Rick and Gonzalo: Love Without Borders, Five Years Spent Fighting DOMA and Building a Life Together
Rick and Gonzalo met online in the first days of January 2008. It was cold and dark in Northern California where Rick lived, but it was the middle of a hot summer in Cordoba, Argentina, which was Gonzalo’s home. All it took was a “nice profile” instant message sent by Rick, and Gonzalo responded.
An online relationship began, including emails, chats, and skype and phone calls. The more time they both spent getting to know each other online, the greater the mutual desire to meet face-to-face. But San Francisco was over 6000 miles and 10,000 kilometers from Cordoba. Gonzalo was working long hours as the finance and administration director of a large manufacturing company, and Rick was working on his transition from a senior technology executive in Silicon Valley to a focus on philanthropy and real estate.
But with a connection that was strong and building, both Rick and Gonzalo were determined to meet. And when Gonzalo began planning a holiday in Brazil in February, Rick decided to “take the plunge” and make the long trip to see if Gonzalo was as wonderful in person as he was online. The plans were made: Rick would fly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while Gonzalo was there on a holiday, along with three close friends from Argentina.
As Rick was flying from the U.S. to Brazil, he thought about his life and his relationships. As the member of a prominent Mennonite farming family, he was surrounded by love and a commitment to values and to family. However, homosexuality was high on the list of things that were “verboten,” the German word for forbidden. He had left the community in Pennsylvania and felt more acceptance as a gay man in California. However, his career and his family forced him to stay “closeted.” A relationship with a European man had lasted 11 years, but his partner had never been successful at obtaining a “green card” to live and work in the U.S.
Rick began to imagine what would happen if he and Gonzalo really liked each other upon meeting. How would they build a life together? Where would they live? Was this a case of deja vu all over again?
Of course, the rest of the story is a now-familiar one, and similar to others on this site. Rick and Gonzalo met on February 16, 2008, and sparks flew. What was going to be a dinner together turned in to a week together. Rick met Gonzalo’s friends, and they all hit it off. Rick and Gonzalo were falling in love, hard.
A few weeks later, Gonzalo visited Rick at his California home. After another few weeks, Rick visited Gonzalo in Argentina. By June, Rick and Gonzalo realized they had a very strong connection, and they decided they wanted to be together as a loving, committed couple. But how? Where? What would they do professionally? There were many questions.
In June 2008, Gonzalo told his family and friends that he was going to the United States for an extended period of time. There were many questions, and Gonzalo was not really sure how to answer some of them. But in a huge leap of faith, Gonzalo arrived in California, and Rick and Gonzalo began a life together.
They had a wonderful time, sharing all the components of living together: meeting friends, caring for their dog, working on the house, going on long weekend trips, working on Gonzalo’s English skills, planning a future. Gonzalo began to make Rick’s house feel like a home for all of them. Laughter, music, and love filled the house.
But as time went on, reality began to set in. How would Gonzalo continue his career in the United States? How long would he be able to stay on a tourist visa? With previous experience with a man from another country, Rick began to become angry with American society and government. Why was he, a successful American paying the same taxes as everyone else, being denied the most basic right of all–the right to be with the person that he loved?
Rick had become active in politics, and he told his story to many people in the Democratic party, including then presidential candidate Barack Obama. And Mr. Obama told Rick, “I will fully support equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians.” Rick actively campaigned for Obama and he returned to his home state of Pennsylvania to help get out the vote. For a period of 10 days in late October 2008, he knocked on doors, he made phone calls, and he told people that he believed that the country needed a President Obama. Rick and Gonzalo celebrated Obama’s victory in November 2008, but then as Proposition 8 won in California, the reality of the long fight ahead to stay together began to set in.
Gonzalo and Rick continued to share a life together in California when they could; Gonzalo would travel back and forth between California and Argentina several times a year to be home with his family and friends, and to obtain a new visitor’s visa. Finally that day came that all binational couples learn to dread. In December 2009, an immigration officer at the Miami International Airport began to question Gonzalo. Why was he coming and staying so often? Who was his American contact, Richard? After lots of questions, Gonzalo was admitted, but only for a few months. When he arrived in San Francisco, he said to Rick, “Honey, we are going to have problems staying together here in the U.S.” And Rick knew Gonzalo was right.
They began to interview immigration lawyers, and they learned that legal immigration was incredibly difficult. They explored investment visas and employment visas. All were difficult, expensive, time-consuming, and risky. They concluded that because the U.S. seems unable to control illegal immigration, legal immigration had become very difficult. Even as a young and highly-educated potential immigrant, Gonzalo’s choices were limited. And Rick began to remember all the different visas he and his former partner had tried. They had applied for an EB-5 investment visa, and after spending tens of thousands with immigration lawyers, accountants, and business lawyers, their application had been denied.
The more they deliberated, the more they began to weigh options involving other countries. Should they both move to Argentina? What about a new life together in New Zealand or Australia, or in the United Kingdom? (These were countries where Rick had once lived as a technology executive).
Argentina, here we come!
After much discussion, Gonzalo and Rick decided to move to Argentina. Rick concluded that his country, the United States where his family had lived since 1717 after leaving Switzerland and Germany for religious freedom, no longer wanted him and the man that he loved. They began the process of figuring out how to rent their home, get their dogs Maggie and Emma to Argentina, and where they would live. Would they rent or purchase a home? Would they live in Buenos Aires or in Cordoba? What would Rick do professionally? And how would Gonzalo re-enter the workplace, after having spent the past 18 months traveling back and forth between his home in Argentina and the U.S.? All that disruption to their lives, could they just pick up the pieces and put it all back together in Argentina?
Since Gonzalo was only granted a few months stay on his last visitor’s visa, there was not much time to decide. On February 23, 2010, Rick took Gonzalo to the San Francisco International Airport for his trip back to Argentina. They held each other for a long time, knowing that their relationship was entering a new and rocky stage.
Many trips to Argentina
After Gonzalo arrived back in Argentina, the relationship went back to lots of phone calls, skype calls, text messages, and emails. Rick was left alone in California, trying to get the house ready to rent. Gonzalo was back in Argentina, without his apartment and a job. He was living with his parents, and he began to question what he would do. Would he wait until Rick arrived in Argentina?
Rick began to make as many trips as he could to Argentina, so they could keep their relationship on track, and so that they could decide together and support each other. But it was difficult to find people to take their young dogs, and to take care of their home. And the U.S. real estate market in 2010 was still very depressed. The rental market for large suburban homes was very soft. Many prospective tenants came and went, and nothing came together.
All the uncertainty put a big strain on their relationship. Depression and loneliness set in for both Rick and Gonzalo. They both knew they loved and missed each other, but what was the future for them?
Finally they decided that Buenos Aires was the best place for them to live, and Gonzalo moved there. He found a job, and a close friend rented him an apartment in Recoleta, a lovely neighborhood of the city. Rick would travel to Argentina every few months. But they missed living together. They missed sleeping in the same bed every night. They needed and wanted to live together immediately, but months turned into a year, and they were still living apart.
A New Chapter: Hope for a Future in the U.S.
In 2012, Rick learned about the work that Lavi Soloway and his team at Masliah & Soloway were doing. They were submitting marriage-based green card petitions to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for certain carefully selected married same-sex couples in a carefully designed campaign to challenge DOMA. For twenty years, they were leaders in the field of immigration law, LGBT rights and marriage equality. And they were successful in providing temporary immigration rights to foreign-born spouses of lesbian and gay U.S. citizens. When Rick and Gonzalo began to think about the possibilities, and the risks, they decided it was the right thing to do. Gonzalo sent Rick two dozen beautiful red roses, along with chocolate, a large red heart, and a card that said, “You are the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. Will you marry me?!” Rick cried tears of joy, and called Gonzalo in Buenos Aires. Yes, he said. Si! I want to marry you more than anything in the world!
In early October 2012, Gonzalo arrived in San Francisco. Rick and their “girls,” Maggie and Emma, went to the airport, along with flowers. When Rick and the dogs saw Gonzalo, they went running to greet Gonzalo. Their family was back together. For months, Rick and Gonzalo thought about their future. They knew that they wanted to marry in the United States, but they still had no plan for a legal avenue that would give Gonzalo the right to stay in the United States.
On February 7, 2013, Gonzalo and Rick were married at City Hall in New York City. Rick’s oldest brother, Ken, was their witness. The city opened its arms for Rick and Gonzalo. The hotel put them in the wedding suite at no extra charge. Waiters were bringing champagne to celebrate. The broadway show they attended, Jersey Boys, had their song (You’re Just Too Good To Be True). And on the day before they returned to California, the skies opened up and snow began to fall. The Blizzard of 2013 was like the icing on their wedding cake.
The Green Card Case
In March 2013, Rick filed a green card petition for Gonzalo, just like any other American citizen would do for his foreign-born spouse. Under the careful supervision and legal counsel of their lawyer, Lavi Soloway, the couple applied for a marriage-based green card. As of this writing, Rick and Gonzalo still do not know what the outcome will be. Will their application be denied, which current U.S. law (DOMA) would dictate? Will Gonzalo be forced to leave the country? This is the worst case scenario, but there are also some very positive and hopeful possibilities. They decided to share their story with The DOMA Project, as well, to advance the incredible progress of this movement of binational couples.
Rick and Gonzalo have peace of mind, knowing that what they have done is blazing new trails to equality for all lesbian and gay Americans. And if their love-based application is denied, they will together leave the United States for one of the many countries that will recognize their relationship. They will not be denied the most basic right of all–the right to be together in a loving, committed, mutually supportive relationship. Love will prevail.