Paul and Micha Refuse to be Uprooted from their Colorado Community, Share Their Story in the Fight Against DOMA

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Paul & Micha

My name is Paul Dankers and I am from St. Croix Falls, WI.  I grew up as the fourth in a family of six children.  I was raised in a relatively fundamentalist Christian home, went to Valley Christian School, and attended the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church with my family three times a week.  I pursued music for my career, playing piano, violin, flute, and guitar as well as singing, arranging and composing.  I have a Master’s Degree in choral music education and taught in the public schools for 8 years before accepting my current job as music director at Snowmass Chapel, near Aspen, Colorado.

My husband’s name is Michael “Micha” Schoepe.  He is from Munich, Germany.  He was also raised in an Evangelical Christian home, the second of five children.  He holds degrees in Music and Theatre as well as in Marketing.  He was a professional singer with the group, vocaldente, when I met him.

It was almost four years ago exactly; the phone rang and the voice at the other end of the line belonged to John Martin Sommers.  John is a Snowmass Village resident who wrote a song for John Denver that many people will remember, “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy.”  John explained to me that “vocaldente,” a German a cappella group would be performing his popular song.  He was hoping this group could do a concert in Snowmass Village so that he could hear them sing his song.  He asked me if I would be willing to host this group’s concert at Snowmass Chapel?  I said, “You bet!”

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On our wedding night with our sisters, Lisa and Dorothea.

When vocaldente showed up at Snowmass Chapel for the concert, I enlisted Micha to help me move the altar furniture.  We would later remember that it was while carrying the altar that we fell in  “love at first sight” as we say, or “Liebe auf den ersten Blick” as they say in German.  About a month after the concert, Micha and I began an e-mail correspondence that totaled 630 pages over the course of the following year.  I did not see him again for 11 months.  It would be more than a year after our second meeting before he was able to extricate himself from vocaldente and move to the USA to be with me.

We both had a very rosy outlook about how easy it would be for him to move here.  Neither of us could have guessed how difficult it would be even for Micha to spend time with me on temporary basis.  He came here initially on a visa as a “visitor for business” that was extended so he could stay for a year.  During that time we were married in Iowa (because Colorado currently has a law on the books prohibiting same-sex marriage).  As Micha’s stay as a visitor came to an end he was able to get a trainee visa in marketing through Blue Tent Marketing in El Jebel, CO.  He is currently in the United States temporarily on that visa, which will expire in January.  All in all, we have already spent several thousand dollars trying to keep Micha here for these increments of time—money which we couldn’t afford, since until this year, Micha was not able to earn money in the USA.  Our living expenses and these visa fees all had to come out of my music director’s salary at Snowmass Chapel.  It will probably be another year or two before our finances can recover from that first year.

It would be hard to clearly explain to anybody how many ways the lack of marriage equality has hurt us in both tangible and intangible ways.  Let me begin with the tax code.  For the first year that Micha was here, I was the sole “bread winner” in our family.  I should have been able to claim Micha as a dependent on my taxes, but I was not able to do that.  Because of DOMA, I could not petition for Micha for a “green card” as my spouse.  This meant that he had to find an employment-based solution, and in this economy that is nearly impossible—even for a highly educated, highly qualified person like him.  Because Micha did not have a green card, there was no employment available to him and that cost us dearly.  People would offer him jobs, but he had to turn them down because he was not eligible to work.  When we were married, we could not have our ceremony in Colorado.  This meant that almost none of our friends could attend the ceremony and it also meant that we incurred very large travel costs that we could not afford.

We are fighting to defeat DOMA because, for us, like all married gay binational couples, everything is at stake: Micha’s visa will expire and if we run out of options.  We do not want to be forced to leave the country to stay together.  It is amazing to me how many people will ask us why we don’t just move to Germany.  I find it astonishing that this thoughtless solution seems like a viable answer to people who don’t stop to consider all of the implications:  employment, housing, possessions, friendships, language and cultural barriers and so on and so forth.  Moving to another country can be a daunting experience.  What is so frustrating is that this is a needless waste of our time and energy—who gains from our hardship? Who gains because the U.S. government refuses to recognize my legal marriage to my husband?  Nobody.

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Saying “I do” at our wedding.

I find it inconceivable that my own country values us so little that it would force us to consider finding another country in which to live, forcing me, as an American citizen, into self-exile solely because I’m gay.   I have a Master’s Degree—an investment in human collateral—with so much to contribute to my community.  I personally founded Lomira Community Theatre and the Snowmass Village Winter Concert Series.  I am the music director at Snowmass Chapel and the interim director of the Aspen Choral Society.  I have directed productions for Theatre Aspen and Aspen Community Theatre, and I have performed solo roles in numerous local groups.  Since Micha first visited America, he  has founded “Theatre Hotspot” and has appeared in numerous concerts and theatre pieces.  He also leads singing at Snowmass Chapel on a regular basis—all volunteer, since he can’t be paid.

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We just want to be together and to continue contributing to the community where we live.  We aren’t asking for “special” rights or unique consideration.  We have many hopes, dreams, and plans that we want to make, but without the stability that straight couples take for granted, reaching for those dreams is needlessly costly and complicated, and most often, out of reach. We do not want to put our lives on hold; and we should not have to wait one more day to be equal.  As the media prematurely proclaim that gay marriage has already won, the uncertainty looming on our horizon shows that until DOMA is officially off the books, we have not yet won.  By sharing our story with friends and family, we are shaping public opinion in a way that will help ensure a swift and certain end to DOMA.  Our elected officials and judiciary need to hear our voices and our stories now more than ever.  We urge you to join us by sharing our story (or by sharing your own).  We also encourage you to visit the DOMA Project to find out more ways to get involved.

Celebrating 18th Anniversary: Allen and Jean-Francois in Exile Call for Humanitarian Parole, End to DOMA

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Allen and Jean-Francois

It was a very warm Los Angeles day in June 1995 and I was going to the gay pride parade and festival with my friends. I had a lot of friends in Los Angeles and we used to go places and do things together. I had been single for years and had basically decided to remain single unless I met someone very special, someone that would make my life better. I wanted true love and nothing less would do. On our way home from the festival my friends wanted to stop in this little local bar, so in we went and there stood this tall, handsome guy with beautiful blue eyes. I said, “Hi my name is Allen,” and he gave me a big smile and said his name was Jean-Francois. We started talking and he had the nicest French accent. He seemed really nice. From that moment on, and for the last 18 years, I would not be alone; love had finally found me.

Our life in Los Angeles was splendid. We both had jobs, lots of friends, a love for the city, and a wonderful dog named Zelda the Doberman. We just enjoyed our life together. We had saved and really worked hard to buy a condo. After selling our condo we purchased an amazing mid-century modern fixer home. For three years we worked on our house every weekend until it was completely renovated. We were happy being together and really enjoyed our life; it was like a dream come true. The life we created was the life we wanted and had worked so hard to create. Little did we know our life was soon going to change drastically and not in a good way.

We shared an office in the house where Jean-Francois did his writing and I worked in real estate. Jean-Francois was a writer for French magazines and newspapers. He was in the US on a media visa that was renewable every five years and sponsored by his employer in France. I had worked most of my life in hotel management but had recently changed careers to become a real estate agent and really enjoyed it. Then it happened, Jean-Francois received a letter from his employer in France notifying him that the magazine (the sponsor for his visa) was closing down. Without his work visa he could not legally stay in the US.
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We went to see an immigration attorney thinking there must be some way we can get Jean-Francois the right to stay in the US. The attorney advised us that because of the so called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) we basically had two choices. We could move to France (where Jean-Francois would be able to sponsor me as his partner) or we could separate. There was no way were going to separate. We were happy together.  We had been together for over 10 years already.

So, we sold our home, left the city we loved, left our friends, left our old life behind, and moved to the island of Saint Martin which is French and Dutch. We chose Saint Martin because it is the closest French island to the United States. My mother by this time was in her 80’s and I did not want to be too far away from her. There was also the financial concern that I would be required to fly back to the US every 90 days until I obtained a Carte De Sejour (French green card). According to the French law you can obtain a Carte de Sejour one year after you are PACS’d (French civil union). We arrived in Saint Martin in May 2006 and had our civil union (PACS) in June 2006.

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One year later, we had to go Saint Martin Immigration to apply for my Carte De Sejour so I would have the right to stay and work in Saint Martin. We had spoken to other people on the island and knew we would have to arrive at immigration very early at 3 o’clock in the morning so we were far up enough in the line to speak to someone at the immigration office between 8 am and 9 am. Well, the first time the window was closed in front of our face so we had to go back the next night at 3 am and this time we did get to speak with someone in the immigration office around 8:30 am in the morning. The person told us we were misinformed and I needed to fly back to Los Angeles and apply for a French visa there at the French Consulate. We knew if I did fly back there was the possibility the visa could be denied. At this point we realized that this small island had not had gay couples apply for the right to stay and work based on their relationship. We needed to hire an attorney in Paris to write a letter on our behalf to the local immigration office clearly stating what the law is. The local immigration people said they wanted a judge in France to make a legal judgment on our case before they would issue my Carte De Sejour, the judge ruled in our favor.  Close to two years after our arrival, I no longer had to spend loads of money to fly back to the US every three months; I was able to stay.

This May will be our 7th year living on this island and it has been hard. We have very few friends here and feel isolated, career potential is very limited here, and it’s expensive to live here. I have applied to all the hotels to try to get a job here but my French work papers are not honored on the Dutch side of the island where everyone speaks English and I do not speak French well enough to work in a hotel on the French side of the island.  I have managed to get work managing a few vacation rental condos which helps us get by. My husband manages a small boutique hotel here carrying the majority of the burden of supporting us both. At times he feels bad, guilty, like it’s his fault we have to live here because he is not an American. I tell him it’s not his fault; discrimination against us is not our own doing. Discriminatory laws need to be overturned or repealed. The important thing is that we are still together, and we are empowered to help undo the discrimination against gay and lesbian binational couples by sharing our story today.

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Some people have asked me what it’s like to live in paradise surrounded by so much beauty? I wish I could see the beauty here, I really do. Many people dream of living on a Caribbean island, but this was never our dream. I feel like a large piece of our life was stolen from us, and our life has been placed on hold indefinitely. I have written my representatives many times, written the President, written every person I thought could help change this situation, and signed every petition I could for years. Sadly, back in 2006, we had no other option but forced exile. However, after nearly a decade of relentless activism in solidarity with tens of thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples, things have finally started to change. DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) deportations have virtually ceased and efforts like The DOMA Project are actively advocating for much-needed interim policies like the abeyance of green card petitions and implementation of humanitarian parole for the foreign partners of gay and lesbian Americans. Humanitarian parole in particular would allow Jean-Francois and me to resume the life we left behind in Los Angeles, to resume our dream. As the fate of DOMA is considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, the time for humanitarian parole is now.  We have been forced to put off our dream for too long; time is too valuable.

Our 18-year anniversary of being together is in June. Our 7 year French civil union anniversary is also in June, and our 2 year wedding Anniversary in Massachusetts is in July. This year it would be great if we could celebrate all of our anniversaries in the United States and be allowed to stay. The Supreme Court has our life and our future in their hands and I hope they strike down the discriminatory DOMA. In the meantime, we will continue to do our part by sharing our story and informing others about the cruel consequences of DOMA.  Everyone from your next door neighbor to Chief Justice Roberts needs to hear about the lives of couples like us who have never hurt anyone and love each other very much.  In the end, our lives and our dreams are at stake.  Please join us in fighting for our future, humanitarian parole, and an end to DOMA.  We want to come back home!

Unwilling to Accept DOMA Separation or Exile, Brad Files a Fiancé Visa Petition Now to be Reunited with Chris

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Brad and Chris

Chris and I met on Facebook a few years ago through a friend suggestion.  Even though he was from Uruguay and I was living in Michigan, we shared a lot of common interests, so I sent him a friend request.  We started out as friends with a love for gaming, especially XBox, and similar tastes in music. Like far too many Americans, I was unaware of how DOMA affects gay and lesbian Americans with foreign partners.  Though I knew that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) existed, I had no clue what impact it would have on us.

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Last year, I traveled to see Chris four times.  Our first meeting was in early April.  I spent the Easter holiday with him and his mother.  This was my first international trip and getting my passport was exciting for me.  It is a true privilege to have an American passport, allowing one to travel freely to almost anywhere in the world.  Sadly, not everyone has that privilege.  As an Uruguayan national, Chris needs a visa to come to the United States.

Prior to my first visit, we had Skyped and exchanged several e-mails, pictures, and texts but there is nothing like meeting the love of your life face-to-face.  After my eighteen long hours of travel, I was exhausted and sweaty.  Being unfamiliar with immigration and customs, it was a process just to get through that line and finally reach the concourse where I saw him for the first time.  We rushed to each other and gave each other a big hug.  I apologized for being “sweaty” but he had no problem with that.  He was a gentleman and took my luggage and then we left the airport to catch a bus.  He took my hand and we kissed for the first time.  It was spectacular and I knew then this was going to be someone really special in my life.

After my first heartbreaking journey back home, I decided to leave earlier for my visit the following month in May.  That visit was as great as the first as we really started to get to know each other and strengthen the foundation of our love.  On May 12, I asked Mama Rosa (Christian’s mother) for permission to marry him.  After her acceptance, I then asked him to marry me and he accepted.

Wanting to visit me in the United States, Chris applied for a visitor visa in June and was denied.  This disheartened and saddened us, but our relationship was strong enough to face that set back.  I again went back in September, during my birthday, for another good visit.

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My last visit was in December for Christmas and New Year’s.  What a difference it is in Uruguay as December is the beginning of their summer!  It was 103 degrees on Christmas Eve and even for there, it was hot.

In between all of my visits with Chris, I continue to do research every day on how to get him here.  Our three “options” include 1) riding the tide with the Berlin Wall of DOMA staring at us in the face; 2) transferring within my current company to Canada where they would welcome Chris as my family; or 3) living exiled in Uruguay, something that we will not be forced to accept.  Due to my limited Spanish, moving to Uruguay would make finding work difficult for me.

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DOMA currently destroys bi-national families and rips them apart.  Like any heterosexual couple, I should be able to file for a fiancé visa, but I cannot do so because of this law.  We have used modern technologies to help keep our relationship strong.  Chris and I communicate by Skype on a nightly basis.  We also use a great app called Voxer where we can instantly send voice messages, quick pictures, or instant messages.  We also still communicate through Facebook and e-mails.  However, there are times when we feel like prisoners, trapped on opposite sides of a border, on opposite sides of a screen.  We should not have to rely on technology to be together.  We deserve equality like any other couple in our situation.  We deserve the right to be together.  Because I cannot sponsor Chris for a fiancee visa, I am being treated as a second class citizen. 

I have been in Uruguay with Chris since last week while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases challenging Proposition 8 and DOMA.  I will return to Uruguay to be with Chris again in June when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on these barriers to our happiness.  I have great optimism and hope that the nine justices will do the right thing and deliver a strong message to all Americans that gay and lesbian Americans are deserving of equal treatment in our civil institutions.

With the help of The DOMA Project I am now filing for a K-1 fiancé visa for Christian to finally be able to come to the United States where we hope to marry in Illinois, if that becomes possible, or otherwise in New York. As the The DOMA Project continues to advocate for full equality and securing the post-DOMA future, the Obama administration must be proactive about adapting to what we hope will be a resounding defeat for DOMA at the Supreme Court.  By filing our fiancé visa petition now, we are letting my government know that we fully expect our petition to be approved on Day One, post-DOMA.  We should not be forced to wait one day longer to be together.  In the meantime, we must continue to pressure the Obama administration, acting through the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, to defer final decisions on such petitions until a Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, and then, once a ruling comes, to expedite processing of all cases involving same-sex binational couples who are exiled, separated or threatened with separation.  As we get closer to what I hope and expect will be the end of DOMA, there can be no excuse for denying fiancé visa applications.  Like any couple, we simply want the security of being able to build a life together.  We are hopeful that DHS Secretary Napolitano and Secretary of State Kerry will do everything in their power to support our aspirations of forming our own family in Michigan.  Along with the rest of the binational community we look forward with much anticipation to the day K-1 visas are approved for all our fiancés.  Keep telling your stories. Find out more about fiancé visa petitions from The DOMA Project and help us all work together to ensure that we use the next three months to keep up the momentum that will bring us full equality.

Separated from his Husband Juan by the U.S.-Mexico Border, Brian Joins DOMA Project Rally at Supreme Court

Our story begins in February, 2011. I remember as if it were yesterday. I had planned a trip to Mexico City and I had chatted with this wonderful guy ahead of my trip. We agreed to meet in the Zona Rosa (the pink zone) at a karaoke bar. I was waiting outside the bar when I heard my name being called. I turned and there he was, the guy I just knew would be special to me. We talked outside for a minute and then walked into the bar. He loves to sing and put his name down for a couple of songs. As he sang, he looked at me and it was as if he was singing directly to me. I had a feeling this guy would somehow always be in my life.

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Our story begins in February 2011 with a trip to Mexico that changed my life. I remember as if it were yesterday. I had planned a trip to Mexico City and I had planned to meet this wonderful guy I met on line at a karaoke bar in Zona Rosa, a gay neighborhood in the capital.  I was waiting outside the bar when I heard my name being called. I turned and there he was, the guy I just knew would be special to me. We talked outside for a minute and then walked into the bar. He loves to sing and put his name down for a couple of songs. As he sang, he looked at me and it was as if he was singing directly to me. I had a feeling this guy would somehow always be in my life. We had a wonderful weekend together seeing the sites of the big city. I didn’t want that weekend to end but the day came that I had to leave. We sat at the airport talking, wondering where to go from here. We both had fears of trying to take this somewhere further due to distance and cultural differences not realizing what other obstacles lie ahead. We parted with a “maybe some other time”.

Over the next couple of months we continued to talk, seeing each other occasionally on video chat. Something was forming between us, something real and something unexpected. I had to see him again. I agreed to come back for Gay Pride in June. This was a defining moment of our relationship. He was proud to introduce me to his friends and family. We decided we both wanted to be together despite cultural differences, distance and the discriminatory laws of the U.S. that would deny us the chance to be together.

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Together Again

For more than two years, I have traveled to see Juan once every two months, a costly and frustrating part of our relationship, but very necessary nonetheless. We have discussed the future we would want to have together, the hardships and the frustrations of being a gay bi-national couple. We decided we would endure whatever obstacles would be thrown our way. The relationship advanced even with these obstacles.

On September 19, 2012 Juan and I were married. Juan became my legal husband under Mexican law, in a ceremony performed by a civil judge. I will never forget the judge saying that it had been years since she had seen two people so in love. She said she was honored to be able to perform our marriage. The reception had to come later since traveling to Mexico so often while keeping up with the financial burdens of our respective households left us with limited savings.

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Our Civil Marriage Ceremony

On January 19, 2013 we held a big reception to celebrate our marriage. It was beautiful. The venue exquisite, overlooking a historic Catholic church. With our family and friends we celebrated our union and our promises to each other. The celebration included traditions of a Mexican wedding ceremony depicting the strength we will have with our family and friends beside us and the dedication they have to ensure it. The family plays a very important role in the strength of a Mexican marriage.

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Our Traditional Wedding Reception

So here we are, legally married in Mexico yet still our marriage is not recognized by the federal government under U.S. law. This horrible DOMA, which defends no marriage but seeks to destroy ours, keeps us apart, unable to be together, unable to live and enjoy life together in this country, unable to continue on our journey. DOMA is discriminatory and harmful; it doesn’t allow us to be together because I can’t sponsor him as my husband. Juan has little chance of getting a visitor visa anyway, this is true for most Mexican citizens. He will have an even harder time overcoming the presumption of immigration intent that all Mexican applicants for a travel visa face.  Thus, it is unlikely that the U.S. Embassy will even issue him a travel visa to visit me here in the U.S.   Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, did nothing to help our partners access visitor visas even when they could demonstrate absolutely that they would comply and return home at the conclusion of their visit.

According to DOMA our love is not equal, we are not equal, we are “less than.” I don’t want to leave my country. We have plans, desires, and dreams of our future including living here in the U.S. until my retirement and then perhaps moving to Mexico and enjoy the rest of our lives together. But DOMA forces me to think of exiling myself from my country and my family so that we can be together now. I pray every day that DOMA will be found unconstitutional and we will be allowed to continue our journey.  I believe we can bring about that change and that is why I have done everything I can to participate in this incredible, empowering movement for equality.

Our marriage is a traditional marriage. In fact the word “traditional” has no meaning in this context except one: a marriage based on love. Our love is just as precious, and real; and our will to be together, as determined as an other couple. Our marriage is not perfect; no marriage is. We have our differences just as any couple does.  But we are strong. I believe our simple troubles are magnified immensely because of DOMA, the financial frustrations of being forced to live apart and constant worries of our future with DOMA in place. Honestly, there is no difficult issue that we face today that doesn’t lead back to DOMA and the discriminatory immigration policies of this country.

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Our Honeymoon in Teotihuacan

These are our feelings and this is our life. Two years have passed. Two years I have traveled to Mexico to be with the man I love at enormous financial cost. For two years we have lived apart, missing birthdays, holidays, and the difficult moments when all one of us needed was a comforting hug from the other. I want to wake up every day next to my husband and fall to sleep at night with him in my arms. I have hope that someday soon this will become reality.

We have sacrificed, yet we have had to say goodbye time and time again. We have suffered financially, emotionally, and mentally. We have cried. We have been angry. Yet, we are still as determined as ever to wake up next to each other every morning. If this isn’t real love then I really don’t know what is. Love is love; it comes in many forms. This is ours and the outcome of our lives and our love will not be undermined by archaic discriminatory laws and those that support them.

Brian Cain at SCOTUS

Last week, I joined the thousands gathered to rally outside the Supreme Court as the 9 Justices of the Court heard oral arguments for and against Section 3 of DOMA in Edie Windsor’s case for equal treatment under the law.  Like Edie, I trust in the principles enshrined in our Constitution.  I too believe that justice will prevail.

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However, this land of freedom and equality does not yet live up to its promise. With much hope and determination, I am fighting so that some day very soon we will achieve true equality.  I am an American through and through, but I am ashamed of how gay and lesbian binational couples are treated under current immigration law and DOMA. We are better than that. It is time for us all to join our family, friends, and community in urging our leaders to hold true to our founding principles.  Though today we were outside the Supreme Court, our message was no doubt heard by millions over the news and social media.  A message this large cannot be ignored, certainly not by the 9 Justices of the Supreme Court.  Please join me in spreading this message around the country.  You can do your part by sharing our story or even sharing your own.  Together, we will make a difference in the court of public opinion, helping to shape the Supreme Court’s decision, and ultimately our post-DOMA future.

 

Separated by 5000 Miles, Art and Stuart Urge Supreme Court to Respect Their Marriage and Their Family and Strike Down DOMA

My name is Art.  I am a music teacher in San Antonio, Texas, and a veteran of the U.S. military.  Most of my life I have spent pursuing mastery of my instruments: the piano, the organ, and the voice.  I also love computers and social networks, which is where I ultimately met my (now) husband, Stuart.
In the summer of 2009, I saw a news report on television about Facebook, a now-ubiquitous social networking site that had at the time become a part of my life, as it had for so many others.  As a curious computer person, I logged in and discovered how fun it was to meet all sorts of people from around the world.  With this new site, many new friendships and conversations started.

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Art and Stuart

My name is Art.  I am a music teacher in San Antonio, Texas, and a veteran of the U.S. military.  Most of my life I have spent pursuing mastery of my instruments: the piano, the organ, and the voice.  I also love computers and social networks, which is where I ultimately met my (now) husband, Stuart.

In the summer of 2009, I saw a news report on television about Facebook, a now-ubiquitous social networking site that had at the time become a part of my life, as it had for so many others.  As a curious computer person, I logged in and discovered how fun it was to meet all sorts of people from around the world.  With this new site, many new friendships and conversations started.  It was also time in my spirit to get “real” about who I was: a gay man ready to end a 20-year heterosexual marriage.  I had already come out to my siblings and friends at college and they loved me for who I was.  However, they were always worried about what would happen to me if I told certain people (for example: my wife, church friends, co-workers) about my sexual identity.  On Facebook, I didn’t have to hide who I was; I just had to restrict my friends and the content available to them. This gave me some freedom I had never had before. My relationship said “It’s Complicated” because that’s exactly what it was.

As 2009 ended, I had a large list of Facebook friends—in the thousands.  One of these people I had “friended” was Stuart.  I don’t really remember exactly what it was that caught my attention about him.  It was probably something witty he said to a conversation post that made me click his name and check out his profile.  I looked at Stuart’s profile for quite a while and then browsed through his photos.  Ultimately, I came to the first video he posted on Facebook.  The British accent charmed me instantly.  I had lived in the United Kingdom for over four years when I was serving in the U.S. military; that country has always been like a second home in my heart.  I wrote Stuart a message in response to the video caption.  He was putting himself down for how he looked on video camera.  I told him he didn’t look bad at all.  And so began a conversation of texts, chats, and e-mails.  At one point, Stuart mentioned another program called Skype.  My co-worker had just mentioned this new program and touted its benefits.  On April 26th, 2010, I made my first Skype call to the United Kingdom to talk to Stuart.  I was so nervous!  Hearing the accent, all I could say was, “Hi!  I like Monty Python!”  Stuart kind of rolled his eyes and suggested I check out Catherine Tate videos as a more updated form of British humor.

Oh yes, we started over the months chiding each other about spelling words (humor versus humour) as well as driving on the left.  Our relationship began as a friendship where two guys would share funny videos, laugh about stuff going on in the world news, and have intelligent conversations about nearly everything under the sun.  It was fun to have our occasional Skype talks while we also commented on mutual friends’ Facebook pages.

My coming out process continued. In 2010, I filed for divorce with my wife.  Stuart was one of the biggest emotional supports along with my family during this dark time.  In fact, my family had begun talking to him on Skype and approved of his positive influence on me.

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It was in the middle of this dark summer that the precious four-letter “L” word finally was spoken.  Stuart was on holiday in Egypt—and he was spending vast amounts of money and time just trying to talk with me on Skype.  It was me who quietly said it one evening; we were commenting on the full moon setting over the Nile River in the west just as it was managing to rise in my South Texas sky.  I dedicated the song “Somewhere Out There” from the movie An American Tail to Stuart in the form of a video.  I admitted to Stuart that I was falling in love with him.  He also admitted to me that he was in love with me and couldn’t stop thinking about us.  Stuart dedicated the music video “All the Man I Need” by Whitney Houston to me.  Crazy as it may sound to people, the relationship was founded on trust and open communication—not a physical in person meeting, at first.  This is quite opposite to the way many couples actually form, though in this age of the Internet it is certainly becoming more common.  One might even suggest that we had a Victorian-style courting courtesy of the digital age.

My divorce was finalized in November of 2010.  Stuart visited me soon afterward.  At the top of the Tower of Americas in San Antonio, I dropped to my knee and asked Stuart to be my husband.  He said “yes”.  We spent the next 19 months or so discussing getting married in the United States and other important family matters—especially his role as a stepfather to my children.  The more we got to know each other, the more eager we were to spend our lives together and plan our future.

In summer of 2012, Stuart and I visited my parents to get their official blessing for our marriage.  They gave it whole heartedly.  Then, we went to my hometown in Massachusetts to be married by a long-time friend of the family.  Although the actual civil ceremony was at most five minutes long, it was a major milestone for Stuart and me.  He became my husband and took on my surname.

His visits to the United States are met with great anticipation and preparation.  However, even with the joy of his arrival, there is the looming sadness that the clock is ticking until he has to return to the United Kingdom.  As his departure dates get closer on each visit, I go into a terrible depression.  After I drop him off at the airport, I become terribly emotional and then, as a result, physically ill.

Each time we part it feels like I am my entire being is being ripped out of my body and tossed away into the garbage.  There is this sense of unfairness I experience over and over because I have to lose my loving spouse on a technicality while an opposite sex couple in the same situation gets married on a whim but enjoys full equal civil rights, including the right to petition for their spouse for a green card.  The depression and accompanying illness gets worse with every visit because we ARE married and should be together.  Losing my spouse for such long periods of time tears me apart spiritually and emotionally.  Our home runs so beautifully when our children have two loving fathers physically at home.  When I am stuck being a single father again, it overwhelms me.

Holidays are especially difficult.  For three years now, I have not decorated the house or acknowledged the special days other than having to play extra services as an organist.  I long for the day that I can wake up on a Christmas morning to have a cup of coffee with my husband and spend the quality time together.  Then I will have the tree and all the trimmings to once again make the holidays special.  Until that day when equality is truly reached, my house will not play host to the holidays.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I am not able to successfully sponsor Stuart for a green card. He cannot become a productive member of our community, he cannot be present as a stable and loving stepparent to my children, we cannot build a family life together.  This is the case even though we are legally married already under the laws of Massachusetts.  Because I have children as well as my extended family here in the United States, I cannot just pull up stakes and move to the United Kingdom, but I would not consider leaving my country and being forced into exile, regardless. I am an American. I have the right to live in my country with the man I love, and raise my children here. I will not be shoved out of my own country.

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We are currently stuck in a pattern where Stuart has to work an absurd number of overtime hours to afford plane tickets from London back to San Antonio.  Even then, he can only stay at most three weeks about twice each year.  No marriage should have to endure that kind of separation.  Even the military respects the hardships that deployments put on a couple.  How much more difficult is our situation because of an unfair and unconstitutional law discriminating against gay and lesbian binational couples and their families?

My husband and I are fighting for the chance to be together here at home with our children.  We fully expect the same civil rights and privileges that other loving couples enjoy.  Together with nearly a hundred other DOMA Project participant couples and thousands of others who have supported this campaign, we are urging the Obama administration to respect our legal marriage, to give real meaning to “states’ rights” and stop standing in the way of our marriage. Stop keeping us 5,000 miles apart.

As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8, we join with thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples to raise the profile of DOMA’s cruel impact on our families.  Please consider sharing our story with friends and family to expose the true sinister nature of DOMA and how it threatens to destroy (not protect) so many loving families.  With much hope, prayer, and effort, we eagerly work to persuade others that this discrimination has to come to an end. We are not sitting on the sidelines waiting for a decision from the Court. We are engaging in advocacy by sharing our story because we believe that we have the power to bring about change. Help us keep up the fight against DOMA in the three months left until the Supreme Court rules.

Forced Apart: Alison and Michele Fight Back Against DOMA, Urge Inclusive Reform and Humanitarian Parole

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Alison and Michele

I met Michele in August 2010 after moving to the Rocinha favela, one of the slums in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I sold my car after graduating from Colorado University in Boulder with a degree in International Relations, packed two bags, and landed in Rocinha to teach English at a non-profit organization. It was here that she swept me off my feet with her winning smile and easygoing attitude. Michele and I were inseparable right from the start. Over time, she became my best friend, my girlfriend, and the person I wanted to spend my every waking moment with. We would stay up talking for hours until the sun came up over the ocean and I knew I had never felt so comfortable being myself around someone as I did when I was with her.  As I learned how to speak Portuguese, our relationship blossomed even further and I felt more connected to her, while better understanding her culture and where she came from.

Our relationship began to develop and my original 5-month stay in Brazil stretched out to one year. Eventually one year turned into two. I couldn’t fathom life without waking up to our morning conversations or our romps around the city. I didn’t see any reason for us to be apart but I was tired of living far from my friends and family and working informally as an English teacher without a chance to provide a better life for us. On my birthday, May 5, 2011, the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court unknowingly gave me the perfect birthday present by handing down a decision requiring same-sex civil unions nationwide. We took it as a sign.

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Michele and I knew we were in love and wanted to be together without worrying if I was going to be deported or how I was going to keep working. After talking about the value of our relationship and how much it meant to continue being together in the same place, we decided to get married. Quickly after, we were contacted by a television channel asking us to participate in their new show, Chuva de Arroz which highlights wedding styles outside of the norm.  Since the law had recently been passed, they wanted to feature one gay couple and one lesbian couple on their show. At first, I was completely against the idea. I didn’t want to expose my life to the whole world because I’m a fairly private person but I began to realize that it would give us the chance to commemorate our love with the close friends that had supported our relationship and possibly inspire other same-sex couples to realize that their dreams of getting married could come true too.

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By the time of our wedding, we still hadn’t obtained a marriage certificate because it took five months to be approved. We were not expecting this delay since heterosexual couples are approved in about a month. But the show had to go on!  We had a beautiful ceremony in the middle of sprawling gardens with about 70 of our closest friends and Michele’s family. Only months after our wedding, we were informed that we were in fact the first female couple to obtain a marriage license in Rio and possibly in all of Brazil.

After the show, we had positive feedback by other couples that wanted to start getting married now that the law was passed. We were invited to attend a joint wedding between 50 same-sex couples at the Ministry of Justice building in Rio where we both cried with happiness seeing so much love in one place!  Unfortunately, for these couples, the process was just beginning because they were only granted preliminary status as “stable unions” and each couple would still have to go through individual processing in order to obtain a marriage certificate. Certain judges were simply not upholding the law as they should have. We were featured in the first gay wedding magazine in Brazil that will now be published once a year as well as in a music video by Marcelo Jeneci. Lots of times we would step back and look at how far Brazil had come in such a short time and how accepting Brazilians were of same sex relationships. This is not to say that this is true everywhere. There are many places in Brazil where gays still fall victim to discrimination and incredible violence. Still, I was shocked that Brazil had somehow beaten the United States, a country that prides itself on freedom and equality for all, at allowing same-sex marriages to be recognized on a federal level.

cerimonia_0295Our wedding was beautiful but incredibly bittersweet for me as my American friends and family were not a part of it. I got through the day reassuring myself that in the near future we would have a wedding in the U.S. where my friends and family could also give us their blessings. We had decided that, while we both love Brazil, it was not a place for us to grow in our careers and future goals. We started planning a move to the U.S.  It didn’t take long to realize this would be easier said than done since the U.S. does not recognize marriages between binational same-sex couples. I cannot even sponsor Michele for a green card like binational heterosexual couples can.   And, to make a long story short, this is how, like so many other binational couples, I came to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon be deciding the fate of DOMA and would possibly strike down this destructive law that has been tearing families apart for years. In October 2012, I came to the U.S. to visit with my family; I had been away for so long and we decided Michele would come on a tourist visa in January 2013 after finishing her studies as a Cultural Event Producer. The six-month visa would give us the chance to be in the U.S. to celebrate what we hope will be a victory at the Supreme Court in June, and to be able to spend quality time with my family.

When Michele’s first interview rolled around, I have to admit we were not as prepared as we should have been because we were told that Brazilians were easily obtaining tourist visas to the U.S.  The Brazilian economy was doing so well and the U.S. encouraged them to come here and spend their money. We also consulted an immigration official about whether or not to include information about our relationship on her application. We were informed that we should always tell the truth, even about our relationship so as not to risk being denied a spouse visa in the future. When I got the call at 5:00 am on November 29, I was devastated to hear her sobbing on the other line, saying she had been denied the tourist visa. We were in shock. We were not at all expecting this outcome when I left Brazil. Michele said it was very clear in the interview that she was denied because we were in a relationship and the U.S. consular officials did not believe Michele would return to Brazil. Now, months later and after extensive research, I realize this was the worst advice we could have received because, without context and evidence of our strong ties as a couple to our home in Brazil, it left only the impression that Michele  would not return to Brazil.  It took a while to compose ourselves over the next few days as we tried to work out a Plan B.

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Now apart for four months, we re-applied for another tourist visa, this time determined to prove that Michele was only coming for a visit and returning soon after to Brazil. She went in with confidence, with a letter from the Secretary of Culture saying she needed to do research in New York for a cultural project she was developing, an invitation from Long Island University to come give a talk about independent artist movements in the favelas, documents proving she had clients in Rio as well as lots of money in the bank and proof we had a residence together in Brazil. At her interview on February 8, 2013, she was denied a second time where it was made clear once again that despite all of the supporting documents, the reason for denial was our relationship. Now that she has been denied twice, it will be a very long time before she will be considered again for a visa.   Sadly, we do not yet have access to the most obvious solution, that of sponsoring Michele for a green card as any heterosexual couple would be able to do.  Rather than wait for change to happen, we are taking part in the important advocacy work, joining other binational couples from all around the world, fighting DOMA by sharing our stories, our experiences and the impact this law is having on our us and our extended families.

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DOMA is a law that has been destroying the chance for couples like us to be together for years. I know there are couples that have been living in this limbo for decades longer than we have and my heart goes out to them.  Many have children and deal with the constant issue of shuffling between countries, between visa expiration dates and heavy hearts at departures. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.  This country was founded on the principles of equality that are so blatantly lacking in this situation. Michele and I deserve to be treated the same as any heterosexual couple is, where at the very least, the American partner is able to sponsor his or her partner for a green card.

Now is the time to raise our voices and make our stories heard.  Every day that goes by with DOMA in effect is another day that justice is denied.  That is why we must continuously pressure our U.S. Senators and Representatives to adopt LGBT-inclusive language in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform that is currently being debated in Washington.  We refuse to be labeled a “distraction” from the key issues; our families are not an expendable trading chip in the immigration debate.  We also join other separated and exiled couples with The DOMA Project in urging President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to implement a humanitarian parole policy that would allow gay and lesbian Americans to bring their foreign same-sex spouses/fiance(e)s into the country as DOMA’s end draws near.

Since we found out that Michele is not eligible for a non-immigrant visa and I cannot sponsor her on a green card as my wife until the Supreme Court makes a ruling in favor of all same-sex couples, I have come to the decision that I will return to Brazil to be with her. It is unfair to be forced to be apart while a group of judges debates the value of our marriage, and at least in Brazil we can wait together where we are recognized like any other couple. After participating in a march for marriage equality in Washington D.C. on March 26, I will board a plane to go back to Brazil. I’m arriving on March 27 which is our one-year wedding anniversary. It’s a date that is too important to miss and six months apart during our first year of marriage was hard enough to get through. While I am thrilled to be with Michele again, I’m incredibly disappointed that it has come to moving back, which was not at all in our plans. We have the right to build our lives together in the United States. I hope the judges understand the full weight of their decision and what it means for all of our families.

Help us and thousands of separated and exiled couples as we fight to reunite in the U.S.  Please share our story with your family, friends, and elected officials.

 

Laurie and Caroline, Married Lesbian Mothers of Three Sons, Fight DOMA For Their Family’s Future

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Laurie and I first met in August 2005, we both joined an online lesbian dating agency called The Pink Sofa.  When you are interested in someone you send them a smile, Laurie sent me a smile and I immediately smiled back!  From that moment on we were both hooked; there was an instant bond between us.  We had so many common interests and shared all our most intimate thoughts; it was like we had known each other forever. Even though Laurie was from Massachusetts and I was from West Sussex England that didn’t deter us.  We believed that if we were meant to be together somehow we would find a way. Every possible moment we could spare was spent either sending “instant messages” and e-mails or talking on the phone.  It might sound crazy to some but we actually fell in love without ever seeing each other in person.  But soon all we desperately wanted was to actually be with each other.  Modern technology could only do so much!

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On October 4, 2005 I made the journey from London to Boston so that at last Laurie and I could meet face to face, we were both so incredibly excited waiting for that moment I would walk through the arrival doors at Logan Airport and we would see each other and be able to hold each other, really connecting for the first time!  The moment came and it was incredible, we hugged and kissed, it was the most amazing time of our lives and one we never ever forget. Despite it being our first time meeting in person, we spent eight wonderful days together without a moment of disappointment or regret which only went to prove just how much we loved one another.  The night before I had to leave we decided we wanted to commit to each other.  We exchanged rings and celebrated with a bottle of champagne.  It was a huge mixture of elation and sadness knowing that we wanted one another forever but that I had to leave the very next day to a country an ocean away.

Our parting was terrible but it only made us realize how hard we had to work to make sure we could be together all the time.  That time came in November 2005.  I luckily arranged to work from home so I could have more flexibility in my schedule to permit constant travel. Then as soon as I could, I headed back to Laurie in Boston.  We both had family commitments and, so, like all other parents, we had to divide our time more equally.  In January 2006, Laurie gave up her job in the medical field so that we could start a grueling bi-weekly travel plan, all so we could be together while also seeing our families.  It is hard to describe to others the sacrifices we made during that time to be together; flying back and for twice a month from the U.S. to the U.K. to spend as much of our time together as possible.  Still, we knew we wanted to settle down together.

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On July 29, 2006, just shy of a year after we first met on line, Laurie and I got married in Massachusetts.  We wanted to make “official” our relationship, our commitment to take care of each other through thick and thin, and our love for each other.  We very much wanted a public ceremony to celebrate our love with our friends and family. Ours was a beautiful Hawaiian style wedding in which our three sons took part. One of our close friends officiated the ceremony and I sung “Both Sides Now” to Laurie as that was one of her favorite songs.  We also wanted to include our UK family and friends, so we had another ceremony in Midhurst England on August 18, 2006.  Again, our three sons took part, walking us down the aisle.  We had a fantastic celebration that went late into the night.  With our vows exchanged on both sides of the pond what more could we do to proclaim our love and commitment to one another? We spent our honeymoon on the big island of Hawaii.  It was such a deeply loving time; it could not have been better in any way.  The only bad thing was having to go back to reality!

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As I was a photographer in the U.K. and Laurie had been a keen amateur, we decided to establish a photography business in the U.S.  We know that this would enable Laurie and I to maintain a flexible lifestyle while keeping up with our extreme travel commitments.  We did the bi-weekly travel for another 18 months.  During this time Laurie, my two sons, and I traveled to India at the conclusion of a fundraising campaign I had headed up for tsunami relief.  We had raised enough money to rebuild a tsunami-hit school in the Tamil Nadu region and were invited for the official inauguration of the school.  It was an extraordinary trip that remains imbedded in all our minds and makes us feel so grateful for all that we have, and grateful for the precious, wonderful family we had become.

After 18 months of bi-weekly trans Atlantic travel we had drained our financial and emotional reserves; we had to make a new plan.  We decided to commit to buying a home in the U.S. together and to start the process of establishing our life and business in one place.  It was so good to call just one place home after all this time spent traveling, we even added a dog and cat into our fold too!  Around this time Laurie’s dad had a massive heart attack followed shortly by a severe stroke which left him almost totally incapacitated.   Of course Laurie wanted to be very close at hand at all times, especially as her mother had already passed away, so we decided that we needed to put down our roots in the U.S.

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We have now been married almost seven years and our love has only grown deeper and stronger every day.  During that time, we have made incredible sacrifices.  We have drained our finances on travel and legal fees.    To this day, the two of us struggle to keep up with our mortgage payments and maintain our photography business while also maintaining a loving environment for our children.  In spite of all our hard work and sacrifice, there is not a day that goes by that we don’t appreciate starting this magical relationship of ours, and we hold on to it for dear life.

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We have spoken with so many binational couples since we have begun sharing our story, and it is heart breaking to hear from couples who have been forced into leaving the United States.  Laurie knows that our home is here and there is no way the federal government will force us out of this country just because we are a same-sex couple.  We have been amazed by that amount of support we have received directly from celebrities and our wedding couples, not to mention our family and friends, it confirms for us that sharing our stories is the ultimate way to bring about change.

At the moment we are facing such a critical time, everything hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court considers the fate of DOMA.  But we are not resting until a decision in June. We are fighting in every way possible to raise awareness of what DOMA does and how it is the cause of so much unnecessary suffering for gay and lesbian binational couples.

There are solutions available, long advocated for by the DOMA Project, which would treat same-sex couples fairly until there is a final decision on DOMA.  Holding green card applications in abeyance would allow couples like us to start the process of having our family recognized.  It would also permit me the ability to work and travel while our application was pending.  We want and deserve our marriage to be recognized just like any other.  We hope that in June we will be celebrating the end of DOMA.  On that long-awaited day, Laurie will be able to petition for a green card for me as her wife.  That day, we will finally be able to breathe easy, knowing that our future together will be secure.  But until that day, we stand up for ourselves, for our three sons, and for every couple like us.  Our action today is the only thing that will shape our future.

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Recently Engaged, Indira and Kim Fight to be Together with Their Two Children in the U.S.

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Indira and Kim

Like many couples in the twenty-first century, Indira and I met through an online dating site. It was an almost accidental meeting as she had joined a local southern California site not knowing that her profile would appear on a larger, international one. I saw her photo and found her interesting and very cute, but didn’t think I fit her criteria so it was a pleasant surprise when she sent a “smile.” That smile led to an exchange of several emails over the next few days (and the discovery I am from Barbados).  Eventually, we connected via text messages and later by video chats. In spite of the time difference we talked for hours about anything and everything.

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With my birthday coming up, I asked her if she wanted to come and celebrate with me and she did!  The connection we felt across 3,900 miles only strengthened in person.  We found something that we wanted to pursue. Over the next few months we talked about being together. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any good options for a long-term plan. Because of Prop 8, same-sex marriage was (and continues to be) banned in California.  Due to DOMA, even if we married legally in another state or in another country, our lawful marriage would not be recognized by the federal government for immigration purposes. On the other hand, not only is same sex-marriage a far-fetched notion in Barbados, homosexuality is officially illegal. This left us with little choice but to either end our relationship or carry on long distance until circumstances change.

With the distance between us, as well as work and family commitments, we have been lucky enough to manage to alternate two trips each per year. But leaving each other and being apart has become increasingly difficult, and it is frustrating and heart-breaking not being there when the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with needs you. The high cost of flying back and forth is also financially draining.  Indira has joint custody of her two children, fifteen and twelve years old, and maintaining a relationship between two countries means that she has to choose between spending time and money to come visit me, or on the kids. If the same immigration laws—providing marriage-based green cards, or fiancé(e) visas to those intending to marry—that apply to heterosexual couples applied to same sex couples, our only choice would be where to go for a family vacation.

In spite of these challenges, Indira proposed and we got engaged six months ago.  Connected via Skype, we looked online for hours for our perfect wedding bands.  During our next visit together in California, we took a road trip up the coast.  On the way back, we stopped at a jewelry store and had them made. Upon our return to San Diego, we took the rings out to admire them.  Although Indira planned to propose while we were overlooking the ocean, she couldn’t stand to put them back in their boxes or wait another minute to ask. It was very sweet and very her. She was nervous about asking, even though we had talked about marriage and knew it was something we intended to do. Like I would’ve said no!

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Indira told the kids the following day. The youngest commented that he wouldn’t have a step-mom, he’d have a second mom. Neither of the kids understands why two people who care for each other should be kept apart. We also shared the news with our friends and family who were excited about the engagement, but frustrated and upset about the restrictions imposed on our family by DOMA.  My cousin, who is from Canada where marriage equality has been the law now for ten years, is still trying to wrap her head around the fact that our marriage would not make me eligible to apply for a green card. Friends from outside the U.S. often ask for updates on the progress.

Ideally, we would like to have a lovely outdoor wedding, under the trees, with close friends and family in attendance and begin our lives together without the fear of being separated.

We are hopeful that the increasing call for equality will encourage the Supreme Court to do the correct thing and strike down the travesty that is DOMA so that loving couples will be treated equally under the law, just as the Constitution guarantees.  Like many couples involved with The DOMA Project, we are not content to sit by as the Justices consider the fate of DOMA.  We have chosen to share our story and we will continue to press President Obama for intermediate solutions now, so that our family is not forced to be apart one day longer.  Considering the range of executive actions available to the President as the Supreme Court considers DOMA and while Congress considers immigration reform legislation, it is absurd that we must continue traveling back and forth at such great financial and emotional cost.  Executive actions like humanitarian parole and deferred action are within existing precedent and would immediately end the separation and exile of thousands of binational families like ours.  The time to raise our voices is now.  We ask that you share our story to raise awareness of the urgent need for such measures.  There is no time to lose.

DOMA Exiles Dave and Eric Urge President Obama: “Bring Us Home”

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I will start our story back in the last week of October, 2008. I was in the U.K. visiting my boyfriend Eric.  It was  another of my many trips back and forth between San Francisco and London over the previous two years.  As in every visit, we wanted to maximize what little time we did get to spend together, knowing that we would soon be thousands of miles apart.  On this trip,  we went  to Cornwall.  We  hiked to an incredibly scenic point on the cliffs overlooking the  North Atlantic.  I  turned to face him, and with the setting sun shining in my eyes,  I asked him to marry me.  He blinked a couple of times and didn’t say anything.  Frankly my heart stopped for a moment.  A split second later, he smiled in that particular way he does, making my knees go weak.  He then looked at me and said, “I already said yes a long time ago.”  I returned  to the United States  a few days later.  While sitting on the long eleven-hour flight, I looked out  at the Atlantic Ocean 36,000 feet below and one thought kept ringing through my head like a trumpet blast. We were engaged! 

After the initial excitement settled, Eric and I became increasingly aware of the obstacles faced by gay and lesbian binational couples in the U.S.  Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government would not recognize Eric as my fiancé, nor would they recognize him as my spouse after our marriage.  On election night 2008,  Eric and I were hopeful that the new president would work to pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a piece of legislation that the founders of The DOMA Project helped write in 1999. For more than 13 years, the UAFA has gained support in Congress, but it has never come close to passing. It was modeled on the solution that countries like Australia, Canada and the U.K. had adopted for same-sex binational couples in the 1990s, by recognizing our “partners” and providing immigration rights based on those relationships at a time before any country permitted gay couples to marry. The UAFA would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their partners to come to the United States, just as non-gay Americans now do for their foreign-born spouses. We even added our voice to the lobbying effort on this issue by creating a  YouTube video that  was shown to lawmakers as part of the push to get a vote on the UAFA.  Yet as 2009 moved into 2010 it was clear that the road to LGBT-inclusive immigration reform in the U.S was still a very long one. Decades after this movement for binational couples was founded, immigration rights for same-sex couples still seemed to be an elusive goal. By comparison, Marriage Equality, including the fight against DOMA, had started to pick up considerable momentum in recent years, particularly with the leadership of President Obama and favorable court rulings. Still there were no policy solutions coming from the White House that would keep us together in the U.S. while the fight for equality continued.

Faced with this reality we had to make a difficult choice. We could continue the back and forth long distance relationship as we had since 2006,  or we could pursue Plan B.  As a British citizen, Eric was able to sponsor me to join him in the U.K. So in the spring of 2010, we applied for my Civil Partner Visa. This visa allowed me to travel to the U.K. and later register our Civil Partnership. After registering as Civil Partners, Eric was then permitted to sponsor me as his spouse to settle in the UK.

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The Civil Partner Visa application process took about nine months. The documentation required was very daunting. We had to prove everything about our lives together, our job histories, our financial history and provide any other evidence that our relationship was legitimate. On top of that,  it was not cheap. Trying to do this on your own is a lot like trying to perform surgery on yourself.  It’s possible, but all it takes is one error to effectively make a huge mess of it.  So like many couples we used an agency to represent us. This only added to our costs. In the end, we got my Civil Partnership Visa in October 2010, nearly two years after we got engaged.

Finally on Monday, January 17th, 2011, in the  Lewisham County Registry Office, Eric and I entered into a legal “civil union” in the United Kingdom, the closest that the British come to marriage for same-sex couples. For us it was our wedding day, and it was amazing.  We celebrated with friends and family from as nearby as just down the street and as far away as  New York City, Dallas, and Omaha.  As we celebrated, we busied ourselves in putting together all the documents and material for the  application for  my permanent Settlement Visa to settle permanently in the U.K.   The confirmation email from the British Consulate said that the processing time for Settlement Visas is at least 50 days from the date the application was received. So we resigned ourselves to waiting until at least late March  before expecting any response.  So, when my blackberry buzzed two weeks later to alert me I had just received an email from the  British Consulate in Los Angeles, my first thought  was not a happy one.  I figured the email must be because the  application had been rejected.  Surely, I thought, we had forgotten to include some document or some piece of paper that would now doom us to  go back to square one.

With a sense of dread, I opened the email.  I had to read it through three times before it finally registered in my brain what  it actually said.


From: [email protected]
To: My Office
Subject: Your Visa Application @ Los Angeles  (Ref: *******)
Sent: Feb 18, 2011 10:06 AM


Your application has been approved and the visa has been issued.

Please check your visa immediately on receipt to ensure that we have completed your visa correctly. Please send details of any errors or omissions to [email protected] ASAP.

The rest of that day is a bit of a blur.  I immediately called Eric in London.  Both of us spent the rest of the day in a slight state of shock. Our long journey was about to be complete.  After three years, thousands of dollars in legal and government application fees, and more than 20 trips across the Atlantic, we finally had the legal authorization to live together, work, and build our life together in the U.K.   Two weeks later, I had a  final interview for a new job  in London.   All of which meant I would be  leaving  my job in San Francisco, packing  up my life there and moving to our new home in London.

timessquare

All in all, we are lucky.  Things have worked out for us.  Many binational couples are forced to remain in separation if they lack sufficient finances for the visa application process or if the foreign partner does not happen to be from an egalitarian country like the U.K.  Even still, we are aware every day that we had no choice.  To be with my legal spouse, I had to leave my country.  Because the Obama Administration fails to implement interim measures like humanitarian parole or deferred action for LGBT families impacted by DOMA, binational couples like us continue to be forced to accept exile or the anguish of long-distance separation.  In light of what we hope is DOMA’s imminent demise, we join the thousands of separated separated and exiled couples in calling on the Obama Administration to implement humanitarian parole and other measures to end these unnecessary exiles immediately.  How many more gay and lesbian Americans must be forced to choose love over country before we’re let back in?  The time to end DOMA exiles is now, not later.

Emily & Amanda Fight for Their Future, Inclusive Immigration Reform, Abeyance for Green Card Cases

Our Story

Amanda and I met in college. I was an incoming freshman and she was a senior. Almost instantly, she wanted to be my friend and invited me to parties, she invited me to church or even to her house to have coffee and study. I turned her down so many times to hang out with my fellow freshmen that I had recently befriended. I’m really not sure if I was anxious that a senior wanted to hang out with me or if I was just comfortable with the friends I had already made. Regardless, her persistence eventually prevailed and we became close friends. We would text and message each other through Facebook quite often. Even when I went home for the summer, I found some excuse to visit her or for us to meet up to go to a concert.

The next school year, I spent most of my time hanging out with her. My address was at the dorms but I practically lived at her apartment. I actually grew as a person spending so much time there. I’m a bit of a loner but for some reason I felt no pressure to hang out with her, it was just something that I wanted to do. We made meals together, watched way too many movies, and I actually did my homework.  Not only did she motivate me to be a better student, she challenged me to be a more rounded individual, thinking outside my tunnel vision mind.

The college we went to has a month off for winter break. That winter, Amanda used this time to go home to Brazil to renew her student visa and her passport. There wasn’t a day that entire month that Amanda and I didn’t email, communicate by Facebook, or send instant messages to each other. I think I was on the computer the entire break. We expressed how much we missed each other and how she couldn’t get back fast enough. After what seemed like forever, she arrived at the airport. It was awesome and awkward at the same time. Our chats over break had become steadily more affectionate, more so than I had ever been with anyone else.

When we got back to her apartment we sat on opposite ends of the couch and I remember her saying, “Hey.”  While she patted the space on the couch next to her she said, “come here.” I scooted over and she hugged me. It was the most amazing hug I’ve ever felt. Everything went back to normal.  Later that night we were talking and she confessed that she loved me more than a friend and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Since we were each other’s first girlfriend, it took a little getting used to. I’m a people pleaser and was very close to throwing everything away because I was afraid of what other people would think. After understanding that our feelings were very much real, our fears of what misinformed people might think faded, and we decided not to turn our backs on this amazing connection we found with each other. Even still, trying to figure out our relationship, hiding out of fear, and dealing with our friends’ and families’ reactions. But we have made it four years and are still happier than ever.

She knows my irritated face when I’m at the mall and get frustrated, and I know that she has a short fuse and when it starts burning I should just let her be and she’ll come back to life when she’s ready.  She loves my freckles and my slight dimple on my left cheek and I love the way she rocks and hums while she is cooking a delicious dinner. I know that this is real love and even if we bicker – we miscommunicate a lot – we get over it in about a minute and end up laughing about how ridiculous it was. We have a give and take relationship just like any functional one.  Our love is no different from any other. We just happen to both be women.

Rings

On my birthday in 2011, I came out as a lesbian to my parents and told them about my relationship with Amanda. I think it helped that they already knew and loved her. Of course there was a transition time where they were a bit confused and curious, but I think it went rather well. Soon after that, Amanda told her parents through email. They were very understanding as well. We are blessed with amazing families.

In November, we decided that we should get married. It was just the two of us and it was a wonderful vacation away from real life. We are going to eventually throw a reception ceremony for our friends and family, but we want to know what is going to happen in this next big step in our lives. Where are we going to live? Amanda has been in school for the past eight years as a foreign student, which allowed her to stay in the U.S. She will graduate in May with her third degree. After that she has a very short window to find a job or leave the United States.

It is our dream to continue to build our lives together in the United States; I already have a great job and we both speak the English language. I could move to Brazil, because Brazil has for years permitted the immigration of same-sex partners of Brazilian citizens, but I don’t speak Portugues and the transition would be very difficult for our careers. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act our marriage is not recognized by the U.S. government, and I cannot sponsor Amanda for a green card. Unlike Brazil, the United States denies the existence of our relationship and provides no way for her to stay here despite the years we have been together and our marriage.

DOMA has forced me to consider leaving the United States, which is a very difficult decision when you consider that it is like my country is evicting me from my own home because I am gay.  Still, we want to be together above all else. We have talked very seriously of going to Brazil. We hired a lawyer to make sure that we have everything we need for me to move to Brazil when Amanda graduates. For us to move to Brazil would mean that I lose a secure job.  I would also have to become fluent in Portuguese before re-starting my career and Amanda would have to score a stellar job to keep us going while we transition. With her amazing credentials here it seems very likely that she would easily find a job in the US, which would carry us through the short term. But a job that would sponsor her for a green card? Unlikely.  If it weren’t for DOMA, I could sponsor her as my wife and she could stay here.

Don’t get me wrong, Brazil looks like an amazing country and I would love to consider living there at some time in the future when doing so would truly be a choice. But why should we be forced to take that route? Why can’t we stay in the United States as we wish?  I have two jobs.  I pay my taxes.  I’ve never done anything illegal.  I have a great relationship with my family.  I’m honest – too honest for this world. And above all: I am a United States citizen.  However, because I want to spend the rest of my life with a woman from another country, I have to leave my own to be with her? She is the most hardworking person I’ve ever known. She has three degrees for goodness sakes!  She will contribute great things to this country. But as many lesbian and gay Americans soon learn, the “land of the free” is only free for some.  I recently read the status of an old friend on Facebook. She said, “Congratulations to my Colombian turned American fiance for passing his citizenship test today. Love you!” I was excited for her but also heartbroken because that could be me if it weren’t for DOMA. One day I hope to say the same thing about my dear Amanda.

We are so thankful for what The DOMA Project is doing to empower us and the thousands of other same-sex bi-national couples around the world. Now, as oral arguments at the Supreme Court draw near and Congress debates Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), I believe that it is more important than ever to get involved by sharing our own stories and those of others.  Even if I were not in a relationship with Amanda, I would support this project to the fullest.  For that reason, I hope you will consider sharing our story and those of other couples, even if you’re not a same-sex binational couple. Most Americans would agree that it’s crazy that this is even an issue; but far too many are still unaware that it is an issue. We have the power to change that, and the time to do it is now.  It’s urgent that Congress include protections for LGBT families in CIR and that the Obama Administration place all green card petitions from our families in abeyance until DOMA’s fate is decided either at the Supreme Court or by Congress.  Ours is just one family out of thousands that cannot afford to wait any longer for change.  Please join us in this fight. Help me keep Amanda in this country, and keep all of our families together. Share your story today and circulate this petition to President Obama.

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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.