Gay U.S. Army Veteran Sacrifies Home and Financial Security, Uprooted and Forced into Exile By DOMA

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Jay and I met in a chat room online back in 2009. For a year we simply chatted every day. Neither of us knew what the other even looked like until late 2009 when we decided to try Skype. From the very first day we chatted, Jay and I just clicked. In spite of the fact that Jay was from the Phillipines, we had a lot of the same dreams, likes, and values. In 2010, I scraped up all the money I could, and I flew for the very first time across the world to visit him. During the 15+ hour flight I was filled with anxiety and joy. I remember walking out of the airport at night, looking for Jay among so many others waiting there in the darkness. I remember spotting him. He was jumping up and down. Needless to say, we were elated! For the very first time, we were able to hold each other’s hand, put our arms around each other, and kiss (in privacy of course!). The two weeks were wonderful and time flew by. Soon, we were faced with saying goodbye.

It hurts me so much to remember that day. I will only say that nobody should have to feel that way. After about 6 months, we planned a second trip. This time we traveled to Jay’s hometown on Panay Island. After those two weeks, we were once again faced with the a painful series of goodbyes. I remember trying to not make a big deal about it. I thought that maybe just a hug and get going would be easier. No, it wasn’t. We embraced each other so very tight. We never wanted to let each other go. Even after we let go, I couldn’t stop turning back to see him. The final goodbye was a hand wave. Jay was on one side of security and I was on the other. I began to lose it; I started to cry intensely, all the while trying to hide myself from view.

When I returned home, Jay and I knew one thing. We couldn’t be apart any longer. Because Jay is from the Phillipines, he must apply for a visitor’s visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy to even visit the U.S. In developing countries like the Phillipines, visitor visa applicants face the burden of proving they do not intend to remain in the U.S. Generally, only the most privileged of Filipinos are able to provide sufficient evidence of ties to their country to get a visitor visa to the U.S. Sadly, Jay is not so fortunate. So, I started to do what I had to do. Within a week, I announced to my family that I was moving to the Philippines to be with Jay. I couldn’t help but explain myself over and over again, as to why I had to go. In the next 3 months, I sold everything I owned. I sold my small house, my car, and nearly all other possessions at yard sales. I also left my government job with the U.S. Army. The hardest part of all was saying goodbye to my family. My adult daughter was distraught with disbelief that I was forced to leave my own country. To this day, she is still overcome by my leaving. My parents, who are both in their late 70s, hugged me goodbye with tears in their eyes and hope in their hearts. Though it was difficult to uproot myself from my country, I was so driven to be with the person I loved with all my heart and soul. There were no doubts, no looking back.

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Michael and Jay’s house in the Phillipines

Since June 2012, Jay and I have lived together in a small concrete house surrounded by farmland. Here in the Phillipines, we have little financial security. Earning just $200 per month is not very assuring if either of us has a serious injury or health complication. I am in my 40s, so my government veteran’s pension is still more than a decade away.

Last December, we had an opportunity to Skype with my family back in the U.S. who were celebrating Christmas. It was so so difficult for me. With exception of my mom, my family was seeing Jay for the very first time. As much as I know that my family loves me, words cannot describe how empty I feel without them. In many ways, it seems as though they are moving on with their lives, busy, as is life in the U.S. Every day, we hope and pray that DOMA will go away. My daughter is getting married in September 2013 to her best friend and life partner. As much as I’ve tried to explain and emphasize why I had to leave and be here with Jay, it is still very difficult for her to deal with the fact that I left. I am not sure there is a better example of how negatively DOMA has affected us. If it weren’t for DOMA, Jay and I could share our lives together surrounded by the love of my family and friends. Fortunately, Jay and I live a few miles from  his mother, sister and brother and we have their love and support. Without them, it would be that much tougher.

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As I sit and write this story, I am torn. I am torn between loving a person so very much and a family that is a world away. Every day I try to be the best partner I can. Some days are not fair to Jay, as I sob with homesickness. Yesterday, Jay told me for the first time, that my unhappiness was showing in my face and spirit. While we cried and held each other’s hands, he said too me that he loves me so much. He doesn’t want to see me hurting anymore. If I could no longer go on here, I would need to return home, and he would have to let me go. I cannot begin to even remotely tell you how sad this has made me. We sobbed endlessly. I never wanted our relationship to come to this. I told Jay that I will would never leave him even if it meant living in an unfamiliar country, so very far from my family.

Emerging from our tears, we have learned not to lose hope. I would never wish our circumstances on anyone. That being said, we have been challenged to grow and love during this time of great insecurity. Our love for each other continues to grow. As a result, we feel empowered to reach out and help others by sharing our story. No American should be forced into these circumstances.

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In my service to this country, I learned the value of looking out for one another. I hope that you’ll do your part by sharing our story or even by sharing your own. In doing so, we continue to build pressure and awareness of the immeasurable harm that DOMA continues to cause to binational gay and lesbian families, harms that must cease the minute DOMA is eliminated. Jay and I and the thousands of other gay and lesbian binational couples deserve no less.

Missing Husband: David and Jason Spend Their Sixth Anniversary Apart, Separated by 6,000 Miles and DOMA


On May 12, 2007, I sat in a restaurant in West Hollywood swearing off men forever after a string of bad relationships. That was until my future husband walked in.

My friend James noticed my distraction, took the lonely stranger’s plate and sat him at our table, directly opposite me. For 2 hours we ate, drank and laughed. In one meal, I had gone from having lost all interest in dating to hitting it off with a guy who I may as well have designed myself.

Jason was visiting Los Angeles at the end of a 6-week trip across North America. I spent 3 days showing him the city, before he was due to flew out to New Zealand to continue his travels. Our whirlwind few days were up and it was time for our first airport goodbye. We both felt a weird difficulty that you just don’t get after hanging out with a stranger for 3 days. We knew it was something special.

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Jason and David

For the rest of Jason’s travels, for the rest of that year, and for the 6 years since, we have spoken every day. As I arrive at my office in LA Jason gets home from work in the UK. We get online and chat right through the day until he has to go to sleep. Sadly, this long distance communication is avoidable and our separation is down to the divisive and immoral Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in September 1996. It denies millions of Americans over 1,100 rights, and has kept us and thousands of other same-sex, bi-national couples separated on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and countless other occasions that we should be sharing together. And that’s all we’re asking for – to be together.

DOMA means that legal gay marriages are not recognized federally and are not enough to bring foreign spouses of gay Americans to the US. Jason isn’t welcome to the US as a Husband and has only ever been able to visit for a maximum 90 days as a tourist.

Jason has been warned for 2 years that he has visited the US too often using tourist visa waivers. It’s currently recommended that he wait 6 months before returning, or he may be denied entry as a visitor.

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What most people don’t realize is that when Jason has landed, whether or not he is allowed out of LAX airport is at the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection officer. The past 2 years he has been taken aside to a small interview room, interrogated and had his luggage searched by officers suspecting he is lying about his reasons for visiting. They scoff at any explanation of the years of difficulties he’s had obtaining a visa, replying “it’s not that hard”.

This is why the days leading up to his return are always filled with dread. In the run up to his visit, friends and family say, “…you must be so excited! I bet you can’t wait to see him!” which is true. But behind those conversations, all I can think about is the terrifying hour (or 2, or 3) after his plane lands and whether or not he’ll make it past customs and out of the airport.

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Thankfully, DOMA and all of this stress could be history by the end of June. The Supreme Court heard arguments against the law on March 27. Our fate is now in the hands of 9 Justices who will decide whether or not to strike down DOMA. We should know on or around June 27. If the court does not strike it down then we have little hope of being able to start a life together in the United States and may be forced to join the many Americans living in exile with their partners across the world.

In a country that has proclaimed since 1776 that ‘all men are created equal’ I feel rejected. I have been put through so much pain, for so long, and I don’t know how many more goodbyes I have in me.

Goodbyes at LAX airport are always the worst, but the silent drive home is a close second. An overwhelming, and avoidable sadness sets in, and knowing it’s not going to go away for months fills my head with bitterness and anger. Fighting these emotions is a constant battle when Jason’s not here. Imagine sharing the most incredible 3 months with your perfect companion, filling every spare hour with fun, only for that person to be ripped from your arms and flown over 5000 miles away from you for an indefinite amount of time.

It was a cruel coincidence that in March, what could be Jason’s last 90-day tourist visa waiver expired on the day the Supreme Court heard arguments against the Defense of Marriage Act. If goodbyes weren’t difficult enough, we had a constant news flow the whole day, reminding us of the pain we were about to endure. And are enduring today.

Before we were married this past September, neither Jason nor I thought we could get any closer. But as I sit here alone writing this, and as Jason sends me the latest version of our ‘goodbye’ video, I realize it put a fight in us. A fight fuelled by having a rooftop wedding in New York that did nothing to help our situation. It’s through the difficult times that we like to remind ourselves that despite it’s cruel intentions, DOMA has only made us even closer.

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In the next few days we will find out if Jason’s 3-year H-1B work visa has been approved or denied. We’ve now been separated, waiting for this outcome for over a month. Even if it were approved the visa term wouldn’t begin until October, meaning that whether as a spouse, a tourist or with a work visa, Jason is unable to enter the US for 6 months and with a full time job I can only visit him for a 2 week vacation. We were in the exact same position last year and we just can’t go through that again, and we won’t. It’s not getting easier. Only harder. But no country, no law will stop the two of us from loving each other. And that’s what carries us through.

When we met in that restaurant in 2007 we had no idea that we would spend the rest of our lives together, and apart. We had no idea that there would ever be an issue with Jason moving here and us being together. How naïve were we to believe that two people could fall in love and live their life in peace? When Jason began making plans to move here, it became clear that it was not our decision. And that simply isn’t fair.

It’s time to defeat DOMA.

UPDATE: David and Jason learned days before their 6th year anniversary that Jason’s H-1B work visa petition had been rejected. David and Jason once again spent their anniversary apart, with no way of knowing when they will see each other again.
It’s time to repeal DOMA.

Learn more about our story here.

Exiled in South Africa, Dan and Keith Meet with U.S. Consular Officials to Discuss DOMA’s Impact

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My name is Dan Brotman, and I am a 26-year-old dual American/Israeli citizen from Lexington, Massachusetts. For the past two years, I have been living in Cape Town with my South African fiancé, Keith Mienies. I arrived in Cape Town in September 2010 to write my undergraduate honors thesis, and I met Keith towards the end of my three-month stay. I was meant to leave South Africa two weeks after our first date, but wound up extending my ticket by another week so we could spend a full three weeks together. I cried when we said goodbye at the airport, as I did not know if we were ever going to see each other again.

Jerusalem, Israel

Having submitted my thesis and graduated college, I departed South Africa for Israel, where I had previously lived for three years after high school and where I still have good friends. Keith and I kept in touch over Skype, and we decided that he would come visit me in Israel for four days on his way back from a trip to the US. From the moment we saw each other again in the arrivals hall in Tel Aviv, we knew for sure that we wanted to be together. Although we had only known each other for a few months, we both felt that we had to give this relationship a chance, as it is better to try and fail than to never try at all. Keith returned to Israel for a second visit. Shortly thereafter, Keith sponsored me for a Life Partner visa, which the South African Constitutional Court made available to gay and straight unmarried bi-national couples in 1999. (South Africa eventually legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.) I arrived back in Cape Town on April 8, 2011, and have been living here ever since.

Over the past two years, Keith and I have grown a lot together. We moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a house, visited my family in the U.S., and recently adopted a miniature chocolate dachshund named Peanut. We spend time with Keith’s family on a weekly basis, and my parents and sister visited us this past December. Six months ago, I proposed to Keith on our two-year anniversary, and he said yes! We are getting married at the end of November at a wine farm in Stellenbosch, and are looking forward to celebrating our love with our family and friends from across the globe.

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Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), couples like Keith and I are forced to live in exile. Because DOMA bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, I cannot sponsor him for a fiancé or spousal immigrant visa. On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to move back to the US. Each time, DOMA created the painful situation of having to choose between living with my partner or living in my country. Keith and I have the option of getting married in both South Africa and in my home state of Massachusetts, but due to DOMA, neither marriage would be recognized by the federal government.

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I have spent the past several months locating other same-sex bi-national couples living in Cape Town, and we recently held a meeting with the US Consul General and two senior diplomats to discuss our plight. This was the first time ever that a US mission in South Africa (there are three consulates and an embassy) had met with resident same-sex bi-national couples. While our local diplomats were very sympathetic to our situation, there is not much they can do until DOMA is struck down or until LGBT-inclusive immigration reform is passed by the U.S. Congress. Until then, thousands of couples like Keith and I will be stuck abroad indefinitely.

Our fight is not over yet. Keith and I join the growing crowd of binational couples calling on our elected officials, our federal courts, and the court of public opinion to do away with DOMA. We will continue organizing and continue sharing our stories until we can at last have the right to settle in the U.S.

 

VIDEO: 17 Years After DOMA’s Introduction, Binational Couples Continue the Fight to Save their Families

BrianGavernSeventeen years ago, on May 7, 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. At the time, legislators’ primary objective was to express moral disapproval of gays and lesbians. DOMA Section 3, which defines marriage for all federal purposes as between one man and one woman, has caused catastrophic and irreparable harm to American families. Same-sex married couples are barred from 1,138 provisions of federal law that are designed to strengthen families. By contrast, no marriages were actually defended.


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17 years ago, on May 7, 1996, DOMA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate

17 YEARS AFTER THE DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT WAS INTRODUCED, GAY AND LESBIAN BINATIONAL COUPLES ENGAGE PUBLIC IN THE FIGHT TO KEEP THEIR FAMILIES TOGETHER

MARRIED GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES CONTINUE TO BE DENIED ACCESS TO GREEN CARDS AND FIANCÉ(E) VISAS BECAUSE OF FEDERAL LAW

Seventeen years ago, on May 7, 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. At the time, legislators’ primary objective was to express moral disapproval of gays and lesbians. DOMA Section 3, which defines marriage for all federal purposes as between one man and one woman, has caused catastrophic and irreparable harm to American families. Same-sex married couples are barred from 1,138 provisions of federal law that are designed to strengthen families. By contrast, no marriages were actually defended.

For 17 years, DOMA has caused immeasurable financial and emotional hardship for gay and lesbian Americans, particularly those in long-term committed relationships with a foreign national. In Boulder, Colorado, Catriona lives with her spouse, Cathy, a citizen of Ireland. Together they are raising three children. This family lives under constant threat of separation ever since Cathy’s work visa ran out last year.

Other couples, like American, Jesse Goodman and Argentinean, Max Oliva, have been forced to live in exile in London, unable to return home. Others have no alternative but to struggle in long distance relationships indefinitely, traveling across the globe for short visits, sustaining their commitment to one another by Skype and telephone.

The years lost to DOMA will never be regained for these families. Even DOMA’s original sponsor, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr repudiated the discriminatory law in 2009 as an unacceptable infringement on individual liberty. President Clinton, who signed DOMA into law, finally denounced it this past March. With 12 federal court rulings against DOMA in less than three years, and the Obama Administration’s unprecedented commitment to fight DOMA alongside lesbian and gay plaintiffs, many commentators see a Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA as imminent.

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin work on the markup of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that excludes gay and lesbian couples. Senate Republicans have threatened that inclusion of an amendment to add gay families to the bill will ensure that comprehensive immigration reform goes down to defeat. Republicans are once again scapegoating gay Americans, rather than fixing a broken immigration system so that it protects all our families. Because gay and lesbian couples have been left out of immigration reform, everything now rides on a Supreme Court decision on DOMA due in a few weeks.

Despite some optimism, the Court’s final ruling on DOMA won’t be known until the day of the ruling. If the Court upholds DOMA, gay and lesbian Americans with foreign-born partners would have no recourse; couples and families would continue to be torn apart, parents separated from children, and American citizens driven into exile.

During this crucial time, DOMA Project participants are actively engaging with media, elected officials, and their broader communities with the message that their families’ futures hang in the balance. The DOMA Project has arranged for numerous gay and lesbian binational couples across the country to be available for interviews and for telephone and video conference interviews. facebook-may7b630

For more information about today’s announcement, or to schedule an interview, please contact Project Associate Derek Tripp or Lavi Soloway, attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project

 

Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder

Phone: 323-599-6915

[email protected]

 

Derek Tripp, Project Associate

Phone: 646-535-3788

[email protected]

For Eight Years, Jason and Oscar Have Fought For Every Day, Separated By DOMA and Denied Visas

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Jason & Oscar

Eight years ago, I met Oscar, and the moment we met there was magic in the air. We knew something very special was happening.  I had originally booked my visit for 2 weeks, but extended it another two weeks. We spent those weeks getting to know each other in so many ways. We explored many places outside Lima, hiking and playing volley ball on the beach.

One night, 4 days before I was scheduled to leave Peru, Oscar and I decided to explore a local winery in Lurin, a suburb of Lima.  We bought a bottle of wine that night, nearby in a local park some sort of celebration was taking place so we decided to check it out. While there we got some food and then walked in the park, we found a nice secluded bench, opened our wine, and enjoyed our food. It had been a semi-overcast evening as the fog rolled in from the ocean, but as we sat on that bench together the clouds rolled away to reveal a gorgeous full moon. Oscar looked at me and said he never wanted to forget that moment; it was the first time he said, “I love you,”  to which I replied the same. Even now, writing about this after so many years, I still get goose bumps. It truly was the moment.  We knew this was the beginning of of a beautiful relationship.

Needless to say, the goodbye and my subsequent return to the U.S. was very very emotional for us both. Every year after that I would return to Peru, feeling both sad and happy the moment I boarded my flight in LA.  I feel happy because I know the happiness waiting for me, but sad because I also know that weeks later we will have to say goodbye again.

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We have been unable to get Oscar a visa to even travel to the U.S.  He studied at Cordon Bleu in Lima, graduating at the top of his class. He was invited by a student exchange program and the Canyon Ranch in Tuscon, AZ to work in the U.S.  They made a great offer.  Everything was set, but when he went to the American Embassy in Lima, the consular officer denied his application without even looking at his documents.  We suspect this happened because the very first time Oscar applied for a tourist visa in 2005, he was asked where he would be staying and what his relationship was to me since I intended to support him initially.  He truthfully told the officer that I was his boyfriend.  Hearing laughter in response, Oscar was told, “well, you are not going to see your boyfriend.”  And with that, a dream was crushed.  But we won’t give up.

Following Oscar’s unsuccessful interview, I traveled to Lima each year.  Oscar and I would chat almost daily on the phone and Skype sometimes for hours. Sadly, in 2009, I was diagnosed with cancer.  While I was going through treatments, I could not travel.  This was especially difficult for Oscar because he wanted so badly to be here with me, to take care of me.  We both cried lot.  After what seemed like forever, I was told that my cancer was in remission in November, 2011.  At last, in 2012, I was finally able to travel and be with the man I love.  To this day, it seems hard to comprehend why my government or anyone would want to keep couples like Oscar and me apart, especially when we most need to be with one another.

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Oscar and I  have already celebrated the union of our love in our hearts and minds a long time ago. Now we want the freedom to express and live that in front of our family and friends in a ceremony the legally unites us as one.  Once DOMA is history, we will finally be able to live our dream of sharing our commitment in a publicly recognized marriage.

I have great hopes that in 2013 our long awaited dream of marrying and being together will be fulfilled.  We eagerly await the day when we will be able to share and live our lives each day as a couple.  I am happy that we have a president who believes in equality for all, including the right to marry the person we love. With all three branches of the government considering the fate of DOMA, we know it’s a matter of time.  But, our own experience has shown that we can’t take time for granted.  That is why we are sharing our story with you today.  We need to make sure that our elected officials and judiciary are well aware of the impact that DOMA has on couples like us.  It’s time for DOMA to go.  Please share our story far and wide to keep up the pressure for DOMA’s demise.

 

Brian and Alonso Have Endured Five Years of Expensive Travel Between Kansas City and Peru, Separated by DOMA

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Brian and Alonso

In late summer of 2008, I began talking to Alonso online on a chat site. Alonso was working at a ski resort in Mt. Hood, Oregon on a cultural exchange visa. I was living in Kansas City. We quickly grew together and realized that we not only had a lot in common but were also drawn to each other. We soon decided to meet in person. We arranged a trip in early 2009, and Alonso flew to see me in Kansas City. We had a wonderful time. Knowing that our time was limited by the short duration of his visa, we were able to arrange a second trip so that he could see me in Kansas City before he returned to Peru. The trip was brief but well worth it to both of us. By the time he got on the plane, we knew that we wanted to stay together.

As we stayed together, we soon found out that the cards were stacked against us. Plane tickets between Kansas City and Peru are quite expensive. Yet, in the summer of 2009, I was able to fly to Peru to see Alonso and meet his family. We had a wonderful time together and life was very good for those days; however, my looming departure date was a sadness for us both. We did not give up though, and that winter Alonso was again able to obtain a cultural exchange Visa to work at a supermarket in Colorado. I had missed Alonso a lot and flew to Houston so that he and I would be on the same flight to Colorado so that we would have some moments together before his godparents picked him up at the airport. We kept in contact by cell phone and online while he was in Colorado. At the end of his trip we again arranged for him to visit me in Kansas City before returning to Peru. Once more we were delighted to be together.

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After Alonso’s return to Peru, we stayed in contact almost daily through Skype and were falling more deeply in love. Toward the end of the summer in 2010, I was again able to travel to Peru to see Alonso. We had a great time and knew that we would keep fighting for more moments together. However, our visits were becoming harder due to the cost of international flights, and we both needed to save money for future trips. Alonso was having trouble finding work in Peru and spent most of the next two years working on cruise ships to earn money to save for himself and his family. We did not let this stop us either as we kept in constant contact through email and were occasionally able to see each other on Skype or talk on the phone. I sent him letters weekly and he was also able to send some as well even though he had very little time other than to work and to sleep.

Our love was strengthened, not weakened by being physically apart. Alonso later applied for a tourist visa so that he could come and spend a month with me in Kansas City. We enjoyed many sites and special moments but the best moments were not because of what we were doing but simply because we were together. More determined than ever to get with Alonso, I have once more purchased airline tickets to visit Peru in late summer of this year. As with all of our trips, we are both looking forward to it. Being apart is hard on both of us even though we talk and see each other nightly on Skype. There is no comparison to being with the one you love and not separated by a computer screen and thousands of miles.

Marriage should be a fundamental right to everyone, but DOMA prohibits me from exercising that right. DOMA prevents me from beginning the process of sponsoring Alonso to emigrate to the United States as my spouse–a right enjoyed by thousands of heterosexual couples every year. If it weren’t for DOMA, we could have had a fiancé visa approved by now. We have written Senators, U.S. Representatives, and looked for any and all legal options that would allow him to stay here and start a life together with me. Yet, every road we go down leads to a brick wall because gay couples are not afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples in the United States of America.

Our story is one of love and also of loss. Because of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), the time we have to be together is limited to a few weeks per year. We’re forced to spend large sums of money just to be together for that limited amount of time. Because of this, we lack the stability that a heterosexual couple would come to expect in our situation. Nonetheless, we have grown in our love, and we have known that we wanted to spend our lives together from the beginning. This love motivates us to keep going through the most difficult of times. It also motivates us to raise our voice and share our story. Please share our story far and wide to raise awareness of DOMA’s cruel consequences for gay and lesbian binational couples like us. By sharing stories like ours we continue to change hearts and minds, ensuring a swift end to DOMA and a smooth transition to the post-DOMA reality.

Thank you for taking the time to read and share our story. By doing so, you bring us one day closer to Alonso’s and my dream of building a life together.

I love you, Alonso. -Brian

Struggling to Adapt to a Place that Won’t be Home, DOMA Exiles, Rowen and Anna, Share Their Story

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Anna and Rowen

Anna and I met in March of 2010. I was living in San Francisco, working as a painter. One day, in the middle of a painting, I was looking at an international dating website while the paint dried. Anna’s pictures stopped me and then I read her profile–an artist who could “turn my hand to anything”. Then I saw where she lived—Leeds, U.K. That was that, I thought, and went back to my painting.

But then I kept going back to her pictures and profile.  Out of everyone I’d seen on the website, Anna still stood out.  So I decided to write.

“Who knows,” I thought, “anything’s possible.”  I wrote her that I was an artist also and talked about my art.

I had planned a trip to Berlin in August of 2010.  I hadn’t been out of the U.S. since 1986.  I had missed Berlin on that trip and wanted to see the art and what the city was like. I had several friends in San Francisco who were from Berlin.  I thought it would be a possible way to meet Anna since it was not far from the U.K.  I mentioned that in my message too.

A week went by and no response, so I thought she wasn’t interested.

It turns out that she was not a member of the website and could not message me back- luckily I had sent my email address when I wrote her and that is ultimately where I saw her message. From that day on we started writing, at least once a day, talking about our art and what we wanted to do with it.  We talked about what we had done, sharing pictures of each other and our families.  We had so much in common, especially in music.  After a week we decided to talk on the phone.  We already knew what each other would sound like.  It continued to be amazing because it was like we were together from the start.

We continued talking at least twice a day everyday despite the 8 hour time difference.When August came we decided on a hotel in Berlin and made a plan to meet and spend 8 days together. We had waited five months for this and couldn’t wait.

I was in Schiphol airport in the passport line when Anna ran up to me.  We got on the plane together for Berlin and spent an incredible 8 days together, exploring each other and Berlin. Anna and I are over 40.  We had both come out in the 80’s and had many relationships between us. Never before had either one of us wanted to marry or make a lifelong commitment to anyone else. We knew we had to be together.

How? I had limited time off, and Anna has her own small business making headpieces.  Of course, flying back and forth is expensive.  We did not want the separation.  We wanted to settle and have a home together.  The U.S. government does not recognize our relationships.  We had no legal options or way for Anna to be in the U.S. for very long, even though we wanted to live in San Francisco.

Fortunately, the U.K. has recognized same sex relationships for immigration purposes since 1997, and more formally, broadly recognized same-sex couples by offering civil partnership status in 2005.  Sadly, the only “choice” we had at the time was for me to leave and immigrate to the U.K.  It’s a decision I was forced into.  Little did I know what an emotional roller-coaster it can be to leave behind everyone and everything you have known your entire life.

I took more time off from my job in San Francisco in November 2010 to fly to Leeds for 10 days. I met Anna’s mother and sister and explored Leeds for the first time. I continued visiting Leeds, taking more time off, since it was impossible for Anna to come to the U.S.  We continued planning our lives together.

We went to a solicitor on one of my visits to see what we would have to do.  Sadly, he was so negative towards us. As Lavi Soloway discussed in The DOMA Project’s green card workshop on April 14, it is important to find an attorney that gives you a good vibe.  Though rather risky, I ultimately decided to do my own immigration paperwork.

When Anna and I weren’t together we were counting the days until we would be together again. To save money after all the thousands of dollars spent on travel, time off, visas, and living expenses, I moved out of my apartment in San Francisco.  I moved in with a neighbor looking for a housemate and got rid of everything, much to the disbelief of those who wondered how I could leave it all.

In February 2012, I applied for my British Proposed Civil Partnership Visa.  (In a post-DOMA universe, we might otherwise have applied for a Fiancee Visa for Anna to join me in the U.S.)  To apply for the Proposed Civil Partnership Visa, I submitted 9 lbs of relationship evidence and got my visa one month later.  This is the first visa.  It allowed me to enter the U.K. and register my civil partnership. We registered our civil partnership on July 2nd 2012.  Soon thereafter, I applied for and received my 2-year residence permit July 5th.  In celebration we had a reception on July 14th with family and friends.

Anna and Rowen's Wedding Kiss

Anna and Rowen’s Wedding Kiss

Because of the distance and expense, I didn’t expect or invite many friends, but my closest friend and her partner were able to come. That’s something you give up: being able to call a friend to meet for dinner because she’s 5,000 miles away. That’s just one example of the reality that we DOMA exiles live with every day.

There is no way you can prepare yourself for actually living in another country.  It’s not a visit. This is real life.  You leave it all and move completely into someone else’s country, someone else’s culture, someone else’s family and friends.  You’re happy and excited that you can be together, but that’s all you can be. You are given the right to work, but there are so few opportunities–it’s a tiny place in the middle of a stubborn recession.

People often ask me why I’m here, being from the U.S. which is so often admired as the land of opportunity.  People find it odd that we are not allowed to live together in the U.S.  Having come from such a beautiful open city, there would be so much available for both of us.  It’s where we want to be.  There is opportunity my wife has never known; there is no comparison.  I want that for her.

Being here, I’ve struggled to integrate, which means we can’t really settle into what we know as a “normal life”. As someone who worked in the U.S. for over 30 years, it’s important to meet people, learn about the culture, and live our lives together, and having something of our own.  Without that, life starts to feel very unstable and insecure.

Anna and Rowemn Brighton Pier Nov 2012

Anna and Rowen on the Brighton Pier

So what now?  I have the most beautiful supportive wife I could ever imagine.  Our love and commitment has never wavered, and there is no question that we will remain together. But the reality of finances, homesickness,  distance, worry of being able to re-establish ourselves back in the U.S. can be overwhelming at times.

Encouraged by the sudden focus on DOMA and its impact on gay and lesbian binational couples like us, we have decided to speak out and add ours to the stories already shared through the DOMA Project.  These stories have a very real impact on those that read them.  Far too many people in the U.S. remain unaware of the sorts of decisions couples like us have been forced to make to keep our family together.  As the Supreme Court considers DOMA’s fate, we want to make sure we’ve won over the court of public opinion.  The best way to do that is by getting people to read our stories.  After all, I believe a large majority of Americans would be outraged by the fact that I (an American) has had to go through so much just to be with Anna, whom I love more than anyone else.  Please reach out to others or even share your own story.  Together, we will make sure that lesbian and gay couples falling in love today will not be forced into exile.

Forced to Travel Between the U.S. and Australia to Care for Parents, Retirees Susan & Julie Share their Story

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Susan & Julie, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

I never intended to fall in love with a non-U.S. citizen. As a naturalized U.S. citizen myself, I was fully aware of the fact that, married or not, my Australian partner, Julie, and I would face multiple hurdles in trying to stay together. A mutual friend introduced us online in 2006. I was living and working in Hong Kong and Julie was in Australia at the time.

We sometimes hesitate to say we met online, as that implies we met on a dating site, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Our mutual friend was having surgery and introduced us to each other so we could share any information we had about this friend’s recovery. We started writing to each other and kept realizing we had a lot in common. We were both musicians, we both knitted (!), we both had similar upbringings, and we both like the outdoors. For two years we just emailed. Then, along came Skype. Julie had a webcam, but I didn’t. On our first Skype session (still just friends), Julie didn’t realize I could see her since she couldn’t see me! I bought a webcam pretty quickly after that!

Susan & Julie at Bash Bish Creek, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

After 2 ½ years of writing and Skyping, we finally met each other in person in 2009. I knew that Julie was smitten, but I also knew that the binational thing was going to be a problem, so I resisted falling in love. My resolve lasted for about 12 hours after we met. It did not take long for both of us to realize that our friendship was going to take on new boundaries. About three months later, Australian laws changed so that Julie could sponsor me for residency as her partner. For the next year, we carefully kept documentation to show we were a couple. A year later, the 5-inch stack of documentation was submitted. Even though the Australian residence permit I received was a temporary one, having that in my passport was both exciting and reassuring. Two years later, it would became a permanent visa!

We both took early retirement to make it all work and to be together. We are of an age that makes it difficult to get a working visa, given the ageism rampant in our society. This is one more reason why existing immigration alternatives offered to U.S. citizens are not sufficient for gay and lesbian binational couples like us.

But that is only half the story. My parents are elderly citizens and have been in poor health. Even though Julie has a Masters in Nursing, and could have been a huge help for me in caring for my parents, we’ve had to tread very carefully in bringing her to the U.S. I have had to leave Julie behind in Australia while I have come every six weeks or so to the U.S. to care for them.

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Susan & Julie, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

Julie and I are lucky to have loving families-of-origin. While some of our siblings are more conservative than others, they all love us. Susan’s parents have been “in the loop” for a long time, and not all of that time was easy. But they have been more than supportive as we’ve discussed immigration woes, marriage plans, and our future.  In fact, Julie has chosen to take my family name as her own. When Julie tentatively asked the question of my parents, they immediately said, “We’d be honored!”

Americans who learn about the unfair limitations DOMA imposes on us have been flabbergasted that Julie is not considered my spouse for immigration purposes. Granted, we live in New York state, which is certainly a more liberal place to live, but most heterosexual people have no idea that even though we are legally married, Julie still must take huge risks when she comes into the United States on a non-immigrant visa. Australians can’t believe it either. We’ve used their confusion to teach and explain about the discriminatory nature of DOMA. I believe it has made a difference!

In August of 2010, just after New York passed marriage equality legislation, we contacted a well-known LGBT immigration attorney in New York, hoping she would tell us we could go ahead and marry. Imagine how dashed we felt when she told us not to marry. She explained how Julie would risk being banned from the U.S. for three years if she were to answer truthfully about being married to a United States citizen. It wouldn’t matter that she had a return ticket, or that she had a mum, son, and family in Australia, along with rental property. If they knew she were married, they would assume she had intent to immigrate. We have carefully managed Julie’s entrance to the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program, but it has meant that I often visit the U.S. on my own. For retired people, my frequent trips between the U.S. and Australia have really put a drain on the pocketbook, not to mention the strain on our hearts.

Wedding rings, courtesy of B Docktor Photography

Courtesy of B Docktor Photography

Fast forward to December 2012, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Windsor v. United States. We read every amicus brief, every SCOTUSblog entry, joined Immigration Equality, started following The DOMA Project, poured through websites pro and con. And we decided the time was right. We set our date for March 2013, and held our ceremony in a beautiful New York State Forest near our home. It was a crisp (OK, freezing) day, and it was supposed to snow/rain in the afternoon. Imagine our delight when the sun shone brightly throughout our ceremony!

On May 1st, the 2014 Diversity Visa Lottery results are out and on June 28th, the U.S. Supreme Court will let us know if we will have Liberty and Justice for All on this side of the pond. I am hopeful that I will soon be able to sponsor Julie as my spouse for permanent residence in the U.S., and that we will finally be able to tell the Visa Waiver Program good-bye.

In the meantime, we must and will continue to raise awareness about DOMA’s unfair impact on families like ours. The more the public and our elected officials know about stories like ours, the more we change hearts and minds, paving the way for a more favorable Supreme Court decision and a smooth transition to a future without DOMA. We hope you will join us and the many other couples who have already shared their stories with the DOMA Project by distributing our story or even by sharing your own. We are a family. And we will continue to fight for all families.

Exiled to Paris Because of DOMA, Ruben and Bruno Share Their Dream to Return to the U.S.

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Ruben and Bruno

My name is Ruben and I am a citizen of the United States of America.  Over 6 years ago, Bruno and I met in Los Angeles and it may sound cliché but it was “love at first sight”. Bruno is from Belgium and was in the US on a work visa, working hard at managing a US business here. I was a successful real estate agent selling beautiful homes in Beverly Hills.

We really “clicked” and it was just a matter of months before we moved in together. We even got a small dog and spent wonderful weekends in our California desert house.

After a year of living together, Bruno asked me if I would move to Europe with him. He felt the need to go back to his roots for a little while and be close to his family as he had been away for so many years. I didn’t hesitate and told him I would be up for it, as long as I could stay close to him.  We were really in love, and being separated was not something we could ever conceive.

When he found a job in Paris, we were both excited to move to the “City of Lights”. Paris is an amazing city to visit but moving here from Los Angeles wasn’t easy. I didn’t speak French, and the culture is very different; but I was up to discovering new things as long as I was with my loved one.

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We married in Belgium in 2008 where gay marriage had been legal for many years and so it was nothing out of the ordinary for the Belgians. I got to know Bruno’s family and got close with everyone.  We choose the Greek islands as our honeymoon destination, and we will forever keep wonderful memories of that trip.  Really, it was an amazing feeling to get married as a gay couple, something I never dreamed would happen in my lifetime.

Though my adjustment to our new life in France was not easy, I eventually learned French.  One nice thing about France is that even though gay marriage is not yet recognized there, French immigration law prohibits families from being separated–seems pretty obvious, right? So I was able to get residency and legally work. After a few months I joined the real estate company I used to work for in California as they were opening a branch in Paris. And after selling beautiful homes in Beverly Hills, I was lucky enough to be selling amazing apartments in Paris.  We know that many couples in a similar situation of exile have not been so fortunate.

After almost 5 years of living in Europe, we both missed the US and wanted to come back.  I especially wanted to return since I was never able to completely adapt here. We were planning on moving to NYC as there were work opportunities in both our fields and being on the East Coast would make it easy to go visit our family in Belgium.

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As I am U.S. citizen, it had never occurred to me that I would not be able to bring my husband with me to my own country but because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that is the case. Even though Bruno has a terrific resume and has no problem getting job offers from U.S. employers, our broken immigration system makes it incredibly difficult for him to get a visa these days.

If my sister had a Belgian husband, she could sponsor him for a green card without any problem, but because DOMA was signed into law in 1996, I now have to choose between my own country and my own husband. This is not a matter of a traditional institution of marriage but a matter of equality and civil rights.  It is now time to strike down DOMA.

Friends and family in the U.S. and here in Europe always seem surprised when we tell them about the situation we are facing with DOMA. As marriage equality is recognized in more U.S. states, people think that it would be easy for us to move to one of those states and have our marriage recognize there.  Sadly, this is not the case.  However, by sharing our story, we continue to increase awareness of DOMA’s unjust consequences for binational couples and push for change.  Please join us by sharing our story with your family and friends.  The more hearts and minds we’re able to reach between now and the upcoming Supreme Court ruling, the better our post-DOMA outlook will be.  There is no time to lose.

Forced to Move Back and Forth Between Los Angeles and Johannesburg, Avril and Rika Share Why DOMA Must Go

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Avril and Rika

Rika and I met in 1997 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we were both born and raised. We are both film and television editors. I had been on my own for twenty years and had begun to believe that was how it would always be for me. Then, I walked into an edit suite one day and there she was! We worked on a few productions together and found that we enjoyed the experience tremendously. I guess it was inevitable that, in the year 2000, romance would sneak into our relationship. We moved in together in 2001.  Following a traumatic experience that made in living in South Africa really difficult for me, I applied for an EB-1 immigrant visa (one of the rare employment based “green card” categories for which you can self-petition, Employment Based First Preference Alien of Extraordinary Ability)  and it was granted four years later. In 2006, we came to the U.S. and I was admitted as a lawful permanent resident with my green card. We loved it here – being out and about and not having to rush home before dark. We could walk everywhere and, for the first time in our lives, we felt free. On that trip, we met with my immigration lawyer who told us that there was no way I could sponsor Rika as my partner. If we were a heterosexual couple, none of this would be an issue; Rika would have been eligible for a “green card” as my spouse, as a “derivative” family member when my EB-1 petition was granted, or later I could have petitioned for her.  But of course, as a same-sex couple we had none of those rights because our relationship was invisible under the law. The fact that we had been in a committed relationship for six years, had no value in the eyes of immigration law. Therefore, becoming an F-1 (student) visa seemed to be the only option for Rika, until we figured out some other solution that would keep us together in the same country.

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Following our first visit to the U.S., we went back to South Africa to pack up our belongings for our move to the U.S. At the end of May 2007, we began our new life here, together. Even though she already had two university degrees, Rika enrolled at a U.S. college and studied for 18 months. She was then allowed to work for a year after graduation (this employment authorization is known as “post completion optional practical training”). After a few months, the anxiety set in. What would happen when the year was up? We had already spent our savings on her education and the move across continents, how could we make this work for any length of time? The strain on our relationship was often almost too much to bear. 

Avril and Rika

So, in her late 30s, Rika became the oldest intern at a large company! Like many foreign students, her internship led to a job offer.   Her vast experience in post-production led the company to agree to apply for an H1B work visa – everything looked good to go! But the H1B numbers ran out (they are only available in limited number each year and the supply is often quickly exhausted) and we missed the boat. We were devastated. We tried to stay positive. We focused on our relationship, our love, our commitment to each other. Over cardboard boxes and packing tape, we celebrated our 9th year of being together.

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And we knew that even if we went somewhere else together, I could not leave for an extended period (we were told to limit my absences to less than six months at a stretch) to maintain my status as a permanent resident of the United States (we did not want to jeopardize that). We also knew this would mean we may have to be apart. We had been out of the country for about three months when Rika was offered her old job back – this time the H1B petition was submitted early enough and there were still visas available. We came back to Los Angeles in late 2010 and in September 2011, I became an American citizen. It was a huge event in my life, but it was bitter-sweet. Instead of the two of us standing side by side pledging allegiance to the flag, we were separated by immigration policies that refuse to see us as a family. We are in the process of applying for Rika’s second 3-year work visa. The strain has been enormous:  Rika feels that she constantly has to push herself to do better than everybody else, because if she loses her job, we lose the life we’ve built, the plans we’ve made, and goals we’ve set for our lives together.  However, now that I am a United States citizen I am more keenly aware than ever that I should be able to end this anxiety and stress by petitioning for Rika as my spouse, as any other American citizen would do.  Yet DOMA prevents that.

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Rika is the love of my life. I am in my mid-50s and cannot keep starting over in a different country. This is my home and now the country of which I am a citizen. This is a country that I have grown to love and where I voted proudly for the first time last year.  All the same, I am all too aware that DOMA’s continued existence means that my 13-year commitment to Rika is not fully respected in the country we’ve come to call home.  

Joining the many brave DOMA Project couples who have shared their stories against DOMA, we have decided to share our story to help raise awareness of this injustice.  Every time a story is shared, we continue to build momentum for marriage equality and equal recognition of our relationships at the federal level.  The greater our momentum, the more likely is a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court to be.  So, please forward our story to your family and friends via email, Facebook, twitter, or any other means!  Together, we will make sure that laws like DOMA will never again cause the kind of inhumane circumstances that we and other couples have had to suffer.  With much determination, I know that we can and will make a difference.   I look forward to the day that I will file a petition for Rika’s green card as my spouse, but until that day happens we are both committed to working with all binational couples to bring about change by winning over the hearts and minds of most people who have never pondered the extraordinary harm caused by DOMA to our families.  We will win, and we will not stop fighting until we do.

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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.