Fighting USCIS and DOMA, Gary and Sam Spend their Honeymoon in D.C., Refusing to Give Up
My friend Carolyn was the first to point it out. After Sam’s first visit she asked me how it went. I replied, “It was great. So relaxed and fun. Was as if no one was here”. She replied with a big “uh-oh” and laughed slightly. I would not normally say that after hosting someone. I miss my space after a few days and Sam had visited for just over a week. My normal reply would have been, “was great, but nice to have my space to myself again.” When she said, “uh-oh.” It was very clear to me what she was saying and I immediately started to backtrack my thoughts to find a bad moment during his stay. There were none. I was in trouble. That was July 2009. It’s now June 2013.The “I” has become a “we”, and now, we are in really big trouble.
I met Sam via mutual friends online in 2008. Sharing similar interests, we eventually decided after a few weeks to say hello via Skype. From that first visual moment, there was an instant connection. Despite our distance and slight age difference, we connected immediately on a deep, personal level. Our chats wandered between politics, pop culture, technology we shared an interest in, and just everyday tales of life. After a few months, I would start to “have dinner” with Sam while he was working. Sam’s job at the time meant he would work late and that coincided just perfectly with my schedule and time-zone differences. Then the chats became almost daily. I had met and made an incredible friend. I refused to accept the attraction I was feeling towards him because he was not here. We spoke multiple times a day via chat messaging and emails, but mostly video chats. Then one day we did the unthinkable–we discussed his coming here to visit. By that time, he’d become my main confidant, supporter, companion and friend through good and bad times. I wondered what harm could come from meeting him in person? In the end, it was the biggest mistake but best mistake I ever made.
I will never forget the moment I saw Sam at the airport. It was a very hot, mid-day, typical end of July in New York. Seeing him just across the road, I can still tell you exactly what he was wearing, his stance, which shoulder his bag hanging off of, the look on his face as he turned towards me–everything. He was looking a bit nervous and tired. When our gaze met, I knew I was in some seriously big trouble. Every bit of anxiety, all the nerves and worry, all the feelings that come up before meeting someone for the first time vanished in a split second. I didn’t realize how relaxed I was. I knew in a matter of seconds I was about to be able to hold him, finally say a proper hello and thank you, all in a new way and I didn’t seem phased or nervous at all. It was all as it was meant to be. I knew Sam better than any person I had met previously in my life even before having met him in person.
Carolyn had been right. Big “uh-oh” was now at the forefront.
I think it took maybe three days after Sam had gone back home to the UK before we decided to plan his next visit. Within hours of him being home we started up our daily video chats again. His job at the time meant he had a more flexible schedule, so since I didn’t have a long holiday to head to England, he was going to come here again.
A month or so after his second visit, we planned a third visit on Christmas Day in 2009. By this point, we had established a very strong connection. Friends and family were asking about this man I was spending hours with each night. My family was exceptionally curious about this stranger from England who was coming to visit, yet again, and what it meant. At the time, he was still just a friend coming to visit. I suppose they all saw what Sam and I didn’t want to admit. On Christmas Day he arrived and we went by my aunt’s house for a quick hello and something to eat on the way back from the airport. I remember how completely natural it was, as if Sam had been sitting at my relatives’ dining tables for family events and holidays before – the relaxed pace of talking and eating, socializing. Not for a second did it occur or feel to me as if it was his first meeting of my extended family, but there Sam was with us all, for a holiday, no less. That evening we joked that we might as well admit we were dating. Thus, on Christmas day 2009, we officially became a couple and it was clear to everyone that he was a part of our family for the long-haul.
I went to see Sam in England and was able to meet his family that summer. With sweat dripping down my back, literally, we met Sam’s father and his wife and one of Sam’s sisters in London for dinner. Within 15 minutes, Sam’s father was asking Sam to move out of the way so he and I could talk more easily. Now I was in trouble on the other side of the ocean as well.
By this point in our relationship, we also began to acknowledge the big obstacle. We knew I was not able to sponsor him to live with me on a marriage-based visa. We started to investigate options on how we could reside together legally but nothing seemed to work out. I only had one option–ask him to marry me. He said yes, and so we got engaged! The obstacles didn’t go away but we were committed to tackle the obstacles ahead. We travelled back and forth. Sometimes Sam would stay for as long as his visa allowed, other visits were shorter. We knew it was what we needed to do and somehow we would work out the logistics of it all.
My dad was your typical Bronx man who moved to the NYC suburbs. He came from an Italian immigrant family with typical Roman Catholic beliefs. My dad was very frustrated at the situation Sam and I found ourselves in. Coming from an immigrant family, having friends and a wife who were also immigrants, he understood what immigration means to America. He was proud of who I am. It astounded him that I could not live with Sam solely because I was gay. In the spring of 2011, my dad started having some frequent health issues. After a fall brought on by a stroke one evening, he was hospitalized in the ICU. The days stretched out to weeks and then months. The emotional toll my dad’s declining health had on us all was clear. My father’s last moments with us happened while Sam was visiting. My dad awoke for a bit one evening and we all knew that it was our good-bye. He did as well. We all got our chance to say good-bye. The fact that Sam was there, amongst my sisters, mother and brother-in-law said it all. He had found his way into the hearts of my family and they recognized him as a member. My fiancé, accompanying me during what was the most difficult experience I had ever had, gave me the comfort I needed. My dad gave him a hug. I will never forget that sight. My father knew I would not be alone anymore and he wanted to be sure to thank Sam for it.
The last weekend of October of the same year, we had an unexpected snowstorm. It closed down everything for weeks. I was home from school for a few days, and just threw out one afternoon, “maybe we should see if the Justice of the Peace is free next Friday? School is closed and we can get married”. Sounded like a good plan. While we knew the marriage certificate meant nothing to help us find a way to live together, we did know it gave us what we needed–a legal documented recognition of our commitment to each other for life.
Ultimately, we set the date for the following Friday at 11AM. We would have a simple ceremony at my friend’s mother’s house. Because of the size of my family and the short notice, we ultimately decided to tell all our family and friends we were having a “shotgun wedding” (minus the baby) the following day, inviting all to attend that could. We did it so quickly, we hadn’t realized the date: November 11, 2011; nor the time we picked of 11AM. People thought we planned it for that fact. It was purely because it worked for us so Sam’s family was able to watch the ceremony live via webcam. Later on we had the best reception we could have hoped for. While some very close family and friends couldn’t make it given the short notice, we had quite a full house of friends and family.
Even now as a married couple, we still faced nightmares. Legal options we were pursuing were not panning out as we hoped. I didn’t tell Sam what was going on until after he arrived here. I knew going through customs was getting more difficult every time for him due to the questions and accusations. My anxiety grew as I waited for him outside every time he visited. I would think to myself, is he going to be allowed to visit again? It was a good thing I hadn’t told him as when he went through customs, they accused him of not coming to visit, but rather of working here illegally all the time. Though Sam was allowed to enter the country, the customs and border patrol officer told him that if he continued his frequent and prolonged visits, they could ban his return for 10 years. We knew that we needed to get help to find a resolution as quickly as possible.
With help from an immigration attorney, we filed for a green card to demonstrate our opposition to DOMA and to hold the system accountable, but it was denied, as expected. Until that moment, Sam had never violated a visa stay or visa rule. Now, he is here in unlawful status, and that places additional burdens on us as a couple.
But we did not lose our fight, we just began to take it on more intensely.We were fortunate enough to spend a few days in Washington, DC in April lobbying members of Congress for immigration reform. It was a very rewarding experience on many levels. Sam and I realized as we set off on the drive, not only was this the first time we were taking a road-trip together, but since we had been together, this was the first time he and I had ever been away together completely alone and not visiting his family or mine. It was our honeymoon. I don’t know of one couple that can say their honeymoon was necessary, meaningful, or more important and relevant following their marriage the way ours was.
The commitment Sam and I have shown each other is just as strong of any opposite sex married couples. The right to marry and be together is our right. We will settle for no less than being treated with dignity and equality. We hope that by sharing our story we encourage others to fight alongside us until all families are reunited. Join The DOMA Project and help defeat the law that has torn apart so many of our families.