From Serendipity in San Francisco to Exile in Mexico, Ann and Marcia Join in the Fight to End DOMA by Sharing their Story

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Ann and Marcia

Marcia: I love the story of how we met! Although I don’t believe in fate, it’s difficult to deny the serendipity of our first meeting. I’d visited the Bay Area in the summer of 2009, seeing old friends who had since moved there. I quickly realized San Francisco was a place I needed to visit for longer than a week. With its vibrant queer and food scenes, San Francisco seemed like an ideal place to spend a summer vacation. By the time I arrived in the summer of 2010, my friends had left or were about to leave the Bay Area, so I was left alone to make new friends. After learning that many people in the Bay Area use OkCupid to meet new people, I started my own profile and began browsing. I saw Ann’s profile and immediately felt through her description that we’d make great friends.

Meanwhile, because I was in culinary school I was lucky enough to snag a meeting with Chef Laurence Jossel of a prominent and trendy, yet source- and freshness-conscious restaurant, NOPA. He took me on a tour of his restaurant and their kitchen, I met the staff, and then we made our way to have lunch at his Mexican food restaurant, Nopalito, just a block away. I immediately locked eyes with Ann, who was our server. This chance meeting would never happen in a city like Mexico City, my hometown. I was so excited to see Ann that I had to ask her where the bathroom was in order to contain myself!

Ann: The summer of 2009 found me at a crossroads of sorts in my life. I had lived in San Francisco for eight years, and although I love the city, I was feeling a bit restless, like I needed a new beginning. After the breakup of a serious relationship a year earlier, I was encouraged to join a dating website and “put myself out there” a little bit. Overall, I was disappointed with the experience—I was still a little too shy even behind the veil of the computer screen to approach anyone that seemed interesting. Marcia’s message was the first e-mail I got through OkCupid that actually caught my attention. I received a message from her, jotted off a quick response, and then rushed off to work a lunch shift waiting tables at Nopalito. Literally, one of the first things that I did when I got to work was tell Marcia where the bathroom was. She gave me this huge grin, and I didn’t realize until she came back to her table and sat down with Laurence that I had just been looking at photos of this beautiful woman not thirty minutes before. I managed to contain myself and not spill anything on her, or my boss—but it was like a scene out of a movie. I felt like I was flying for that entire shift.

When I got home that evening, and finally checked my e-mail, Marcia had written to me again to say that she wasn’t sure that I realized it, but we had met in person that day. I realized it, all right. We arranged to have our first real date a few days later. That first date lasted seven hours.

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Marcia: Seven or eight? We were inseparable that whole summer, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. In the beginning, the idea that this might just be a summer romance allowed us to be completely ourselves with each other, with no fear of judgment. But the more we were free to be ourselves, the more we fell in love, and we knew that our goodbye at the end of that summer would merely be a “see you later.” A tough and uncertain “see you later.” Since that summer, we have spent time and money visiting each other back and forth between Mexico City and San Francisco, staying for less time than our visas allow, just to be safe. When we are apart, Skype and text messages help keep us close across the distance. We talk about everything and anything that matters to us. In a way, the distance allows us to get to know each other on a much deeper level—few things happen without us acknowledging them. Communication has been key to the success of our relationship; nothing goes unsaid. It’s been through these conversations, and, of course, through in-person visits showered with “I miss yous” that we’ve realized that we can no longer afford emotionally or financially to live our lives in limbo.

DOMA is the law that stands in the way.

Ann: I am closer to Marcia than I’ve ever been with anyone who’s not in my family. I love her with all my heart. The year-and-a-half that we spent traveling back and forth between countries was stressful and difficult to manage, but I quickly realized that this relationship is the most important thing that I could invest my time and money in. This winter I decided to put my life in the States in limbo—sending a few precious things to my parents’ house in North Carolina, and getting rid of most of my worldly possessions. I knew that since so much of my happiness included Marcia, I couldn’t live apart from her. At the moment, we are living together in Mexico. We couldn’t be happier just to be able to wake up in the same place, together.

But the feeling of my life being on hold—of our life being on hold—remains.

I don’t have a job here, and am a little shy about my language skills. Marcia’s family is incredibly warm and welcoming, but it has been very hard for me to be so far from my family and friends. It gets easier every day, but I still feel like this is not the beginning of a new life, just a break from the old one. I’ve been reluctant to really settle down in Mexico, I’m scared of permanently being lost from all that I have known.

The summer after I met Marcia, I started my own business making belts and other accessories out of recycled fire hose. I’ve had an amazing response to the things I make, and I did several fairs and craft shows while I was still in the Bay Area. Although I’m still selling a few belts online, the business that had been poised to take off has been idling on the runway ever since I was forced to spend a sizeable chunk of my life savings just to be with the one I love.

If and when DOMA is repealed, it will lift an incredible weight off of my heart. Wherever we end up, we will have the freedom to choose our path without this limiting and degrading obstacle in our way.

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Marcia: I lived in central New York on a student visa on and off for thirteen years, so I have a strong emotional connection to friends and family in the U.S. Living in Mexico has been difficult for Ann, and while I love my country, I know our lives would be easier emotionally and financially in the U.S. It is very different to consciously make the decision where to live, than it is to be forced to move just because the one you love is of the same sex. But under the current discriminatory law, DOMA, the U.S. Government has taken away our option to determine our own destiny and create the life that we both want.

Living an openly gay life in Mexico has shown me in no uncertain terms the importance of sharing our stories as LGBT people. I come out every day. I have seen my friends in Mexico become a part of the LGBT community as allies, but sometimes, my story provides others with the strength and power to come out too. As our numbers grow, I know that the more we are ourselves, and let other people see, the more strength and power we have as a community. It’s not just about raising awareness anymore, though that is important too; it is calling on our friends and allies to fight with us, for equal human and civil rights.

Ann: This is why it’s so vital for Marcia and I to share our story through The DOMA Project. We want to contribute to greater visibility of gay and lesbian binational families that are discriminated against by DOMA. Genuine equality involves far more than marriage. Marcia and I know that a marriage certificate doesn’t affect, nor define, our love. But it does honor our commitment to one another by making it easier to build a stable life together in the same country. We will continue fighting and sharing our story until we win the right to be together in the U.S.

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Fighting USCIS and DOMA, Gary and Sam Spend their Honeymoon in D.C., Refusing to Give Up

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Gary and Sam

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.

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Together for Gary’s birthday, June 2011

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.

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Celebrating our anniversary

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.

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Our civil marriage ceremony, November 11, 2011

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.

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Our newly-placed wedding bands

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.

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Our interview with Huffington Post, April 2013

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.

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Taking our fight and our story to the Capitol, April 2013

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.

Caught Between Wisconsin and El Salvador, Lael and Camila Face Expiring Visa and Worry About Their Future Because of DOMA

I met my fiancé, Camila, three years ago. We both worked at University of Wisconsin-Superior’s indoor climbing wall. She was an international student from El Salvador, studying biology. I am from southern Wisconsin, studying psychology. It was obvious that we both liked one another, but with Camila graduating in 3 months and planning to move out of state, it was difficult to know what was going to happen. One day we did decided to give it a chance and that’s where our story begins.

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Since Camila majored in biology she was eligible for a yearlong work-permit. This permit could be extended after the year for up to 17 months because biology is a “STEM” designated field of study (e.g., science, technology, etc.), but certain requirements would have to be met. As our love grew, we made the decision to stay together, which meant we would have to find a way for Camila to stay in the area, near the university where I was studying. The search for a good job in such a restricted location became a struggle. As time was running out on Camila’s year long work-permit we found her a job that met all of the requirements in order to be eligible to extend the visa. At this point, we began to realize that staying together was not going to be as easy as we had originally thought. It was not a simple relationship where love and commitment were the only factors, but how it also depended on the hardships imposed by DOMA and the strict immigration laws.

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One thing that has always kept us going is that both of our families are very loving and supportive of our relationship. Of course as our love continued to grow we knew that we had to stay together, no matter where that would take us. This past year I asked Camila to marry me, and she said yes. Even though this was one of the most joyful moments of our lives, it was also terrifying since we knew what we were up against with DOMA. We knew difficult decisions had to be made once Camila’s permit was up.
Camila’s work permit will be up in six months. As of now with the current laws the way they are, we would move out of the country in order to stay together. We most likely would move to El Salvador, Camila’s home country. The problem is that El Salvador, a third world country, is not LGBT friendly or accepting. We would have to hide our relationship, in order to avoid discrimination or even violence towards her family and us. El Salvador does not have favorable LGBT laws. Even though this would be a scary move on our part, we are willing to risk it as long as it means a lifetime together.

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Making wedding plans is very difficult not knowing what our future holds for us. It would be incredible, like many would agree, to be able to get married to the one I love and have this marriage recognized by my home country on a federal level. The United States is said to be a “free country” and a “melting pot,” if this is the case, then how come two people who love each other can go through so much pain, heartbreak, and difficulties just to stay together in this so called land of the free.
This is why we are sharing our story. Like thousands of other couples, we need DOMA to be struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress so that we can live a safe and long life of happiness together, wherever we choose to do so without being torn apart. We wish for all people, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, status, sex, race, cultural background to be accepted for who they are and who they love.  We encourage others to share their story, to empower themselves and to focus attention on this issue. Love fuels this fight for social justice, but change comes about because we engage in action to inform others and build a supportive community.  This is a fight, but together we will win.  Thank you to The DOMA Project for giving us an opportunity to share our story. We hope to return to this space in the future to share stories of happiness and wedding pictures!

VIDEO: How America Looks at Me – A Gay Immigrant’s Perspective

I’ve lived in the United States for almost fifteen years, with no real sense of permanence. That may seem like a long time to not be able to plan more than two or three years in advance, but it makes sense when you consider that I’ve been in this country on a series of non-immigrant visas, each visa having a specific purpose for me to be here. My first visa granted me four years for to complete my undergraduate degree, after which I requested another two years for my first graduate degree.


I’ve lived in the United States for almost fifteen years, with no real sense of permanence. That may seem like a long time to not be able to plan more than two or three years in advance, but it makes sense when you consider that I’ve been in this country on a series of non-immigrant visas, each visa having a specific purpose for me to be here. My first visa granted me four years for to complete my undergraduate degree, after which I requested another two years for my first graduate degree. That led to a job in my chosen field of book publishing, along with the H-1B visa permitting me to live and work here, which was renewed to the maximum six years. Eventually, having gained a foothold in one end of the book business, I decided to switch to the other end, returning to school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. I never needed to plan beyond a few years. I had no choice: my non-immigrant visa has always been tied to a specific short-term goal or purpose.

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Of course, all that changed when I met my boyfriend, Joe, who eventually became my husband, Joe, and who, as an American, was more firmly attached to the idea of having permanent residence in this country. From the moment we said, “I do,” our lives entered a legal quagmire. Like so many other gay and lesbian couples we were legally married in our home state (Connecticut) and enjoyed the rights and benefits of marriage under the laws of our state, while having our marriage completely unrecognized by the federal government because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for all purposes under federal law, including Joe’s right to sponsor me, as his spouse, for permanent residence in the U.S.

DOMA hangs a cloud of uncertainty over our lives, making it almost impossible for us to plan things that would be a matter of course for opposite sex couples, such as whether we should renovate our bathroom this year, or if it makes sense to finally get that puppy we’ve wanted for so long. Mundane? Perhaps. But when you are denied the right to make the simplest decisions, that itself becomes a reminder of how powerless we are to solve the more important problems, like how we are going to stay together in this country.

I suspect that most people are well aware by now of DOMA and its discriminatory treatment of married gay couples. It’s all over the news. The President said publicly that the law, signed in 1996 by President Clinton, is unconstitutional. Congressmen (mostly Democrats) have been slowly coming around to the idea that the federal government has no interest in restricting recognition of existing legal marriages to heterosexual couples. And now, the nine men and women of the Supreme Court are getting ready to determine the fates of hundreds of thousands of LGBT couples and their families across the country, for now and for generations to come.

Wonderful. The national spotlight focused on this issue has far-reaching implications, impacting more than just the LGBT couples directly affected. It helps to sensitize our families and friends to our struggle. Personal stories like ours help to change people’s minds. Just ask Republican Senator Rob Portman. This is why the work being done by The DOMA Project is literally life-changing.

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But the reality of DOMA and its insidious discrimination was a concern for me and Joe long before the media picked up on it. When you’re in a bi-national same-sex relationship, the mere proposal of getting married and making a legal lifelong commitment to each other requires a level of constitutional scholarship that our heterosexual counterparts never even have to consider. Joe and I have probably done enough collective research into immigration law, marriage equality around the world, and Constitutional law as it pertains to marriage, to make a decent showing on the LSATs. (Full disclosure, Joe secretly hopes to be a Supreme Court Justice, one day. Hey, he couldn’t be any worse than Clarence Thomas, am I right?) And yet we still don’t know enough to feel comfortable navigating this maze without professional legal help, which is why we have Lavi Soloway. (He said that we make a really cute couple, and we respect his legal opinion.)

I guess it’s a good thing we live in the Constitution State. We can rattle off names and dates whenever our straight friends ask us about where same-sex marriage is legal. (Yes, we often explain, Connecticut was the second marriage equality state, after Massachusetts—they just didn’t make a big deal out of it, like New York or Rhode Island.) But my favorite question is whenever we explain our situation to someone, and they ask me, “Well, why don’t you just become a citizen? Wouldn’t that be easier?”

It would be theoretically easier, of course, but it’s nowhere near being easy. First, there’s the whole business of getting permanent residence (see the whole DOMA problem, above). But there’s also the inherent headache of an immigration bureaucracy that creates hoops and hurdles for immigrants trying to work within the system. The Senate recently seemed poised to make a historic bi-partisan effort to take steps towards improving this system. But, tragically for thousands of bi-national LGBT couples, normally pro-LGBT Senate Democrats decided at the last minute to cave to Republican pressure to remove an amendment to the bill that would allow gay Americans, like Joe, to sponsor their foreign-born spouses, like me, for permanent residence.

This is what we’re up against. A political system in which one party prefers to pretend we don’t exist (not even in log cabins), and the other refuses to stand up for what they know is right. So much for hope and change.

What if real immigration reform could pass Congress without being bruised and battered by partisan politics? What if politicians and media personalities did not engage in fear-mongering at the expense of the LGBT community?

I don’t have the answers to those questions. I prefer to stick to the simpler ones. What if you meet someone, fall in love, and want to take the next step in making a legally recognized lifelong commitment to each other? For me and Joe, the decision to get married was the easiest part of this journey. We knew we loved each other. We knew we wanted to be together, and to be recognized as spouses, for the rest of our lives.

And then one day, we asked, “What are we waiting for?” It was a very simple ceremony, just the two of us and the Justice of the Peace on the dock over the lake behind our home. But that was all we needed. Parties and big celebrations are fun, but we both knew that nothing mattered more than our love. Also, contrary to stereotypes, neither of us really cared to do all that expensive planning. I think my mom put it best when we called her in Trinidad afterward to tell her the news: “As long as you two make each other happy, there is nothing that anybody else thinks that matters.”

Joe’s mom wholeheartedly agreed, although she noted that she only lives thirty minutes away, and would have loved to be there with us in person.

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We do make each other happy, and have from the very beginning. We don’t have the most fairy-tale story of how we met (on the internet, like so many other couples in the modern age), but I have to say it’s been a fairy-tale ride ever since. Yes, there were a couple close calls with Immigration. Once when my old passport was about to expire, and it looked like the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate would not be able grant me a new one in time, we feared that I might have to leave the country for an indeterminate period. Another time, due to a mistake an immigration officer made on my I-94, I had to leave the country on very short notice, flying to Jamaica for the day to avoid a potential overstay with my visa. But we’ve seen enough stories on The DOMA Project to know that we’ve been very lucky in many ways. I still have legal status as an immigrant. The future may be uncertain, but for now at least, unlike too many other bi-national couples, Joe and I are able to be together.

But uncertainty is nothing new for me. It’s been my life as an immigrant for over a decade. And now Joe and I face uncertainty as we wait for nine members of the Supreme Court to make a ruling on DOMA. We’re hopeful for the best outcome, and mindful as to what is at stake for so many. But we’re also prepared for anything. Because, really, would be the worst outcome? That we might eventually be forced to leave the U.S. in order to be together? That would suck. This is Joe’s home, and I’ve spent my entire adult life here. But we know that whatever we do, wherever we go, we’ll be together. We made a commitment to love each other for life, and there’s nothing the Supreme Court can do or say to change that. And in an environment full of flux and uncertainty, that’s the only kind of permanence that really matters.

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(Yes, that exchange in the video epilogue actually happened. And, yes, he really did look like Michael Phelps. No, I didn’t take any pictures.)

Anderson and Serhat: Engaged to be Married, Fighting DOMA to Build a Life Together in Los Angeles

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Anderson and Serhat

Our First Date

Anderson: Two years ago, I was about to meet the love of my life. At the time, I had been living in Los Angeles for nearly 2 years. All the same, I still hadn’t found that special someone. That all changed when I met Serhat. We first met online. We had a great initial exchange and ultimately decided to meet before Serhat departed Los Angeles in two day’s time.

We arranged to meet on July 11, 2011 in Los Angeles. I met him in person that afternoon and the first thing I asked him after introducing ourselves was if he was from a noble family. I also remember thinking he looked like a boxer. I later learned that he practices martial arts and has the surname Bourbon, so I wasn’t far off! The way he carried himself showed a sense of security and confidence that was extremely attractive. Having dated others for nearly 15 years by that point, I’d learned a lot about the kind of person I wanted to date. Serhat matched that person perfectly. He was literally the man I’d dreamt about–incredibly intelligent, confident and spiritual. I knew it within moments of meeting him.

Serhat: I, too, knew that Anderson was special from the moment we met. When I first saw him, the only thing I was thinking was, “I would draw his face if they asked me to picture the man of my dreams”. I knew our first meeting wouldn’t be our last!

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Anderson: After that, I had to see Serhat again. The very next day, I invited him for a lunch date at the 1930’s-themed poolside restaurant at Sunset Towers. For me, the positive energy I experienced on the first day only continued to grow. Serhat later told me that he fell in love with me that day. Even now, we consider the first day we met, July 11th, 2011 to be the beginning of our relationship. Though we did not explicitly commit to one another, we both knew we wouldn’t be seeing anyone else.

Serhat: On that day, I remember how Anderson’s looks, peaceful voice, culture, intelligence, and natural charisma pulled me into his presence. Meeting each other the day before was definitely the best “coincidence” of our lives.

Anderson: As wonderful as our first date was, Serhat had to leave the next day. Seeing him off at the airport was difficult, but fortunately we were able to stay in touch by online chat. It turns out that we would spend much of our time in the following one and a half years exchanging messages on our phones.

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Living Apart

Serhat: As a Turkish national, my primary residence is Istanbul. However, my work as an integrated medicine practitioner allows me to travel the world while attending to my other family business projects. Soon after our first meeting, Anderson and I searched for ways we could start a life together in LA. Though my visa permits me to enter the U.S. an unlimited number of times, my work initially prohibited me from staying with Anderson for very long. I kept traveling around the world and he tried to join me as much as possible. When we weren’t able to be together, it felt like emotional torture.

Anderson: Serhat’s longest absence of over a month was especially difficult for us. It got to a point where we decided we would never be apart for more than three weeks at a time. Because DOMA prevents Serhat from establishing himself in LA, his income depends on his continued travels. Fortunately, we were both able to rearrange our work schedules so that he stays in LA for a month and a half and then leaves for a month. After a maximum of three weeks apart, I then leave LA to meet him on the road. As fabulous as all this travel sounds, it is disruptive to creating a life together in LA. It’s definitely not sustainable in the long term.

Serhat: As painful as our frequent goodbyes may be, the worst part is feeling waves of anxiety every time I enter the U.S. Due to my multiple entries to the U.S., it becomes harder and harder for me to explain to Customs and Border Patrol officers why I frequently return to the U.S. If I mention Anderson, it’s extremely likely I would be denied entry–which is our worst nightmare. So, we try to arrange our travels to avoid frequent entries, but sometimes that’s not possible.

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Our Family

Serhat: I spent Christmas in 2011 with Anderson and his family in Atlanta, where his sister now lives. I got a sense of how he grew up and I loved the family dynamics. I think his family liked me too. I feel like they treat me as part of the family.

Anderson: Ever since the day we met, Serhat and I knew we wanted to be in each other’s lives. Though we share many interests including travel, fitness, and our spirituality, sharing our past and our respective families was an important milestone in our relationship. In July 2012, I met Serhat’s parents. Though I don’t speak any of the languages they speak, I was able to get a good sense of his family dynamic. His father is really warm. I loved spending time with them. I really felt welcomed into the family from day one.

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Anderson and Serhat visiting the Sultanate of Oman

Anderson: It turns out that Serhat and I were with my family when we first talked about getting married. It was always on the backburner. It was only a matter of time before we started to make plans. The two of us exchanged rings in March of 2012.

As for our future wedding, we want a very close group of friends and family in a place where we all feel like we’re on vacation so everyone can leave behind their worries and celebrate. I know Serhat has plans about passing on a noble title to me. Though the idea of titles is so far from my realm of experience, I know that it’s really important to him, so I respect that.

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Our American Dream

Serhat: Ever since my first visit to LA many years ago, I knew that I wanted to live there at some point in my life. Since I met Anderson, the two of us have dreamed of sharing our lives together. We have been wearing our engagement rings on our fingers for over a year now. We have even talked about how many children we will raise together! I see LA as an ideal place to raise a family together with Anderson. Unfortunately, because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Anderson is unable to sponsor me for residency on the basis of our committed relationship. Moreover, our forced travel schedule is simply too intense for expanding our family. DOMA forces us to put our dream on hold.

Anderson: Initially, neither of us knew about DOMA, though I knew that the federal government doesn’t recognize gay and lesbian relationships. Once Serhat and I started talking about getting married, moving, and establishing his business in the U.S., we realized that DOMA was the only thing standing in our way. Like a large majority of Americans, my dad feels that DOMA’s continued existence is silly. Accompanying us on our most recent trip to Southeast Asia, he shared with us just how excited he was that DOMA could be overturned soon. On the eve of a Supreme Court ruling, Serhat and I hope that our story will continue to spread awareness of just how DOMA threatens the hopes and dreams of thousands of binational couples like us.

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Anderson and Serhat traveling in Southeast Asia with Anderson’s father

Serhat: As a foreigner, the idea of the “American Dream” is especially meaningful to me. We find that the needless suffering caused by DOMA is contradictory to American values. I have always viewed the U.S. as one of the greatest countries in the world–a place where hard-working, successful, and lawful people can make their dreams come true no matter what their origin. Anderson and I both believe that nothing should hold any person back from creating a loving family and becoming fathers/mothers to the children they would raise with unconditional love.

Anderson: In the end, we are one of the fortunate couples who are able to find a way to see one another on a regular basis. Many of my fellow Americans in gay or lesbian binational relationships are forced to endure months or even years of separation. Others yet are forced to close their businesses and take their talents abroad in order to be together with their loved one–even though the U.S. may be the only home they know. But even in our case, we are forced to jump through hoops and spend large sums of money to be together, a situation that is forced on us by the U.S. government.

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Making Our Voices Heard

Anderson: After Democratic senators caved to the inhumane demands of Republicans to exclude binational couples like us from Comprehensive Immigration Reform, our future rests in the hands of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Serhat and I join with thousands of binational couples and our supporters to call on the Supreme Court to eliminate this terrible law. Only when DOMA is gone and freedom is restored will Serhat and I will finally be able to start living our American Dream. We encourage you to join The DOMA Project today by sharing our story, sharing your own story, or contributing financially to this campaign. We firmly believe there has never been a better time to support The DOMA Project. The time to act is now.

Hoping to Retire Together in the U.S., Ginnie and Astrid Refuse to Accept their Continued DOMA Exile

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Together on our first photo hunt–the day we met in real life!

Astrid (right) and I met on August 31, 2007, via the UK-based Shutterchance photoblog when she first commented on my day’s image. I’m American. She’s Dutch. And we’re both photographers.

At the time, I was traveling back and forth to the Netherlands every month because of my ex-partner’s work and had the chance to meet Astrid on November 30 of the same year, 3 months after meeting online. We decided to get together to photo hunt. Little did we know that we would almost immediately fall in love. The picture above shows that very first day we met in real life: you can already see the love.

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On our honeymoon trip to England in April 2010, 2 months after our wedding

Many visits, e-mails, and Skype-chats later, we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. So, on December 5, 2009, I left my 2 grown children and my 9-year-old grandson in the U.S. and reunited with Astrid in the Netherlands.

That day was especially meaningful for us as it coincided with Sinterklaasdag (Santa Claus Day). Sinterklaasdag is celebrated in the Netherlands on December 5 every year. Traditionally, it was the Dutch day for the giving and receiving of presents, especially big for the children. This left December 25 for the religious aspect of Christmas, which I quite like. Because it was Sinterklaasdag that I arrived to live with Astrid, it will always be our day of symbolically receiving the gift of each other. Ever since, I’ve often reminded myself, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!” (My given name is Virgina.)

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Our Civil Marriage Ceremony: Cora the City Hall Officiator is between us.

Two months later after our first Sinterklaasdag, we were legally married at our town’s city hall, on February 5, 2010. I think Cora, our city hall officiator, was as happy as we were. Three years later and counting, we’ve never once second-guessed our decision. Astrid had been married 27 years and has a grown son. I had been married 21 years, with 2 grown children and a grandson who is now 13 years old.

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I prefer Canon…

I am now 68-years-old in good health, living on social security under $1,000/month.  Astrid is 9 years younger and still needs to work for another year before she reaches retirement. Once she retires, the big question will be if/how we can live on a limited income, especially when my dollar is worth less than her euro. Every time I transfer money over, I lose.

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…and Astrid prefers Nikon!

The question in the back of our minds is whether one day I will need assisted living; my mom died of Alzheimer’s so I’m at risk as well. My long-term care premium is paid and will allow me good assistance in the U.S., if needed. My dollar will go further there, as will Astrid’s euro, if money is ever an issue for us. It’s just important to us to know we have that option.

It’s not that we live in the future, fearing the worst (that I’ll get Alzheimer’s, for instance), but that we want to plan ahead and make the right choices. To help make those choices, we need to know whether we will have the option to move to to the U.S. as a married couple if that ever becomes a necessity.

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Santa Run in 2010, Celebrating Sinterklaasdag Together!

Astrid lived in America for a year when she was 20 and already loves my country, just as I love hers. We’re fortunate to live in a country with full marriage equality. However, marriage equality in the Netherlands is not enough for us. Having spent the majority of my life as a contributing member of American society and law-abiding tax-payer, I may need to depend on my country one day for my own well being. I hope that, should the time come, my country would not deny me a chance to be safe and happy with my loved ones. It’s this reality that makes us aware that even couples with an established life in exile need for DOMA to fall. As a U.S. citizen, I am not content to leave my country off the list of my future options. No one should have to settle for that. Please share our story with your friends and family. Together with other couples participating in The DOMA Project, we will ensure that the Supreme Court knows that behind DOMA lie stories like ours: stories of people who simply love and want the best for one another.

 

Michigan Mom: I Want My Son and His Fiancé To Come Home From Turkey

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I am the proud mother of two sons; Adam (age 41) and Mike (age 38). From the time they were little boys my sons were taught respect for others, the value of hard work, what it meant to love and be loved, to be responsible and kind, and to cherish family. I know that they both aspired to be successful men, husbands and fathers. Each has worked hard to become the fine men they are today and equally deserve to experience the happiness and stability that marriage and family offer.

Adam married the love of his life, Shondell, and together they are raising my grandson, Connor (age 5). It is a joy to watch my son be a father and our relationship has even more depth because Adam now understands the trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood.

Mike is engaged to the love of his life, Erdi, and they very much want to be married and have children in the future. Mike deserves the same opportunity to experience the satisfaction that being a husband and father can bring every bit as much as his brother, Adam. However, there is a huge obstacle in the way of Mike’s chance to have what Adam can take for granted. Mike and Erdi are gay. Not only are they banned from marrying in most of the United States, but Erdi is Turkish and current immigration laws discriminate against gay couples who have a foreign spouse. Spouses of straight couples automatically gain entry to the United States if they marry a U.S. citizen. An anti-gay law, called the “Defense of Marriage Act” by denying equal recognition to Mike and Erdi, is tearing apart our family.

It is beyond my comprehension to understand why people believe my son Mike’s desire to marry could possibly undermine or destroy my son Adam’s own marriage. It breaks my heart that my grandson, Connor, is deprived of extended family and the ability to see his uncles in person. Skype is no replacement for Sunday dinner together. I will soon be traveling to Istanbul, Turkey to meet my future son-in-law, Erdi, and his family. I wish I could feel certain that Mike will someday have the opportunity to introduce him to our family. Any law that discriminates in this way against my son, also harms our entire family. This is not a gay issue, this is about American families. And it is time for this to come to an end, so my son and his partner can come home to us.

Read Mike and Erdi’s full story: “Mike & Erdi: Love Story That Began On Father-Son Trip Leads to Filing of Fiancé Visa Petition and a Move to Turkey.”

Saturday June 8, Live Stream Roundtable Discussion with Anthony Sullivan, Pioneer of the Binational Couple Marriage Equality Movement

Roundtable Discussion with Anthony Sullivan

Pioneer of Binational Couple Marriage Equality Movement

Plaintiff in the Landmark Case, Adams vs. Howerton

We are please to offer this unique opportunity to ask questions, listen, and learn from the pioneer of the movement for same-sex binational couples and marriage equality.  Anthony “Tony” Sullivan (Australia) married his husband, Richard Adams (U.S., in Colorado in April of 1975.  But when, after the wedding, they submitted a “green card” petition to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, as the agency was then known, they received this official reply: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”  A ten year legal battle ensued in both federal court and in the Court of Public Opinion. Tony will be joined on the Roundtable by The DOMA Project co-founder, immigration attorney, Lavi Soloway, and 9 other lesbian and gay binational couples who will freely share in the discussion to also relate their immigration experiences.

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This workshop is provided by the DOMA Project is a pro bono campaign of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC in conjunction with the Love Honor Cherish Foundation.


Please note: all our workshops are provided for informational purposes only.  The answers provided in this workshop do not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such.  We cannot directly address the personal circumstances of any individual case, but we encourage you to continue to submit general questions until the date of the workshop.

This workshop will be live streamed on Saturday June 8, 2013 at 11am PDT, 2pm EDT. You will be able to watch the workshop on this page at the time specified.

 


Watch the recording of our previous live workshops

VIDEO: Love and Country in Portland, Oregon – Jensi & Carmen Build a Life Together for Nearly a Decade and Advocate for an End to DOMA

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Jensi and Carmen

Carmen and I look like opposites but 9 years ago when we, 2 transplants from afar, met in a local Portland, Oregon language exchange, we realized we had each found our other half.  In Spanish, the term is media naranja but in our Salvadoran/Maine/Oregon household, we say we are each other’s media mango.  We share a love of great food and strong values of social justice and a deep love and responsibility for our families near and far.  Next year will be a decade together, the same year we will celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents.

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Over the years, we have loved and supported each other through a lot of hard times and a lot of laughter too. We have happily provided a port in the storm for many family & friends needing temporary refuge during teenage or marital or midlife crises.  We always seem to find enough to make ends meet and are grateful that we have enough to share.

Our life together these days is similar to many couples our age – juggling a mortgage, work, old cars and being the caregivers for Carmen’s 85 year old mom. I also share guardianship with my aging parents for my brother with developmental disabilities in Maine.

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These are just pieces of who we are for each other and in our family and community life.

At the same time, another painful large piece of our life is that we are a binational couple with mixed immigration status living the consequences of a broken immigration system so every day of our life together here is uncertain and acutely precious.

As we work hard to keep up with payments, legal costs, and to support our family and friends, we dream of a life post-DOMA and post-immigration reform, getting to grow old together in our little house with chickens and lots of flowers and vegetables growing all around.

Watch our video below to learn more about our lived experience as a binational couple, struggling in the era of DOMA and immigration laws that are not inclusive of all families.

Love and Country: Trailer from Dan Sadowsky on Vimeo.

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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.