remedy.  Sjoukje and I belong to a couple of groups that have been extremely active in these processes: Bi-Nationals and Love Exiles. I would like to thank Lin and Martha McDevitt-Pugh for all of your time, effort, and enthusiasm.

I would like to tell my family and friends that if you would like to support us, write and call your elected officials and local newspaper.  You can also do your part by sharing our story and that of many others posted at The DOMA Project.  Sharing our stories is the best way we can encourage our friends and family to join us in our fight for our human rights.

Leif and Morris: DOMA Forces Gay American to Move to New Zealand, Far from Friends and Family

Leif And Morris Guernerville

Morris and I first met on an internet site in July 2008. Morris was planning to come to San Francisco in September of that year to attend the Folsom Street Fair. When we met on October 1, it was really love at first sight. Really. So much so, that from our first meeting we spent as much time together as possible during the month of October until Morris had to return home in early November.

Once Morris arrived back in the little New Zealand town of Te Aroha where he lived, we began emailing and chatting daily via Skype. We normally chatted for an hour or more, catching up on our respective days, lives, and planning towards their next time together.

Morris then returned to San Francisco for three weeks in February 2009 to see if the connection we had been building over the last three months was still as strong in person the second time around; it more than was. During the visit we didn’t travel much together but did spend a great amount of time with friends. Morris returned to Te Aroha and we continued to build upon their relationship online until I went to visit Morris in New Zealand in May  of that year. My trip to New Zealand was magical. It was one of exploration, while falling deeper in love with the man of my dreams.

 After I was back home in San Francisco, we kept up daily communication leading up to Morris’s next trip to see me for the month of July 2009. During the month we spent the bulk of the time with my circle of friends who were rapidly adopting Morris as part of the family.

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Leif and Morris at the Hoover Dam

It was also during that visit when Morris and I met with a well-known immigration attorney in San Francisco. The goal of this meeting was to determine what Morris would need to get a visa allowing him to start a business in the US while pursuing a relationship with me. The meeting with the attorney made it clear that immigration to the US was a very difficult venture require deep financial investment on Morris’ part that we would not be able to afford. It would have required that Morris sell off his investments in New Zealand, which he was unable to do at that time. It was then that we realized that being together long-term in the US was not an accessible option. This was a major turning point that could have seen the end of our relationship as it was indeed Morris’ hope to leave New Zealand to be with me in the US on some kind of visa status.

Morris returned to San Francisco for two months in September. There were a number of major events for us during this trip, including our one-year anniversary which we celebrated at the Cliff House restaurant. It was during dinner that Morris asked me to marry him, to which I, of course, said yes. At that time, same-sex marriage was not legal in California and we were aware that if we did marry in another state that still would not change a thing because our marriage still would not recognized by the federal government because of DOMA. It was Morris’ idea for us to be “married” in New Zealand where, at that time, same-sex civil unions were recognized (marriage equality came recently to New Zealand).

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Civil Union in New Zealand, February 26, 2010

After Morris returned to Te Aroha, we started discussing our plans to be together. Having learned that Morris starting a business in the US would be too great a challenge and that our New Zealand civil union would not be recognized by the US government for the purposes of allowing me to sponsor Morris for a green card, we decided that it would be best for me to pursue a New Zealand work visa/permit so I could join Morris in Te Aroha. It was a very difficult choice to make for both of us.

For Morris, he had already been mentally establishing himself in the US with me and started separating emotionally from his NZ home.  For me, I had lived in San Francisco for most of my adult life, had a great job at The Gap Inc., sat on the board of a local fundraising non-profit called Grass Roots Gay Rights West and had a wide extended family that I was entrenched in and loved. Not only did Morris have to make the hard decision to stay where he was but I had to let go of all I had built around my life so we could be together because we knew that if we didn’t make a move to find a way to live together full-time that we couldn’t survive the long-distance struggles. Not only was the pain of being separated becoming greater with each trip but the costs of flying back and forth were mounting quickly (in the end it totaled over $20,000 that we’re still paying off).

But our love and dedication was too strong for us to continue living two lives, one when we were together and one apart.

Fish wharf photo

It was during Morris’ next trip to the US through New Years into January 2010 that we started socializing my intention to leave. It was not taken well but because people knew we were so in love we got support from all my/our friends who would then help us through the process and support my visa application to NZ.

We had our Civil Union in Auckland on February 26, 2010 in the company of close friends from both the US and New Zealand. We then spent our honeymoon between Te Aroha, Sydney and Brisbane. Then in March of that year I submitted my NZ Visa application.  Seven months later it was approved, and I have lived as a “DOMA exile” in New Zealand since that time.

I miss my family who live in Chicago and DC very much. I miss all my friends I still Skype with regularly and keep in touch with via Facebook (bless it). I have had friends die and not been able to attend their memorials, I have had other friends go through life-altering traumas like their homes burning down and facing disease and illness, but have only been able to support them from remotely. I have been trapped away from many of the people I love because of DOMA. We’re still getting a handle on the debt built up by our long-distance relationship and that has made it virtually impossible for us to go back to the US except for a quick trip I did in 2011. For Morris, he wants me to be happy and wants us to be able to return to our friends in the States and the loving community we are a part of. The only way this can happen is if DOMA falls and immigration laws allow me to sponsor my partner, the man I love, the man I gave up so much to be with. And for this reason we believe that we must all share our stories and bring DOMA to an end.

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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.