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.


  • Tricia Black

    I am a Canadian transgender woman whom has been living in the US for quite some time. After meeting my partner Robyn last year I had further impetus to stay in America and ended up overstaying and now am stuck in the US unable to leave lest Robyn and I end up being separated beyond what is reasonable and comfortable for either of us. I have been employed extensively as a contractor in the US but lack the requisite degree requirement for the typical H1B/TN1 track. I have 15+ years experience as a Systems & Network Engineer and have no shortage of viable job offers but am unable to accept them without committing fraud nor am I able to seek sponsorship without self-reporting. I have been an activist for LGBT causes within North America for the past few years and suddenly find myself in this situation which has been an excellent learning / growing experience. I have other rather extensive reasons for wanting to stay in California not the least of which having recently become a member of the L.A. Recovery Community where I got sober for the first time and have an vast support network within California.
    I have no trouble whatsoever being an positive contributor to California as a citizen, taxpayer & volunteer/activist/advocate LGBT/Human Rights. Rise up America, there are 11 million people in L.A. alone whom are undocumented and something positive needs to be done before we are all lost in the flood. <3

    May 17, 2013
  • Debbie….well stated my friend. I have emailed my elected officials here in Arizona and shared your story as well as my views. I have always admired you but never more than today. I live for the day you and your wife are free to live here as well. Sending you support, hugs, and love. Lori

    May 17, 2013

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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.