Christina & Eve: U.S. Navy Veteran Defies DOMA, Petitions for Green Card to Keep her Family Together
My name is Christina. I’m a veteran, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife. My wife’s name is Eve and I worry about our future every day. This is our story.
During the summer of 2006, I was a newly out of the U.S. Navy after nearly 12 years of service. I was also happily single. I was just taking off my sea legs and finding my way in the civilian world when I met Eve on my birthday at a neighborhood bar called The Cubbyhole in New York City. Our first conversation was intriguing and I was immediately drawn to her. I tried my best pickup lines, but they didn’t work. So, I followed her on the subway heading uptown at the end of the night. After asking her to dinner what seemed like a hundred times, she repeated “no” but she suggested we exchange phone numbers. She blew me a kiss and got off the train, disappearing into the night. When I got home that night, I thought, “well that’s that.”
But it wasn’t. Turns out I met my future wife that night.
Eve sent me a random text message a few weeks after we first met and we started seeing each other shortly thereafter. Old-fashioned dates turned into sleepovers and soon I found myself spending every free moment I had with her. We fell in love. It was a love I had never experienced with anyone else.
We moved in together about a year into our relationship and made our house a home. My family warmed up to her quickly and I warmed up to her friends in the U.K. on one of our visits. We integrated our lives together into one big family.
Eve, who came here from the U.K. was busy getting into different projects and building a name for herself in the film industry. She’s a really excellent sound designer by specialty, but also an amazing photographer and cinematographer. She can shoot, edit, and compose beautiful music – basically she can do everything associated with making a film. Eve’s ambition to become an acclaimed filmmaker.
As for me, I went back to college full time in order to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. I ended up returning to my biggest passion – journalism. After my graduation, I went to work as a field producer for the 24-hour news station NY1. I’ve worked in the field ever since.
Now, we also work together on documentaries, combining Eve’s artistry and my skills at storytelling.
When New York state signed same-sex marriage into law in 2011, it was very joyous news for us, but we didn’t get married right away. Eve was concerned that marriage would possibly compromise her immigration status non-immigrant visa holder. I wanted to marry her ever since our first anniversary of being together. I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but I also didn’t want to make things difficult for her.
However, this year, after seeking legal guidance, we decided that our love could not wait any longer. On January 10th, 2013 we decided to say I do. That day at the City Clerk’s office in lower Manhattan was one of the happiest days of my life. Just looking into Eve’s beautiful eyes as we exchanged vows was so amazing. This woman that I’ve loved all these years is now my wife.
But the honeymoon was over quickly as we realized that there were more hurdles ahead. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill signed into law in the wee hours of the morning on September 21, 1996, prevents the U.S. federal government from granting gay and lesbian married couples over 1,000 federal marriage-based benefits. One of those benefits is the ability to sponsor a foreign spouse for permanent residency.
Now, seven years since we first met, we Eve and I continue to grow as a couple. We both have jobs here in New York City. Like most families, our biggest concern should be raising our X-year-old son, Alexander. We want to provide a stable and happy future for Alexander. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) makes that difficult as our continued presence in New York depends on Eve’s ability to maintain her current non-immigrant visa – something that is never certain. This is hardly an adequate solution for a family like ours. That is why we have chosen to fight for a marriage-based green card that offers us a permanent means of living together as a family in the U.S.
DOMA is the only thing standing in the way for lesbian and gay binational couples like Eve and me. Yes, we had a marriage certificate, but basically that’s all we have. Unlike heterosexual binational couples, I cannot successfully sponsor Eve for permanent residency on the basis of our marriage. We will not give up easily. We are prepared to fight DOMA every step of the way.
Earlier last month, Senate Democrats abandoned two amendments that would have included lesbian and gay families in U.S. immigration law. Advocates of the two LGBT provisions acquiesced in order not to risk losing the bigger battle of passing overall immigration reform. They say they are taking historic steps to finally give people a practical legal pathway to citizenship.
That brings little comfort to my wife and me. Eve came here legally in 2005 and has struggled to find a permanent solution ever since. We want to be free to live together as a married couple and build our lives together in America. This seems like a win-win situation and we refuse to believe that anyone would truly wish exile or separation for our family – though this is the message our elected officials sent us when they failed to include us in comprehensive immigration reform. This is why we are sharing our story today. We want everyone to know that if DOMA is not eliminated, tens of thousands of lesbian and gay binational families like ours will be forced to consider long-distance separation or exile as our only remaining options.
I know that our country is moving in the direction of fairness and equality. As a veteran, I celebrated the day that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was finally repealed. Eve and I now look forward to the day in which DOMA will be history too. Until that day comes, we will continue sharing our story and the stories of other couples who have contributed to The DOMA Project. Please join us in the fight for our future by sharing our story today.
There’s No Place Like Home: An Ocean Apart and Married, Lindsey and Katie Fight DOMA to Live Together in Kansas
My name is Lindsey, and for the past four years, my partner and I have maintained a relationship and a marriage across an ocean. Despite being legally married, we are unable to share a home in the United States. The Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, makes our marriage invisible in the eyes of the U.S. government.
Katie and I met in the summer of 2008. We worked together at a summer camp in my home state of Kansas. The camp is just 30 minutes from my hometown, but for Katie the job took her 4,000 miles from home. An British citizen, Katie was planning to spend four months in Kansas on a summer work visa. Neither of us expected our summer relationship to last past August. On November 4th, 2008, the same day that President Obama was elected into office, we stood in front of an airport departure gate and agreed to see what our future had in store.
The next couple of years were full of the most extreme highs and lows that a couple can imagine. While most new couples might worry about going on double dates and learning how to share the covers, we were waking up early for Skype dates and saving for flights. There were days when it seemed like it was just too much, but by 2010 we had our first big shot at hope. In March 2010 Katie began an 18-month internship with the very same camp at which we met. In August of 2011, near the end of her internship, Katie and I were married in a private commitment ceremony on a beach in Texas. Our officiate told us if same-sex marriage were ever to became legal in Texas, she would marry us again for free! Staff at a nearby hotel saw us out the window and cheered after it was over. Just two months later, Katie’s internship ended and without a job to sponsor her again she was forced to return to England. Because of this situation, we have spent just 4 months of our first year and only half of our marriage together in the same country.
It’s not for lack of effort that we are apart. Katie has sought work in the United States and Canada throughout our time apart. She was even offered a job in the U.S., but after a drawn-out application process the visa was denied. Katie has also sought full-time work in the U.K., but has yet to meet the requirements to sponsor my immigration to England (we face legal barriers there due to our temporarily low income). During our separation, Katie has returned to Kansas as a visitor several times, and just one day after our first year anniversary we legally married in Iowa. Our lawful marriage in Iowa still did not afford us federal recognition, but it felt right to us. Since our commitment ceremony in Texas, we have always considered ourselves a married couple.
Holidays are especially hard. They serve as a reminder of how long we have been apart. In spite of having known one another for 5 years, we have spent only one Thanksgiving together. In that same time, we have spent two Christmas mornings as a couple, and two more apart. This year we will spend our third Christmas together in England. We’ve also had a New Years Eve kiss two years in a row, one in each country. I can count every Halloween, every birthday, and every Valentine’s we have spent together, and how many more of each we have spent apart.
We never have and never will separate by choice. Our relationship has been ruled by the departure stamps in our passports. Despite the times we are apart – months at a time – I would not give up my Katie or our marriage for anything. The times we are together are the happiest moments of my life. I feel like the rest of my life is simply on hold while we are apart. When she is gone, every day is about waiting for her to come home. I would take a day every year with her over a “normal” life without her in it. Regardless of our future, we are committed to each other. That’s what marriage means to us – a commitment to remain by each other’s side, even if there are six time zones and an ocean between us.
For our lives to change, federal law needs to change. DOMA denies couples like us the federal marriage-based benefits that we need to be together. Because of DOMA, I cannot sponsor my legal wife for her immigration to the United States. We are just one of thousands of couples with similar stories. And while we have obeyed the law for five long years, it has continued to keep us apart day after day. As our stories increasingly gain media coverage, we are certain that the world will wake up to what DOMA really is – legislated bigotry. We know that eventually DOMA will fall and justice will prevail. By sharing our story, we’re doing our part to build public sentiment against DOMA and hold the U.S. government accountable to gay and lesbian binational couples once DOMA is gone for good. We have waited far too long for DOMA’s end to sit on the sidelines now. Please join us by sharing our story with everyone you know.
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.
I met Renato on January 16, 2008 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We had an instant mutual attraction and connection, and I knew within minutes that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We spent the next amazing two weeks getting to know each other and enjoying the beauty of Rio. We also started to make plans for our life together. Getting on the flight back to the U.S. after those two weeks together was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Five years later, we are still having those gut-wrenching “airport moments” when we have to part.
After our first meeting, we spent the next few months chatting online every day, exchanging email messages, texting, etc. After a short time, we began to make plans for Renato to come to the United States for a short visit to see where I lived and to meet my friends and family. At the time I did not realize how difficult this would be. We thought he would be able to come for just a couple weeks with his passport. I have friends from all over the world who come to the U.S. whenever they desire. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Renato. As a Brazilian, he needed to apply for a visa, even to come for just a short visit. We later learned that for many people in South America, obtaining a visitor visa is next to impossible.
Since Renato is a fashion accessory designer, and he was interested in furthering his education, we started to research the possibility of him coming to study at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. It’s one of the best fashion design schools in the U.S. This way, he could come and stay on a student visa for up to 4 years, and he would have more advanced skills and experience when he returned to Brazil to continue his career. After the long and grueling visa application process, his application was denied on October 26, 2008 at the U.S. Embassy in Recife, Brazil. We were devastated, but not defeated. We kept hoping there would be a way for us to be together in the United States at least for a temporary period while he visited or went to school; that did not work out, but we did not lose hope. Our online chats continued every day.
I traveled to Brazil again in January 2009. We met again in Rio de Janeiro, and this time we traveled to Buzios, a small beach resort town about 2 hours from Rio. We spent 2 amazing weeks on the beach, dining out, visiting local attractions, and living our lives together as a couple. It was wonderful! Sadly, during the whole visit my dreaded flight back to the United States was hanging in the back of our minds. I knew I would have to leave the man I loved. I couldn’t even sleep the night before my departure.
In November 2009, I traveled to Brazil again. This time we visited Renato’s hometown, Fortaleza, Ceara, in the Northeast part of Brazil. This was an exciting trip, as I met Renato’ s friends and family for the first time and saw the place where he grew up. It was fantastic! We enjoyed the beaches, one of my favorite things in Brazil, and went to his best friend’s birthday party. I also really enjoyed meeting Renato’s parents and sisters. At the end of this trip, we decided that perhaps Renato should make a second attempt to apply for a student visa to study in the U.S. Being apart was becoming unbearable as our love for one another continued to grow. Plus, Renato still dreamed of getting that degree in the U.S. Ultimately, Renato’s second student visa application was unsuccessful.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government does not recognize the committed relationships between gay and lesbian binational couples for immigration or any other purpose. Thus, from that time on, we have had to live apart, making costly trips between continents just to be with one another. In the following year (2010) I traveled to Brazil two times; we met once in Rio de Janeiro, and I traveled again to Renato’s hometown Fortaleza. We also took a side trip to Canoa Quebrada, a small beach resort about 2 hours from Fortaleza.
In May 2011, we decided to meet in the Netherlands, as Renato and I both have friends who live in Amsterdam. Renato even lived in Amsterdam for a while before we met. This was our first trip together outside of Brazil. I was very excited that one of my best friends would finally get to meet Renato. But I couldn’t help but think how horrible it was that I had to go to a third country (and continent) just to introduce the man I loved to my friend.
After another November trip to Fortaleza, Renato and I decided to meet again in Amsterdam in May 2012, for the birthday party of my best friend and his partner. (Their birthdays are just a week apart.) Renato and I rented our own apartment in the center of Amsterdam, and we hosted our friends for dinner parties. Renato even cooked homemade Brazilian food that everyone enjoyed. His chicken stroganoff is delicioso! Our friends Dennis and Jeroen decided they would meet us in Rio de Janeiro in November.
So, in November 2012, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro for a holiday with Renato and our friends from Amsterdam. We rented a villa by the beach in Ipanema. We celebrated my 45th birthday with a night out at one of Rio’s biggest clubs. We spent our days at the beach and showing our friends the “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Marvelous City) and attractions like the Cristo statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, and much more. We also went to the Madonna concert at the arena where Rio will host the Olympics in 2016.
Renato and I have had an amazing five years together as a couple. Despite the fact that it required so much international travel for us to be together, our love for each other has only grown stronger. We are now prepared to take the next step together and make a lifelong commitment. I am applying for a fiancé visa so that Renato can come to the United States and marry me. Our plan would be to have a wedding in New York within the first
90 days after his arrival, as required by law. He would then file an application for a green card on the basis of our marriage.
By filing our fiancé visa petition earlier this month and sharing our story now, we are taking our future into our own hands and holding our government accountable. We will not simply wait for the Supreme Court to rule on DOMA. After all, little good has ever come out of sitting around and waiting. We are proud to be acting today in the pursuit of full equality. We hope you’ll join us and The DOMA Project by sharing our stories with family, friends, the media, and elected officials. There has never been a better time to show the world the harms that are caused by DOMA. We cannot allow this injustice to continue one day longer.
Engaged! In Maryland, Saman and Kim Fight For a Future Without DOMA, Anticipating Supreme Court Ruling
Our story begins with two journeys converging onto one path.
Kim and I came to the United States of America for different reasons. I came here in 2007 as a refugee from my home country of Iran. Being a gay man in the Middle East was very difficult. Homosexuality is not tolerated by the government. I endured years of loneliness; I never opened up to my family about my sexuality out of the fear of rejection. When I came to this country, I was on my own. My partner, Kim, left the Philippines for America to finish his nursing degree in 2011, reuniting with his family living in the U.S. upon his arrival. For the first few months, his life revolved around school and family. He went to school, then came back home. That was his routine. Looking back at how different our backgrounds were, it seems miraculous that our lives ever crossed paths.
We met each other in March, 2012 through a dating website. I recall sending Kim that first email. I was so anxious to see if he would reply. Fortunately, he responded, and our conversation just took off. We slowly began to get to know each other. We exchanged numbers and found each other on Facebook the same night we met. That was a Monday or a Tuesday. Two days later, I knew that I had to meet Kim in person. We scheduled our first meeting for that Friday, after his last class of the day.
The first time we saw each other face to face was in a parking lot. As cheesy as it might sound, it was love at first sight. We spent the evening discussing our personal hopes and dreams. He told me that he’d left the Philippines just one year before graduation so that he could earn his Bachelor’s degree in nursing and start afresh here in America. We talked for hours, until we finally realized that it was nearly 9:00 p.m. Kim had to return to Baltimore. I gave him a ride back, and we spent the trip holding each other’s hands. I still remember the tingling sensation on my arm. Days after that first meeting, we were both already talking about blossoming into a serious relationship. Neither of us was looking for a short-term fling; we both wanted a long-term commitment. We even discussed the prospect of marriage. Maybe we were moving too fast, but we both felt very sure of what we were feeling. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
For the first two months, we managed to keep our relationship a secret. But we figured that our families had to know about us sooner or later. We decided to reveal our relationship to Kim’s mom. However, she didn’t take it very well. She thought that Kim would abandon his goal of nursing, despite the fact that Kim had proven himself to be a stellar student both in his home country and at his college in Maryland. We were disappointed, but we continued to build our relationship. After all, we knew in our hearts that our love was real, and would only make us stronger, not distract us from long-term goals.
In November 2012, we found ourselves captivated by the elections, particularly the Question 6 Referendum in Maryland. Question 6 was about The Marriage Equality Act. At stake in the referendum was whether gay and lesbian couples would have the right to marry like everyone else. Kim and I eagerly anticipated the results along with our fellow Marylanders. When the referendum succeeded, we were ecstatic to know that we resided in a state that supports marriage equality.
However, one last hurdle remains in our bid to be together, and that is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Kim and I want to get married after marriage equality passed in Maryland, but we have decided to put it off until our marriage will be recognized on a federal level. That dream will only become a reality if DOMA is struck down. We understand what so many binational LGBT couples here in America are going through. The U.S. Constitution states that everyone is to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, so why is that equality not applicable if you are gay or lesbian? What makes us different from any other human being? We fall in love like everyone else, and we desire to make lifelong commitments with our partners. Kim and I, along with our fellow gay and lesbian binational couples, look forward to a positive ruling on DOMA. We have decided to share our story through The DOMA Project to ensure that 2013 will be the year when all of us are finally treated as equals. We will continue telling our story and sharing it with the world until the federal government must recognize our future marriage. Even now, every story shared makes a difference. Please join us.
After Five Years, College Sweethearts, Ned and Emilio Defer Dreams to Contend with Threat of DOMA Exile
Sometimes, it seems hard to believe that Emilio and I ever met. In a huge world with billions of people, we somehow found our way to each other and changed our lives forever. Meeting my partner Emilio has been the product of a series of incredibly improbable events. Like individual scenes playing out one by one, they have built up to the beginnings of a promising life together. Nonetheless, we know that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) threatens our future as a same-sex bi-national couple.
For having grown up in a religiously devout family in rural New Mexico, my “coming out” was by and large a seamless transition. Thanks to an uncle of mine who was brave enough to come out decades earlier, my loving family made my experience as normal and blessed as any other. As I grew into adulthood, they were there for the highs and lows of dating and life in general.
More than 5,000 miles across the globe in Cordoba, Argentina, Emilio had his own experience and struggle to come into his identity. Although his experience was much more complicated than my own, the hardships he faced ultimately led us both to be in the same place at the same time. I have always envied Emilio’s incredible bravery and ability to take a blind leap of faith, never knowing what lies ahead. Emilio took the first of such leaps in 2003 when he decided to leave Argentina – his mom, brother, and all he had ever known – to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico with his dad, step-mom and baby sister. That single decision brought us within 100 miles of each other.
We know now that there were probably many opportunities to have met before we finally did. During high school, we were both involved in Student Council, which brought together high schools from across New Mexico, yet somehow, we never attended the same event. After high school, we both enrolled at the University of New Mexico where we surely crossed paths, perhaps on a daily basis on campus. Nevertheless, we never seemed to notice one other. It was not until a summer night in 2008, when we were both out at a popular nightclub with our respective friends, that one of us noticed the other at all.
Emilio remembers seeing me entering the building with a friend of mine and shouting at me to get my attention. However, I did not see him and walked away. Weeks later, he was scrolling the social network MySpace and my profile randomly came up. Emilio immediately recognized my face as “the guy who walked away”. In typical Emilio fashion, he decided to take a shot in the dark and send me a message just to tell me that he thought I was cute. I am so glad that he did because it changed my life.
After some time of back and forth communication, we exchanged numbers and made plans for our first date. I remember being incredibly nervous and not knowing what to expect. Sure we communicated great via text, but would we hit it off in person? He had seen me in person, but I had never seen him except for in photographs. I was excited yet completely terrified to meet him. My memory of the date is exceptionally vivid till this day. He talked and I listened. He talked some more, and some more… Basically Emilio just loves to talk; his charisma is one of the most attractive things about him for me. It helps that he also has the sexiest accent ever.
In a lot of ways, we really were not either of each other’s type on paper. He was free spirited, extroverted, tattooed, pierced and studying psychology. I was über-structured, introverted, clean cut and studying political science. Nevertheless, it worked against all odds.
Over the next several years our relationship took off. After some time, he met my entire family and I met his family in Albuquerque. I also traveled to Argentina with him for Christmas break in 2009 where I met the rest of his beautiful family and his hometown. Months after our trip to Argentina, we moved in together. Since then we have shared countless holidays, birthdays, vacations, and family events together. We grew as a couple and endured painful losses. Together we were able to accomplish anything we set our minds to. Nevertheless, one seemingly insurmountable obstacle stood in our way: DOMA and Emilio’s immigration status in this country.
Emilio’s dad and step-mom came to the United States with intentions to return to Argentina someday. When plans changed and the family decided to make the United States their permanent home (through an immigration petition from his step-mom’s employer) Emilio had already turned twenty-one years old, and so thus missed out on the swift path to a green card that would come from being the child of a legal permanent resident. Emilio was ultimately forced to wait at the back of a 5-year waiting list for a green card that would allow him permanent residency in the U.S. This situation makes building a stable life together very difficult, to say the least.
Our first scare in this nightmare came in 2011 when we both graduated from the University of New Mexico. What was supposed to be a sheer period of joy in our accomplishments was laced with fear and anxiety. Emilio was (and still is) here on a F-1 student visa. In order for him to be able to remain here with me, he must remain a student or return home to wait for an uncertain amount of years until he is able to return through his parent’s pending petition. Though he had been here since age fourteen, feels more American than Argentinean, and had been with me for three years; Emilio’s only option was to gain acceptance into a graduate program.
The normal anxieties of a graduate admissions process were exacerbated by the reality that our very relationship and even my future in my own country would be decided by a committee of professors and admissions officers we had never even met. Though we worked relentlessly to keep each other optimistic of a positive outcome, it was truly the most frightening experience of our young lives.
After all was said and done, Emilio was accepted to graduate school and we swiftly made the move to Oakland, California in August, 2011. Emilio has been attending the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco ever since. However, this chapter in our life together will end in May 2014 when Emilio graduates with his Master’s degree. Once again, our backs will be up against the wall. We have two options and no room for error. Unfortunately, the green card waiting time has virtually gone unchanged in the past few years, and DOMA still stands as the law of the land. Now, Emilio must either enter a Ph.D. program or we will have to seek exile in Argentina and wait for DOMA to be struck down or repealed before we could return.
I aspire to be an immigration attorney, in part as a result of our experience together. However, I have been forced to put this dream on hold in light of the threat that Emilio may be forced to leave the country we call home. In addition, given work restrictions on international students, I have been forced to carry an overwhelming majority of the financial responsibility for the two of us. As a result, I have sometimes had to work multiple twelve-hour shifts per week in order to cover the cost of living in the Bay Area. Although Emilio has made incredible strides to put himself in a position to secure employment upon graduation, it is a real possibility he will have to decline every offer for lack of a permanent legal status and the employment authorization that would allow him to capitalize on all of his hard work. It has been hard on me, but I know it’s not easy for him either. Nonetheless, we continue to power through it every week because the alternative – to be separated by over 5,000 miles – is simply not an option.
If and when Section 3 of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 were ruled unconstitutional, Emilio and I plan to get married in San Francisco with our closest friends and family in attendance. Shortly after that, we would file for the immigration benefits we deserve with the intention of securing a green card prior to Emilio’s graduation. At that time, it would most certainly lift the weight of the world off our shoulders. The looming uncertainty we have lived with for the past five years would be gone. Emilio could focus solely on securing employment post-graduation, instead of worrying about how he will stay with me and his family that are still in New Mexico. I would finally be able to move forward with the dream I have left on hold with the peace of mind that we will never be forced to pack up and leave if we do not choose to do so ourselves.
Today, we are sharing our story because we believe it is important for the world to know what’s at stake in the upcoming Supreme Court decision DOMA. Our story may not be over yet, but we are determined that it will have a happy ending. Please join us by sharing our story. Every person we reach brings all binational couples like us closer to our dream of a life together.
Forced to Abandon their Home and Business in Hawaii, Ina and Iva Fight to Defeat DOMA and Return from Exile
Our experience is a little different from the other stories of same-sex bi-national couples affected by DOMA. For one, we’re both originally from Europe. When I was still a teenager I had the dream to one day live in the U.S. While my friends at school were all in love with some rock icon or movie star, I was in love with a country. They drew little hearts in their journals; I drew U.S. flags. Often I went to the travel bureau in my little German village and picked up U.S. brochures, cutting out images and decorating my room with them. I even had a big U.S. flag on my wall. I tried to convince my parents to vacation in the U.S., but it was too far away and expensive. Besides living in the U.S., I also dreamed about living near the ocean. I painted many pictures, all with the same motif—a sandy beach with a palm tree on the left and right and a setting sun in the middle. So it was a very big deal for me when, a few years after my high school graduation, I had saved enough money on my own to afford to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Hawaii. I simply couldn’t believe my luck—in one move, I had accomplished my two lifelong dreams.
For Iva, the story how she came to Hawaii is just as miraculous. She is from Bulgaria, a developing country in Eastern Europe. When Iva told her parents, relatives and friends that she dreamed about moving to Hawaii, they all made fun of her. They didn’t believe that such a move would ever be possible. Long story short, one day she went to an Internet café and by sheer coincidence she met a man in an Internet chat room who happened to live in Hawaii and who was a business owner. His wife worked at a university in Hawaii and they helped her apply to this university to get her Master’s in Computer Science. She even received a partial scholarship. A year after her move to Hawaii and after getting the necessary paperwork done, Iva was able to work part-time at his business. This is where, on Valentine’s Day 2005, we both met. I had just been hired as the new staff writer. We felt the connection between us right away. Neither of us was looking for a relationship, but we nonetheless felt a deep connection, as if our souls had known each other forever.
For a while we were living the dream life. After we both graduated, in addition to our regular day jobs, we started our own internet business in Hawaii’s tourism industry. Then, just when my work permit was about to expire and I would have had to return to Germany, I won in the annual U.S. green card lottery, against odds of about two percent. That was over six years ago, and since then our life has been a constant battle to stay together in Hawaii, the place we love, the place where we built our lives, the place where we built our business. In all these years we never visited our families back home because we knew that it would be next to impossible for Iva to come back to the U.S. on another visa.
The company where Iva worked had told her that they would sponsor her for a work visa, but then they went bankrupt. After that, she worked for another employer, who also promised her to sponsor her. But when the time came, the owner changed his mind because he said he didn’t want to open up his financial and business data to a government agency.
For nine years, Iva worked on renewable permits, and even enrolled at another school so that she could remain in Hawaii. Unfortunately, time ran out for us last fall. Our worst nightmare had come true. In order to stay together, we would have to leave our home, our lives, and our livelihood in Hawaii. We booked seats in the middle section of the plane because we couldn’t bear looking out of the window and seeing the island we called home disappear before our eyes. We still don’t know when and if we’ll be able to visit together anytime soon since Bulgaria is not in the visa waiver program.
The first few weeks were very difficult. Since we didn’t have local jobs or a German credit history, it took us two months after we arrived in Germany until we found a landlord who was willing to rent to us. We felt numb emotionally and cried ourselves to sleep every night. We knew that the only way for both of us to ever move back home in the future would be for me to become a U.S. citizen, in the hopes that, someday, I might be able to sponsor Iva for residency as my wife. We consulted with a U.S. immigration attorney who told us that I should come back as soon as possible to immeidately file the paperwork. So less than twenty-four hours after we had moved into our newly rented apartment, everything still in boxes, I flew back to Hawaii, alone. I returned to Germany in December, so that Iva and I could be together for Christmas, and in January I flew back again to finalize the naturalization process.
During the naturalization ceremony, they played Lee Greenwood “God Bless the USA.” When I heard the lyrics, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,” I found myself wishing that I really was free—free to live in this country that I’ve always loved, with the person I love. I was probably the only new U.S. citizen who applied for a U.S. passport and the next thing I did was leave my home, in order to be with my wife.
Now, nine months since our departure from the U.S., we are still having trouble adjusting to our new reality. We haven’t been able to find jobs here. It’s especially hard for Iva since she doesn’t speak the language yet. Every day we hope for a miracle that will allow us to go back to Hawaii. We each did it once before, on our own, under very unlikely circumstances. Now, the circumstances are still daunting, but there is one important difference: we have our love, and we have each other. We are determined to return to Hawaii once again, only this time, it will be for good, and we’ll do it together. We do believe that the fight for equality, the fight to love and live with your spouse, is a fight we can win. Please share our story and consider sharing yours with the The DOMA Project and continue to participate in the movement for social justice so that we not only defeat DOMA but so that we are prepared to reunite all families after this cruel law becomes part of history. Participation and representation is, after all, what American democracy is all about. We are grateful to The DOMA Project for the tremendous effort it has made to help our voices be heard.
Faced with Exile to Canada Unless DOMA is Defeated, Benjamin and Phillip Fight to Live Together in New York
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over three years since my husband and I met and fell in love.
I’m an American citizen and my husband, Phillip, is Canadian. We met while Phillip was visiting our mutual friend, Lisa, who was a classmate of mine in graduate school. I vividly remember the moment that I shook his hand and introduced myself. He was unlike anyone I had met before; honest, sincere, and caring, not to mention that infectious smile!
At the time, we were both in school; I was in Boston, and Phillip was in Montreal. I had the opportunity to visit Montreal with Lisa for her birthday week a few months after Phillip and I had met. During that week, we spent most days together getting to know each other, and finally, he asked me out for a proper date. We spent that day laying on Mont-Royal, enjoying the scenery and talking about our lives. He showed me Montreal and made me fall in love with him even more during dinner one evening overlooking the city under a huge orange moon. I remember feeling so lucky and happy; the future and the struggle we might face as a bi-national couple were irrelevant. We were falling in love. We discussed the distance and decided it would be best for us not to begin anything serious. That lasted for all of two weeks before I again found myself in Montreal.
We continued traveling back and forth between Montreal and Boston over the following year. We even traveled together to Europe, took a cruise to the Bahamas, and spent as much time together as we could. After I graduated we began making decisions about our next step. After much discussion, and because DOMA prevented me from sponsoring him for residency in the United States, we decided it would be best for me to move to Canada and begin the immigration process there.
I moved in the summer of 2011 and began the application process for a Permanent Residence visa with the Quebec government. During the process, I resided in Montreal and commuted back to Boston for my freelance work. This worked well for us for about a year. At the end of that year, my application was (and currently still is) pending. It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a professional presence in Boston while living in another country. But without a visa, I couldn’t work in Canada.
At this point we began to consider other options. We got married in November of 2012. In January, we traveled to New York and held a small ceremony with our close friends. We felt it was important to both of us to get married in the United States, not only to support a state that had taken the step of equality, but to make a statement in a country that is slowly coming around to accepting our love and commitment.
It was a snowy day, a familiar scene for us back in Montreal, but a beautiful ceremony that neither of us will ever forget.
On our train trip back to Montreal, we had plenty of time to discuss our future and our goals. By the end of the trip, we had decided that since I couldn’t work in Montreal and it didn’t seem as though that would change any time soon, I would move to New York to pursue my career. Phillip would accompany me for the summer, then return to Canada to finish his degree. The move to New York put into sharp focus the barriers and discrimination that DOMA places in front of us.
We were stopped and heavily questioned at the border. The officials suspected that Phillip was moving to New York, and had no intention of leaving. After an hour of feeling like we had done something wrong simply by wanting to spend our summer together as a married couple, Phillip was issued a three-week visa. For several hours after the ordeal we were both silent. We both felt unfairly called out, and the brief prospect of not being able to spend the summer together was unbearable.
Thankfully, with the help of an experienced attorney, we were eventually able to obtain an extension on Phillip’s visitor status that will last until the end of this summer. However, we’ve started to establish ourselves here in New York. We have friends and family here. Ultimately, we’ve built a temporary life together. It’s a life we want to continue building.
Unfortunately, that isn’t an option for us. Since DOMA still prevents me as an American citizen from sponsoring my husband, we will move forward with our plan for me to immigrate to Canada, where my application is still spending with the Quebec government. This is sad for both of us. We both love Canada very much, and under the law there, our marriage is fully recognized as equal. However, I also love my country, and the opportunities that exist here for both of us far exceed what we could hope to accomplish in Canada. We both hope that the Supreme Court will do the right thing and strike down the discriminatory law that prevents us from building a life together in the United States. With the incredible support of our family and friends, as well as countless people we have never met, I know this is possible. The U.S. isn’t perfect, but Americans have always fought for progress against sometimes overwhelming odds. In the end, compassion, understanding, and love will always win out against bigotry and hatred. That, along with everyone’s courageous sharing of stories of struggle and separation gives us hope that the future is brighter, and that things really will get better. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this movement for social justice and equality with The DOMA Project.
Leaving Cambodia Behind, Ken & Wes Settle Down to Married Life in Florida, Determined to Defeat DOMA
We met in the summer of 2008 in beautiful and exotic Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had been there since 2004 working in developing nations as a doctor for advocacy, child protection, LGBT and human rights, trauma, HIV/AIDS. I also worked in the development of mental health systems in Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Wes was one of the top students for International Business as well as a part of the social elite in Cambodia. We met through Wes’ dean, who happened to be my best friend. She would bring Wes with her to events and meetings and even social outings as part of his role as University Ambassador. The attraction was clear; the spark ignited. After hours of phone calls going late into the night plus courting, teasing, and flirting, our feelings turned into a relationship. Years later, across oceans and hardship, we continue.
Wes quickly found his passion for advocacy and development, becoming a key member in my governmental and non-governmental organizations. Wes particularly focused on the development of protection and assistance for his own people who suffered greatly from past genocide and the current oppressive regime of the prime minister. At the same time, life was fabulous with glamorous events, dinners, royals, celebrities, parties, ceremonies, and exotic travels; but in reality it was not an easy endeavor to work with a government when it was the government that was responsible for the very problems we hoped to address. Nonetheless, our relationships and passion made the experience not just bearable but full of love and fun. Our work together was exciting, caring, compassionate, risky and frightening all at the same time. In spite of the dangers we faced in our work to bring about change, one of the biggest obstacles was having to hide our relationship from Wes’ family and from society for fear of being harmed and outcast. Though not ideal, it brought us even closer together and made our love and commitment that much stronger.
We found love, we grew, and thrived on the intrigue and challenge involved in our work. However, eventually our situation became too dangerous as our work placed us at odds with powerful leaders who did not wish to be exposed for their corruption and abuses. As the situation became unmanageable, I was forced to leave the country out of fear for my safety, leaving Wes behind in the protection of his family. We were both persecuted on many levels, but with the help of Wes’ wonderful family and hard work, a path was found for him to also escape to America six months later. It was a very long six months, but we had the happiest of reunions here in Miami – our new home.
Despite all our success and our love, we struggle with the fact that as a binational couple we are still feeling vulnerable because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing our marriage and allowing me to sponsor my husband for permanent residency. As a result, we feel threatened in our freedoms and our ability to stay together. After working in nations fraught with extreme oppression brutal regimes; it is sadly ironic that we may one day be forced to leave the “Land of the Free” in order to find a place that allows us to be able to spend the rest of our lives together.
From Serendipity in San Francisco to Exile in Mexico, Ann and Marcia Join in the Fight to End DOMA by Sharing their Story
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.
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.
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.