Exiled in South Africa, Dan and Keith Meet with U.S. Consular Officials to Discuss DOMA’s Impact
My name is Dan Brotman, and I am a 26-year-old dual American/Israeli citizen from Lexington, Massachusetts. For the past two years, I have been living in Cape Town with my South African fiancé, Keith Mienies. I arrived in Cape Town in September 2010 to write my undergraduate honors thesis, and I met Keith towards the end of my three-month stay. I was meant to leave South Africa two weeks after our first date, but wound up extending my ticket by another week so we could spend a full three weeks together. I cried when we said goodbye at the airport, as I did not know if we were ever going to see each other again.
Having submitted my thesis and graduated college, I departed South Africa for Israel, where I had previously lived for three years after high school and where I still have good friends. Keith and I kept in touch over Skype, and we decided that he would come visit me in Israel for four days on his way back from a trip to the US. From the moment we saw each other again in the arrivals hall in Tel Aviv, we knew for sure that we wanted to be together. Although we had only known each other for a few months, we both felt that we had to give this relationship a chance, as it is better to try and fail than to never try at all. Keith returned to Israel for a second visit. Shortly thereafter, Keith sponsored me for a Life Partner visa, which the South African Constitutional Court made available to gay and straight unmarried bi-national couples in 1999. (South Africa eventually legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.) I arrived back in Cape Town on April 8, 2011, and have been living here ever since.
Over the past two years, Keith and I have grown a lot together. We moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a house, visited my family in the U.S., and recently adopted a miniature chocolate dachshund named Peanut. We spend time with Keith’s family on a weekly basis, and my parents and sister visited us this past December. Six months ago, I proposed to Keith on our two-year anniversary, and he said yes! We are getting married at the end of November at a wine farm in Stellenbosch, and are looking forward to celebrating our love with our family and friends from across the globe.
Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), couples like Keith and I are forced to live in exile. Because DOMA bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, I cannot sponsor him for a fiancé or spousal immigrant visa. On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to move back to the US. Each time, DOMA created the painful situation of having to choose between living with my partner or living in my country. Keith and I have the option of getting married in both South Africa and in my home state of Massachusetts, but due to DOMA, neither marriage would be recognized by the federal government.
I have spent the past several months locating other same-sex bi-national couples living in Cape Town, and we recently held a meeting with the US Consul General and two senior diplomats to discuss our plight. This was the first time ever that a US mission in South Africa (there are three consulates and an embassy) had met with resident same-sex bi-national couples. While our local diplomats were very sympathetic to our situation, there is not much they can do until DOMA is struck down or until LGBT-inclusive immigration reform is passed by the U.S. Congress. Until then, thousands of couples like Keith and I will be stuck abroad indefinitely.
Our fight is not over yet. Keith and I join the growing crowd of binational couples calling on our elected officials, our federal courts, and the court of public opinion to do away with DOMA. We will continue organizing and continue sharing our stories until we can at last have the right to settle in the U.S.