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.

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.

 

Love Story: Heather and Elfie Fight DOMA, Struggle Financially to Be Together

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Heather and Elfie

My name is Elfie, I am 32 and a French citizen. I met Heather (she’s 27 and a US citizen) early 2009 in a place that was completely unexpected for the both of us: Facebook. I was a fan of an unknown band at the time (Warpaint) that had just created their fan page. I was randomly browsing through fan comments when a name caught my eye: Zooey Glass. A quick look at her profile showed me something that was even cooler: she had a twin sister who called herself Franny Glass. For people who don’t know, Franny and Zooey Glass are two members of the Glass family, characters created by author JD Salinger (notably ‘Franny and Zooey’, also a tattoo I have on my forearm). From their profiles, I saw that we had a lot of interests in common, including the most random ones, and I thought the twins were the coolest people ever. I never thought I would find anyone who could be so similar to me.

In the beginning, I was shy and introverted so we didn’t talk much. During the months that followed, we started talking more and more, and I got to know Franny’s real name: Heather. By September 2010, we had exchanged thousands of messages, made each other videos, and developed a serious crush on each other. It got to a point where I wanted to meet up before we went any further. So, I flew to California in October 2010, and we had our first meeting. I instantly fell in love with her, I knew she was the one I had been waiting for all along. I came back to California in January 2011, and we had our first proper date and kiss at Disneyland in Anaheim. Heather was living in a small town near San Diego, and I was staying at a friend’s place in Los Angeles. In order to see one another, I kept traveling back and forth and staying at hotels for the next month and a half. When it was time for me to fly home to Paris, I knew my life had changed forever. I knew where I had to be: with my Heather.

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Heather and Elfie

I came back in March as a tourist and stayed for three months, renting a room in a house near Heather’s. Ultimately, I decided to stay another three months until September 2011. We got to spend a lot of time together, every day and almost every night. I decided I couldn’t keep traveling back and forth. I had to find a way for us to be together without the fear of not getting through immigration when flying into the U.S. I also thought it would be beneficial for the both of us if I were to go back to school and learn a valuable skill. Going back to school was something I’d always wanted to do. After doing  some research, I found the perfect career for me; I would become a massage therapist. I registered for my Associate of Science in Holistic Health at a school known for being one of the best in the country. I received my F1 visa in October and started school in January 2012. It’s been going really well, I fell in love with the school and what I do; but it’s been difficult for us financially. As an international student, I am not allowed to work. Heather is disabled and living with her parents where she is currently working on her memoir.

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Marriage has always been important to the both of us, and, in August 2011, I proposed to Heather. I bought an old toy vending machine and filled it with about 300 capsules that each had a different vintage toy ring and other little items from the 1950′s. Each capsule also had a little fortune and a note that would cheer her up and show her my love whenever I was away. I gave her a quarter, and the first capsule to come out had the engagement ring in it (garnet stone like my birth month) as well as a note that said “will you marry me?”. Of course, she said yes. She got me a ring with a sapphire, her birth stone. We later bought different rings for our wedding.

Throughout our relationship, we have bought each other a lot of meaningful gifts, such as first edition of Franny and Zooey and rare collectible Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein monster statues. When I met Heather, she had a portrait of Frankenstein’s monster tattooed on on her left shoulder. That summer, I got the matching portrait of the Bride of Frankenstein tattooed on my right shoulder (that way, they would be facing each other when we walk hand in hand). We would also send each other a postcard every day we spent apart. We have dozens of those on our bedroom wall.

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Eventually, we want to have a child of our own, a plan that we hold dear to our heart. We have already started the process; we found a donor that looks like Heather. However, we are waiting for our situation to improve before becoming parents. In December 2011, we adopted a 12-year-old Maine Coon, Maggie, who is the sweetest, most caring cat ever. For now, she’s our baby. The same month we adopted Maggie, I also moved in with Heather, and we’ve been living with her parents and twin sister ever since.

Heather’s family is very supportive of us, they consider me their daughter-in-law, and we spend a lot of family time together. I was also very close to both of Heather’s grandmothers who were living in the same town. Sadly, they passed away in April and October of 2012. Heather also came to Paris in 2011 to meet my family. My family loves Heather and also consider her part of the family. A month after I introduced Heather to my family, we flew to New York to get married. While we would have loved to have our families and friends to attend the wedding, it was too complicated. At the time, same-sex marriage was not legal in California or France. Fortunately, France now has marriage equality and hopefully California will soon have the same; but it was too late for us. In the end, we ended up celebrating our marriage just between the two of us in New York City. However, we had an amazing time in New York. We found a great wedding officiant, and one of my oldest friends was there as our witness and photographer. We couldn’t be happier with how the day went, and it was really nice to have that time for us to be together, on our own.

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I feel lucky to have had the means to be able to stay in the U.S. as a student, but keeping up with international tuition fees makes it increasingly difficult for the both of us. We are eager to get our life as a married couple “started”. We want to have our own place. I want to be able to earn a living to support my family. Because of DOMA, this is not possible. We are really counting on the Supreme Court to make the right decision, so we can start the spouse-based green card process. I still have a year and a half before I can start working in my field of study. And even then, I would only be authorized to work for a year. Plus, I would have to worry about not being let into the U.S. if I ever leave the country to visit my family with Heather. It is so scary not to know what the future holds.

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Knowing that same-sex marriages are respected in my country, we could always move to France, but that would mean Heather would have to leave her family behind, especially her twin sister to whom she is extremely close. Plus, she would have to learn a whole new language–which is no easy task. I, on the other hand, have been used to living in different countries and being away from my family (as much as I love them). I also consider Heather’s family my own. No matter what, we will never let anything separate us, but we are longing for the day when we can finally have peace of mind, and feel like our relationship, our marriage, our love, is treated equally to that of a heterosexual couple.

Relocation from New Zealand to North Carolina, a Student Visa, Crushing Tuition Fees: Ron and Arthur Fight DOMA

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Ron and Arthur

I would not be writing this story if not for DOMA. But it’s not what you think.

Because of DOMA, my dear friend Leif was forced to move to New Zealand to live with his partner, Morris. I traveled to visit them in February 2011, and during that trip… well let’s just say I joined the binational couple community myself. Leif moved to New Zealand in part because there was no immigration path for Morris to come to the United States. Like all binational, same-sex couples, Leif and Morris simply wanted to be together and were fortunately able to make that happen in New Zealand, a country that includes same-sex couples in its immigration policies.

While stomping around the grounds of Auckland’s annual “Big Gay Out” celebration with these dear friends, I met a Kiwi named Arthur who was in Auckland on vacation from his home on the country’s South Island. Our attraction to each other was nearly instantaneous and what I thought was a “holiday romance” quickly unfolded into something more. I returned home to South Carolina a week later and learned to navigate Skype. Through this technology, we discovered there was a lot more to our connection. After countless hours on Skype and Facebook, we decided that we had to have more “real time” together, so we planned for Arthur to visit the U.S.

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In June 2011, Arthur came to visit me in my home state of South Carolina, and we spent nearly three months together, the maximum time allowed under his visitor’s visa. The trips, trials and tribulations during our time together further cemented our bond. I was also able to introduce Arthur to my family and friends. Somewhere in that period we fell in love and acknowledged we wanted a life together. All too soon, our 89 days together expired, and Arthur had to return to his native country.

However, we were already planning our next opportunity to reunite. As I am sure any couple apart knows, there is only so much that social networks and Skype can do to satiate the yearning and need to be with that special person you love. Thus, I traveled back to New Zealand in November 2011 to see him. I went on a second trip in February 2012. On these trips, I met more of Arthur’s friends and family, and we spent our time exploring beautiful New Zealand and reveling in every moment we had together as we were all too aware that our shared hours, minutes and seconds were limited by my return plane ticket.

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For us, there has been a respite in our separation as Arthur’s life plan included a return to university to complete his degree; he decided to make that happen in the U.S. by applying for an F-1 student visa. Arthur applied and was accepted to a college in Charlotte, N.C. Soon after, I was able to relocate to Charlotte, and we have been living in the Queen City for over a year now. Arthur is well on his path to getting his degree but has very limited work options with his visa. Though challenging at times, we make ends meet and understand the extra financial burden of attending college as an international student is just another sacrifice we have to bear in order to be together at this time. We know and appreciate the limitations of our current status, but it is definitely an improvement over our previous separation. We remember waiting for that Skype call and managing the 16 hour time difference just so we could speak to each other, even if only to say “goodnight, I love you.”

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As things stand, graduation will mean a return to New Zealand for Arthur. Though completely open to the idea, moving to New Zealand is not an option for me currently as I have an established career as a federal employee. The defeat of DOMA would be a huge step on our path to remain together as it would afford us the opportunity to stay a couple and contribute fully to our community here in the U.S. In less than a month, DOMA’s fate and our future will be decided. Let’s make sure that the justices do not forget about binational couples like us. We urge the justices on the Supreme Court to remember that our future is in their hands. Please join us in sharing our story and raising awareness of just why DOMA needs to go.

Together for 17 Years, Jon and Christophe are Married, Living in DOMA Exile in France

I’m Jon Benfer, an American, 42 years old. In 1995 I went to the Central African Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer based in Bambari working on one of the Peace Corps’ first HIV/AIDS/STD prevention programs. In April 1996 I met Christophe Michaux, 36, a Belgian, living in Bambari with his father, who was working for the World Bank as a civil engineer at the time. We dated for about a month and quickly fell in love.

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Jon and Christophe

In May of 1996, civil riots and a military mutiny broke out in Bangui, the CAR capitol.  Peace Corps volunteers and most expats were evacuated by the French Army. Christophe and I flew out of Bambari in a French military transport plane side by side to the airport in Bangui, which had been secured by the French. While Christophe and his father returned to Belgium, PCVs were sent to Cameroon for a month of debriefing and processing. During very costly phone calls between Belgium and Cameroon, Christophe and I decided that I would not seek another post with Peace Corps and return home to the US, where he would visit me so that we could decide what to do next.

We traveled a bit during the summer of 1996 in the U.S.  We even lived for a time in a tent in a pagan camp in upstate New York.  It was an incredible experience to simply be with the one I loved in such a peaceful environment.  It really gave us the time and space we needed to plan our next steps.

One morning, we decided that we wanted to be together.  It was a moment the two of us will always remember.

Acting on the advice of an immigration attorney, we decided that the best route was for Christophe to come to the U.S. under a student visa and pursue his college education. We settled in Minneapolis.  Christophe later returned to Belgium to apply for his visa, come out to his parents, and announce that he was moving to the U.S. While his parents were able to pay for university for two years, his father soon lost his job, and we had to pick up the tab for his education. Sadly, my work with nonprofits didn’t pay very well.  To cover the costs, we bought a house at the right time and took second and third mortgages. Eventually it caught up with us, and we filed for bankruptcy, overwhelmed by the burden of skyrocketing college costs in the U.S.  We now realize that getting a student visa is not an easy route due to exorbitant international student fees.  For that reason, a student visa with beyond the reach of many binational gay and lesbian couples like us.

By the end of 2000, it was becoming clear that it would be increasingly difficult to keep stretching out the student visa. I was laid off and so started my own business. After months of struggling to find a way to make ends meet, we considered the unpleasant option of leaving the country and moving to France, where Christophe happened to have many friends. In then end, that is what we decided.  In 2003, we sold the house, Christophe went to France to find an apartment, and I joined him in late 2003.  While getting residency in France was far from easy, it was possible. By 2004, I had a temporary visitor visa, we were joined in a civil union (PACS), and were settling in to an apartment in Paris.

We were married in a beautiful wedding in Philippeville, Belgium, in October of 2004.

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Jon & Christophe on their wedding day.

By 2010, I obtained permanent residency (equivalent to a green card). We bought a house in central France in 2007 and now live a country life with dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and great neighbors. I estimate the total cost of our first 20 years together (because of the limitations put on us by U.S. as well as French immigration laws) at about $1,000,000. I earn in U.S. dollars, so I lose between 15 and 30% of my income immediately because of the exchange rate. We are lucky that my parents are in good health and come to visit every two years for a month and that Christophe’s parents decided to leave Belgium and retire very near us here in France. Our ultimate hope, however, is to return to the U.S.  As my parents get older, this is certainly a major concern for us.

Ultimately, we’ve decided to share our story to help show the kind of unnecessary hardship that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) creates for thousands of couples just like us over the 17 years of its existence.  Many couples have not had the luxury of being able to avoid separation by seeking exile in a third country.  Sacrifices like those we and others have made should never have happened.  Now, in 2013, we have an opportunity to ensure that such unnecessary sacrifices will be a thing of the past.

For this reason, we’re sharing our stories.  As all branches of the U.S. government are considering DOMA’s fate, there has never been a better time to share our stories and inform the public of why DOMA should not be tolerated a day longer.  Please join us by sharing our story with others or even sharing your own.  As a result of our efforts and our stories, we are helping to ensure that all gay and lesbian binational couples will have the security to plan their futures together without the uncertainty and great expenses that we have experienced.

Joel & Gabriel: Together for Ten Years in Exile in Mexico Because of DOMA

I moved to Mexico City after college and fell in love with the country and its people. After one year, I fell in love again, this time with Gabriel.  We met on the job and I will never forget thinking what warm brown eyes and a beautiful smile he had.  We had very few interactions and I soon quit my job and was off on a month-long trip to India.  After coming back to Mexico City, I was walking to my old office and ran into him.  It was difficult to imagine running into someone in one of the biggest cities in the world but sure enough, there he was.  We started chatting and he invited me to a party with some of the people from where I used to work.  Since it involved Salsa dancing, I agreed.

The following day we showed up in front of the office at the designated time only to find one other person waiting.  It turns out the party had been cancelled but no one had told us.  The three of us decided to go see a movie but on the walk to the theater, it became clear that there was a third wheel.  Gabriel and I found a moment alone and he invited me to a party the next day at a friend’s house to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.

We began seeing each other more and more frequently after that night and 6 months later we were living together.  Since then we have only been separated when he is on tour dancing or when I go back to the US to visit my family.  I have always wanted Gabriel to see where I grew up and meet my family but unfortunately, Gabriel does not have an American visa and therefore has not met anyone from my family as my mother has a medical condition that does not allow her to travel long distances.  For the past ten years we have shared a life together, travelled abroad many times, visited countless countries and even lived in Europe for two years.  I find it unacceptable that the one country that is off limits, is my own.

I am lucky to be afforded the option to live and work in Mexico, a country I love and have adopted as my own.  However, that does not take away the sting of knowing that my partner has not seen where I grew up or met my family.  This situation was made even more painful when our first nephew was born in May 2012.  I wanted desperately for Gabriel to meet him so I encouraged him to apply again for a tourist visa. The interview and the process were humiliating and in the end he was denied.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Although I consider Mexico my adopted country and have lived here for over a decade, I am still one year away from getting permanent residency in Mexico.  When I go to renew my work visa every year I cannot help but think about what the consequences would be if I were denied.  We would have to search for a third country that would extend work visas for both of us.  It is a frightening prospect and one that I should not have to face as an American citizen.  The stability of securing a “green card” for Gabriel would allow us to just live our lives like so many people do and take for granted.

Recently, I have begun taking online courses through an American university to get a second Bachelor’s degree in Speech Pathology in order to make a career change from teaching English to Speech Therapy.  My background would serve me well as a bilingual Speech Pathologist and I have been told to expect scholarship offers from schools in the U.S. to study my Master’s degree due to my language ability and experience abroad.  Getting a scholarship for graduate would mean the world to me.  However, I will not be able to take advantage of any scholarship in the U.S. unless I leave Gabriel behind – a sacrifice I am not willing to make.

In Tikal, Guatemala

If DOMA were repealed, I could sponsor Gabriel for a green card giving us a stability that we have never known while opening many opportunities up for us that had been previously closed.  We would finally be able to build our future together, and Gabriel would not be walled off from my family. It is time for this discrimination to end and we are sharing our story to add our voices to the others who have joined The DOMA Project to help achieve that goal.

Young Love Forced into Exile: Jodi and Amanda Speak Out Against DOMA Exile

Amanda & Jodi

We should have the rights of any other person. We should not be excluded.

Hi, I am Jodi.  My partner, Amanda, and I met online two years ago through a virtual game site called Habbo Hotel. There, we both entered a ‘dating room’ for bisexual, lesbian, and gay teenagers. I had been in the room many times before, Amanda however had not. The dating world was new to both of us and meeting online seemed strange at the time considering all the bad stories and press about it.

Eventually, we exchanged emails and Amanda made a Skype account especially to talk to me.  Our main problem was that she was in Miami, FL, and I was in Scotland.  So time differences and an ocean made a relationship seem too hard but we gave it a try. And it was worth it!

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Our first day together

In the present day, Amanda and I are together.  We live with my mother in the U.K. while saving up for a house for ourselves.  Amanda is also an Irish citizen so she’s okay in the U.K. but she misses home.  We both know well that our hearts are set on living in the U.S. However, I cannot live in the U.S. since DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.  Thus, an American citizen like Amanda cannot sponsor her spouse for a green card.  However, like the many binational couples involved with The DOMA Project, we are determined to make that change and very soon.  As the polls show that nearly 60% of Americans support equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, the time for marriage equality is now.

Amanda & Jodi Miami

It’s so tragic to see couples torn apart from their loved ones. I’ve heard so many stories of men and women having to leave their homes in the U.S. so they can be with their partner in the U.K. or another country. It really is disgraceful and something needs to be done.  By sharing our story, we’re doing just that.  Our stories help challenge others to realize that we are human beings and we should have as much rights as they do.  Even though we are young, we realize this, so I’m sure that many older and wiser people will eventually see this and let us live our lives peacefully in the U.S.

I will raise as much awareness as possible, and please if you can try and spread the word too.  We are human, nothing more or less.  We expect nothing less than equality.

Debbie and Sjoukje in Exile: Twelve Years Together, Separated from their American Family Because of DOMA

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Debbie and Sjoukje

In a very short time there will be a ruling that affects a lot of people. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for and against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the Senate, legislators are working on an immigration bill. Sjoukje and I are two of those that will be affected by these events.  I have lived here in the Netherlands for 12 years. Sjoukje and I have been legal partners for 12, and legally married for 8. Because of that, I have the Dutch equivalent of a green card and can live and work here as long as I want.

Because the person that I fell in love with and decided to share my life with is a woman from another country, these coming events affect my life greatly. Because DOMA prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriages, I am not able to sponsor Sjoukje for a green card in my own country, the U.S.  Instead, I live 4,000 miles away from my family, whom I see only once or twice a year. I am not able to spend the last years with my aging father. Don’t get me wrong; I am very grateful for the Netherlands where I have the right to live with my married partner and continue my career as a nurse. However, this does not change the fact that I do not have the choice to live in my own country.

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My Dutch patients are often curious why I moved here to the Netherlands, and I always tell them, “voor de liefde“.  That means I moved here because I fell in love.  They say, “Well why don’t you two live there?”  I tell them that because my wife is also a woman, we cannot live in the US.  They can’t believe that there is still such discrimination in the US in this day and time.

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on DOMA.  This law defines civil marriage as between one man and one woman for the purpose of all federal laws.  The President himself believes DOMA is unconstitutional and is not defending it.  In fact, his Attorney General and the Department of Justice has been going to court for the past two years and arguing against DOMA, in support of gay and lesbian couples suing the government.  If Section 3 of DOMA is deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, marriages of same-sex couples will be recognized by the federal government exactly the same way as marriages of opposite sex couples are currently recognized; we would be fully equal, including for the purposes of immigration laws.

Sjoukje and Deb

As for congressional immigration reform, if they will just add a very small phrase to their bill that includes “and permanent partners” we will also benefit from this immigration bill, though the “partner” provision will expire if DOMA is struck down.  It is ironically, now, a matter of fighting for both: defeating DOMA and passing inclusive immigration laws, just in case we lose at the Supreme Court at least we will have the possible remedy.  Sjoukje and I belong to a couple of groups that have been extremely active in these processes: Bi-Nationals and Love Exiles. I would like to thank Lin and Martha McDevitt-Pugh for all of your time, effort, and enthusiasm.

I would like to tell my family and friends that if you would like to support us, write and call your elected officials and local newspaper.  You can also do your part by sharing our story and that of many others posted at The DOMA Project.  Sharing our stories is the best way we can encourage our friends and family to join us in our fight for our human rights.

Leif and Morris: DOMA Forces Gay American to Move to New Zealand, Far from Friends and Family

Leif And Morris Guernerville

Morris and I first met on an internet site in July 2008. Morris was planning to come to San Francisco in September of that year to attend the Folsom Street Fair. When we met on October 1, it was really love at first sight. Really. So much so, that from our first meeting we spent as much time together as possible during the month of October until Morris had to return home in early November.

Once Morris arrived back in the little New Zealand town of Te Aroha where he lived, we began emailing and chatting daily via Skype. We normally chatted for an hour or more, catching up on our respective days, lives, and planning towards their next time together.

Morris then returned to San Francisco for three weeks in February 2009 to see if the connection we had been building over the last three months was still as strong in person the second time around; it more than was. During the visit we didn’t travel much together but did spend a great amount of time with friends. Morris returned to Te Aroha and we continued to build upon their relationship online until I went to visit Morris in New Zealand in May  of that year. My trip to New Zealand was magical. It was one of exploration, while falling deeper in love with the man of my dreams.

 After I was back home in San Francisco, we kept up daily communication leading up to Morris’s next trip to see me for the month of July 2009. During the month we spent the bulk of the time with my circle of friends who were rapidly adopting Morris as part of the family.

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Leif and Morris at the Hoover Dam

It was also during that visit when Morris and I met with a well-known immigration attorney in San Francisco. The goal of this meeting was to determine what Morris would need to get a visa allowing him to start a business in the US while pursuing a relationship with me. The meeting with the attorney made it clear that immigration to the US was a very difficult venture require deep financial investment on Morris’ part that we would not be able to afford. It would have required that Morris sell off his investments in New Zealand, which he was unable to do at that time. It was then that we realized that being together long-term in the US was not an accessible option. This was a major turning point that could have seen the end of our relationship as it was indeed Morris’ hope to leave New Zealand to be with me in the US on some kind of visa status.

Morris returned to San Francisco for two months in September. There were a number of major events for us during this trip, including our one-year anniversary which we celebrated at the Cliff House restaurant. It was during dinner that Morris asked me to marry him, to which I, of course, said yes. At that time, same-sex marriage was not legal in California and we were aware that if we did marry in another state that still would not change a thing because our marriage still would not recognized by the federal government because of DOMA. It was Morris’ idea for us to be “married” in New Zealand where, at that time, same-sex civil unions were recognized (marriage equality came recently to New Zealand).

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Civil Union in New Zealand, February 26, 2010

After Morris returned to Te Aroha, we started discussing our plans to be together. Having learned that Morris starting a business in the US would be too great a challenge and that our New Zealand civil union would not be recognized by the US government for the purposes of allowing me to sponsor Morris for a green card, we decided that it would be best for me to pursue a New Zealand work visa/permit so I could join Morris in Te Aroha. It was a very difficult choice to make for both of us.

For Morris, he had already been mentally establishing himself in the US with me and started separating emotionally from his NZ home.  For me, I had lived in San Francisco for most of my adult life, had a great job at The Gap Inc., sat on the board of a local fundraising non-profit called Grass Roots Gay Rights West and had a wide extended family that I was entrenched in and loved. Not only did Morris have to make the hard decision to stay where he was but I had to let go of all I had built around my life so we could be together because we knew that if we didn’t make a move to find a way to live together full-time that we couldn’t survive the long-distance struggles. Not only was the pain of being separated becoming greater with each trip but the costs of flying back and forth were mounting quickly (in the end it totaled over $20,000 that we’re still paying off).

But our love and dedication was too strong for us to continue living two lives, one when we were together and one apart.

Fish wharf photo

It was during Morris’ next trip to the US through New Years into January 2010 that we started socializing my intention to leave. It was not taken well but because people knew we were so in love we got support from all my/our friends who would then help us through the process and support my visa application to NZ.

We had our Civil Union in Auckland on February 26, 2010 in the company of close friends from both the US and New Zealand. We then spent our honeymoon between Te Aroha, Sydney and Brisbane. Then in March of that year I submitted my NZ Visa application.  Seven months later it was approved, and I have lived as a “DOMA exile” in New Zealand since that time.

I miss my family who live in Chicago and DC very much. I miss all my friends I still Skype with regularly and keep in touch with via Facebook (bless it). I have had friends die and not been able to attend their memorials, I have had other friends go through life-altering traumas like their homes burning down and facing disease and illness, but have only been able to support them from remotely. I have been trapped away from many of the people I love because of DOMA. We’re still getting a handle on the debt built up by our long-distance relationship and that has made it virtually impossible for us to go back to the US except for a quick trip I did in 2011. For Morris, he wants me to be happy and wants us to be able to return to our friends in the States and the loving community we are a part of. The only way this can happen is if DOMA falls and immigration laws allow me to sponsor my partner, the man I love, the man I gave up so much to be with. And for this reason we believe that we must all share our stories and bring DOMA to an end.

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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.