Exiled in New Zealand, Scott and Mike Demonstrate The Harm DOMA Causes to All American Families
Our DOMA Story - There But Not Back Again
I was so busy watching Stacey’s face that I hardly heard a word Mom and Dad said. The five of us were having breakfast at a restaurant next door to their hotel when Mike and I announced that we had just bought a house.
We were in Vancouver at the time. My partner, Mike, flies long haul for Air New Zealand as a flight attendant and had been scheduled for one of those rare trips with a five day layover. So I grabbed a stand-by ticket and called home as fast as I could, insisting that everyone book a flight from Houston to join us.
Returning to the restaurant scene: Mom and Dad were busy oohing, ahhing, and asking for details, but Stacey wasn’t saying a word. She knew what it really meant.
Later, back in our hotel room, Mike admitted that he was hurt by Stacey’s response, or lack of it, but I knew better than anyone what she was going through when we made the announcement, and it broke my heart. That’s why I watched her face so closely.
I’m American. But I’m also a self-proclaimed momma’s boy who has a very special connection with his younger sister. That trumps everything, as you’ll soon find out. Unfortunately, I live about as far away from my family as possible—in New Zealand—with Mike, who is the love of my life. I simply call him “Pooh.”
While I share in the struggle with all gay Americans living in binational relationships who must choose between love and their country, I would rather tell you about my sister.
We’re a team, Stacey and I. We always have been. Our minds essentially overlap. In that common space, we know each other’s thoughts—like twins, only Stacey is five years younger than me.
Our relationship was treated as an unremarkable fact of life within our family bubble, and, from a very early age, I was appointed as her interpreter.
“Scott! Come in here and tell me what your sister wants!”
I heard that all the time, and would drag myself away from Gilligan’s Island or whatever else I was watching to patter into the kitchen where mom would be standing, invariably, in front of Stacey’s high chair, begging for me to explain what was making my little sis throw such a hissy fit.
I’d listen for a second, and say something like, “She just wants ice cream, Mom,” before heading back to the den and my show.
Mom would simply shake her head, and reach for the item, never asking how I knew.
Saturdays were our days. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, tip-toe down to Stacey’s room, and wake her. We’d grab blankets and head to the den where we’d wrap ourselves up and watch the ant races on the TV screen turn into the first cartoon of the morning. We’d watch all of them, for hours, starting with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour, while every one else—Mom, Dad, and my older brother Steve—slept in.
I watched over Stacey, and when she grew up more quickly than I, the tables turned and she watched over me.
We were roommates in college for a year before I received my MBA and went back to Houston to find work. It was, quite possibly, the richest experience of my life. We came out to each other that year, and it only made us closer. It’s a beautiful thing, being able to share your most intimate fears with someone you love so dearly and know they won’t judge you. We talked about everything, and we were inseparable.
So, it should come as no surprise that when Stacey was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis eight years ago—the doctor had called with the bad news on Christmas Eve—I wrapped my arms around her and told her we would be going on this journey together.
Then I met Mike, and we fell in love. When I tried to bring him home to be part of my family, we learned just how unfairly our relationship is treated under the law because of DOMA.
I realized that if Mike was willing to sacrifice everything he’d built to be with me, I’d have to show the same level of commitment to him. I called my family together and told them I would be moving to New Zealand, and looked Stacey in the eye as I said, “but it will only be temporary—six months, maybe a year—until we get this immigration issue worked out.”
So when we sat there in the restaurant, two years later, and announced that we’d bought a house, Stacey knew what it really meant.
I wouldn’t be coming home.
In order to keep my promise to Mike, I’d have to break my promise to her.
I’m now coming onto my fourth year in New Zealand, a journey that began in the lobby outside baggage claim at Auckland International Airport. I’ll never forget that moment. Mike was standing there, holding a bunch of sunflowers—he knew they were my favorite. His mouth formed a perfect “O” of shock as I walked though the doors and we locked eyes on one another. Suddenly bashful, he put the flowers in my hand and tried to say, “I wasn’t really sure you’d come,” but I kissed him before he could finish the sentence.
We’ve built an incredible life together, Mike and I. In an odd way, my stay in New Zealand has brought me an unexpected blessing, bringing me to a deeper understanding of how precious the family is I left behind. Between that day I kissed Mike in the airport and today, I’ve spent Christmases on Skype barely holding it together as my family unwrapped their presents in front of the camera. My dad has had two serious surgeries where all I could do was stay close to the computer for updates. My sister has gone through break ups, and patch ups, and serious relapses with MS that have taken their toll physically and emotionally. I’ve also watched from a distance as my precious momma has become more frail.
I hope that, by sharing our story, more people will start to realize gay and lesbian binational couples like us sacrifice more than our homes, friends, and livelihoods. The intimate and intangible relationships that define us are ripped away. And even though we may not be able to find proper words to describe their loss, we feel each and every one. Until DOMA is eliminated more families like mine will be needlessly torn apart by separation and exile. This must stop. We must raise our voice and share our stories to ensure that my fellow Americans have no doubts about the harm that DOMA perpetuates on all of our families.