Rick & Brian: Married Gay Couple Exiled by DOMA for Three Years in Taiwan, Fight to Return to the U.S.

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Rick & Brian at their wedding

Our story began in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia on May 19, 2009. In actuality, we had met a couple of days earlier in a chat room on an online dating site. Back then we both paid for the yearly service and were able to see who searched us. I saw that Brian looked at my profile and I contacted him. I asked if he would like to meet at a bookstore and coffee house.  He said, “sure let’s go.”  I set the time and date: May 19 at noon. We both agreed and confirmed our plan the following morning. We met at OutWrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, at 10th and Piedmont, which is unfortunately no longer open. But what blossomed from that first meeting is very much still alive.

As my on-line profile informed anyone interested in reading it, I had recently moved to Atlanta from Southern California and I was looking to make new friends.  That’s all I truly wanted at that moment. I was trying to accomplish four things: employment, housing, schooling and then hopefully, dating someone special. I was very focused, and I kept to the order of my priorities.

On the day of what would be our first date, Brian got lost and arrived 45 minutes late, but it didn’t much matter; I was happy to see him and glad he arrived safely.

When Brian opened the door that afternoon at OutWrite he flashed his big, friendly smile, a smile that I have come to love and looking forward to seeing every day. He described his efforts to get from his home in Atlanta to OutWrite, and I realized that this amounted to quite a challenge; after all, he had just arrived a week earlier from Taiwan and was completely new to Atlanta and to the U.S.
We started to talk about our lives and what brought us to Atlanta when I realized that I was nervous like a high school student on a first date!  At first I didn’t understand what was happening at all. I’m always confident, energized and I know what to say next. But it wasn’t happening, I was stumbling around. I was an A Type personality and the date progressed, I noticed that I was doing most of the talking and didn’t let him speak much so I started asking him questions. I learned that he was a visiting scholar from one of the top Taiwanese universities, and I found out about his family background. Of course this friendly meet-up was never supposed to be a date, I was not supposed to be nervous!

Rick & Brian in 2009

Rick & Brian in 2009

A few hours later we were joined by some mutual friends. I became more confident and I realized that Brian and I were connecting. He seemed more interested in me than before, and after they left he said something like:  ‘Your heart will be safe in my hands’.  We parted ways after more than four hours but it felt like only 15 minutes had passed. Time stood still, and still does; thank goodness.

We continued to communicate by email and grew closer. I shared my excitement as I learned to love Atlanta and settled into a new job.  He shared his daily adventures with me.

Our first proper date was a political rally for the next mayor of Atlanta in 2009 geared towards the LGBT Community. Each candidate was asked questions specifically about the LGBT Community and their stance towards marriage equality. After that rally, a group of us went to dinner at Rain Restaurant and had an awesome time. We were supposed to go to a gay bar, but couldn’t; Brian had forgotten his identification and was denied entry. It was too bad for our friends, because we were happy to be alone for the rest of the evening.

We drove home and kissed good night and I felt butterflies. We were both very emotional. I know it’s hard to believe but 30 days later we moved into our apartment and started living together. It just felt right. We felt like rock stars!

Spending every day together and falling in love it seemed like nothing could get in the way of our happiness. That summer I got down on one knee and asked Brian to marry me.   A few months later we purchased wedding rings in Miami while visiting my family and at that particular moment we were with my brother and his wife. It was an amazing feeling to know that we had found each other and that we would be a part of my family, while also building our own life together as a couple.

But as any gay binational couple knows, the moment came when things got very complicated. Our blissful state started to be challenged by serious challenges that had to happen. Brian’s visa was expiring. We either had to break up, maintain a long distance relationship between Atlanta and Taiwan, or I would have to move to Asia. These were extremely difficult months for us. All we wanted was to be together. We decided to move to Taiwan in 2010. It would be a life changing life  experience for sure, for both of us.

In January 2010 we traveled to California and spent some time with friends before continuing on to Taiwan to begin our lives in a new country. As the trip progressed both of us were excited, nervous, and full of uncertainties; but, we were troopers.

Neither one of us feels that we’ve made any sacrifices; yes, we feel that we’ve had to make adjustments and changes in our lives, but we have never compromised our love for each other.  While we have lived in Taiwan we have had to deal with Brian’s mandatory military service, his travel restrictions, my effort to find employment, being forced to live in the “closet” as a gay couple, and my learning to adapt to a new language and culture.   Why did all of this happen? Only because the U.S. government gives me no way as a gay American to sponsor my partner, the love of my life, for a green card. And so I am building a new life in Taiwan not of choice, but in exile.

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You may be wondering, how or why put ourselves through these stresses. As cheesy as it sounds, it was love. This four letter word has a great foundation, everything based on it can turn any impossible situation into a foreseeable happy ending. Which in our case is true!

We think the hardest part for us, is that Brian’s family doesn’t know we are a couple or even know that we got married. A small price to pay for peace within our hearts and theirs. We don’t know how they will react, but just not confronting the situation head-on keeps the peace within our family. Peace is a key point for us.

How has DOMA affected our lives? Brian never wanted to come back to Taiwan. He did not want to return to the closet.  My life has been turned upside down because of U.S. laws that refuse to recognize same-sex couples.  To say this is unfair is an understatement.

Within a year we are hoping that we will be able to return to the United States.

This has been the biggest impact of DOMA for us has been the lack of laws to protect our family. I can’t help Brian in anything, except for being a financial guarantee for his ability to stay in the USA as a student. This for me is not a way to be able to start a new life within the USA. It scares me to hell and back and sometimes it seems like I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The uncertainties mount and so do the stresses within our lives, in two levels – as individuals and as a couple. For now we have made the commitment to each other to stay in Taiwan until one of us has a place of employment or the U.S. achieves federal marriage equality.

Recently, we made a list of pros and cons to see where we would feel more at home and start our family. We realized that adopting is not a choice; it’s a must for us. We’ve had to place it on the back burner for too long. This is the highest priority upon returning to the USA. We’ve tried in Taiwan and we’ve been told – flat out in a nice way – NO!  The reality is that we cannot live closeted in Taiwan and also start a family.  We know that, eventually, we will need to return to the US.

In sharing our story, we are joining the many binational couples who refuse to wait on the sidelines while the Supreme Court considers the fate of DOMA.  We know that by sharing our story, we are making a difference in the court of public opinion, a voice that not even the Supreme Court can turn aside lightly.  We’re encouraged to see the growing coverage of our collective struggle for fair and humane treatment by the Obama administration and the USCIS.  Please join us in petitioning the Obama Administration to ensure that all green card petitions from same sex spouses are fully processed and placed on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA in June of this year.  Our family should not have to wait even a single day longer.

God Bless The United States of America.

This is our story – Brian and Rick
It all started on May 20th, 2009
Married on March 20th, 2012
New York City, New York

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Forced Apart by DOMA, Kevin and Francis are Engaged to be Married and Fighting to be Together

My name is Kevin and I am currently engaged to Francis.

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My name is Kevin and I am currently engaged to Francis.  We are a gay binational couple who, like so many others, must endure being separated as a result of discriminatory marriage laws in the United States.  While the United States gradually joins more than a dozen other countries where same-sex couples have the right to marry, it still lags in one important respect. Over 50 million Americans now live in states in which same-sex couples can marry, but when they do, all those loving newlyweds are still unequal in the eyes of the federal government which treats them as though they are not married. While individual states have the power to marry gays and lesbians, the federal government refuses to recognize those marriages because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   And that is where the story begins for thousands of lesbian and gay Americans like me, who are separated from partners or spouses abroad. DOMA is tearing us apart.

We are fighting so that our marriage will count for all federal benefits, including those related to immigration. We accept no less. Our love is strong and it is worthy of respect and value.  In sharing our story, I want to make clear that Francis and I will never give up on our dream to be together for the rest of our lives. We will also not passively wait for “change to happen,” a false construct if there ever was one. Change happens when you and I act together. If we wait, change does not come, at least not on our terms. If everyone before us had waited, we would still be decades behind the progress and privilege we enjoy today.  Like past struggles for equality, our story is one of many frustrations, but also of hope for life together, a hope that should never be denied to any loving couple.

Our problems start because I am a gay American, and Francis is from The Philippines.  In 2011 we knew that we were both ready to join our lives together.  As a result, about a year ago he and I began researching the U.S. visa process.   We quickly discovered that a fiancé visa was out of the question since this option is solely reserved for opposite sex married couples only.  Because of DOMA, that option is closed to us.  After much research we decided that our most viable alternative was to work within the current non-immigrant options available and aim for a tourist or student visa so we could be together, at least temporarily, in this country.

Let me begin by saying that trying to obtain a visa from the Philippines to the United States is much like trying to break out of a prison.  I am sure many couples have faced this dilemma when the non-American partner is from a country not considered a “First World” country. In fact, what few Americans realize is that perfectly honest, well-intentioned citizens of most of the world’s countries will have no chance of ever of getting a visa even to visit our shores briefly and then return home. Unfortunately there is such a high rate of fraud; so many people in the world want to come to the U.S. permanently even if they profess to have a temporary intent. So my fiancé and I were forced to enter Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell to try to get a visa so we could enjoy just a short time together, all the while knowing that a straight couple who were engaged to be married could have these problems solved by applying for and receiving a fiance visa and then “permanent resident” status or a “green card” with relative ease.

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After a flight to Manila and a quick check-in to a hotel across from US Embassy, Francis was off to his interview. His first attempt was denied under what is called “Section 214(b)” on the basis that he could not prove sufficient non-immigrant intent.   In other words, he failed to prove that he would return to the Philippines.  We were devastated, but with perspective we now see that it was almost the assured outcome of this process.

Saddened but determined, we then decided we might be more successful going the student visa route. Since Francis has a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, we sought and found colleges in my area that offered ongoing nursing programs.  Not only would we be together, but he could enhance his credentials and be able to gain job experience through work placements arranged by the school, within the guidelines of student visa restrictions.

More research, paperwork, and my having to show that, as his U.S. sponsor, I had the capacity to support his education and living expenses while in the US.  I did some accounting and was able to pull together enough liquid assets to prove my financial qualifications.

In addition, Francis had to complete English courses and tests to prove his English speaking abilities. Fortunately, his enrollment was accepted by one of the colleges and he was immediately issued a Form I-20 so that he could then apply for the visa. Even better was the fact that this college is just minutes from my house.

Again, off on another flight to Manila, more hotel stays, another long line at the Embassy, and another denial.  Once more, denied due to the failure to prove his intent to return.

We are obviously disappointed, but there’s something about when you want something bad enough you just are not ready to accept defeat.  As a result, we decided to go the student visa route once again, use a consultant firm, armed with knowing what mistakes we made in the first two attempts.

At this point we needed a success.  Since I had some vacation time coming I decided to travel to the Philippines and give us a chance to spoil ourselves at a resort for a few days, but more importantly I would have the chance to meet the family to whom I had only been able to communicate with via Skype until then.

“Welcome to Davao City Philippines
Kevin Yeager
We are happy to see you
Feel at home and be one of us
Thank you very much
Mabuhay”

Our time together in the spring of 2012 was amazing and beautiful.  Naturally, I did not want to be any further than a few feet away from him as possible.  It’s funny how you appreciate each moment together when you’re a prisoner of distance for much of the time.  Upon the conclusion of our stay at a resort in Boracay, we flew to his hometown of Davao.  From there we would travel to his family home of Midsayap, a rural area in southern Mindanao.

Upon our arrival in Davao, we were met by his brother, sister-in-law, and our God-Daughter, Arianna.  I knew this was going to be a life changing event the moment I climbed into the van they rented to take us on our journey.  In the window was a sign welcoming me to the city of Davao and to the family.

Even recalling this event takes me back to that moment and the overwhelming feelings that were going on inside my heart.  I knew at this instant that this was the spouse and family I had dreamed of but never thought it possible for me.

Upon our arrival in the area Francis was born and raised we checked into our hotel.  His parents and many family members had already checked in prior to our arrival.  Now let me tell you that this hotel was not what a typical American person, who just happens to have spent many years in the hotel industry, would have imagined ever staying.  Regardless, it was soon overshadowed by the hugs and handshakes from people who, in an instant, were no longer strangers but a family I might have known my whole life.  It was as if I was coming home.  Besides, I had Francis, my mahal, with me.  If we were staying in a tent, I would have been happy just as well.

The next day was spent traveling to Francis’ family home.  I thought I understood the word rural, but it was completely redefined on that day.  Francis grew up on a farm.  A typical tropical farm where his family made a living harvesting bananas, rice, and coconuts that surround a home referred to as a Nipa hut I believe.   A home built from the resources right there available on the farm.

Even in the tropical heat that day, to have an intimate look at my fiancés background and perspective was a gift that I cannot express completely in words alone.  Here we are two people, from completely different worlds, whose paths somehow crossed to lead to this moment.

Later than evening his family threw us an engagement celebration in his rural hometown.  The event was one that we will never forget for many reasons.  One of which is that, to me, this was our formal engagement that was both recognized and supported by his family that evening.

One must understand that this is a poor country, with families living in conditions that are unimaginable to so many people here in the US.  Yet, his family used their very limited resources and put together a celebration to both recognize our commitment in addition to officially welcoming me to the family.

We are now on the side of a barely paved road, in an open air diner that is decorated with crepe paper, folding tables, and balloons with the words “Welcome to our Family Kevin Yeager, We Love You” imprinted on them.  I lost count of how many family members came that evening, not to mention how many pictures were taken of my fiancé and I with various aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

A greeting from Francis’ Lola.

The highlight for me the following day was to be officially welcomed by my fiancé’s Lola (grandmother), the matriarch of the family.  I remember to this very moment, the feeling of her grasping my wrist and whispering, “I would like to welcome you to our family.”  During our visit at her home, she had the strongest, yet loving grip on me the whole time.  I was again experiencing moments that I wanted to live in and somehow make them last forever.

I learned much on this particular trip.  I find myself in a small remote town where I was witness to a group of people who struggle on a daily basis just to maintain basic necessities, yet gladly offer an abundance of unconditional love and acceptance.  All this was in contrast to having just spent a few days at a five star beach resort.  Amazing how an evening of hugs and welcomes completely trumps a resort that even includes your own beach butler!  I was living a dream, one I had thought impossible… a man to whom I willingly offer my commitment and a family who invites me graciously and unconditionally into their lives.

Upon my return to the U.S., Francis continued his English classes to study for the English exam as needed for our next shot at a student visa.  Again, his enrolment application was accepted by the college, he received the I-20, we paid the $200.00 SEVIS fee along with both the consultants and visa application fees. A trip to Cebu to meet with consultant, then flight to Manila, more hotels, and standing loaded down with documentation for an interview.  The door was slammed shut in our face again with nothing but an emptier bank account, heartbreak, and one more piece of paper with excuses for denying Francis the visa.  As attorneys in the United States, such as those at The DOMA Project, would have told us, these efforts are almost always in vain. We did not have the benefit of that knowledge, but it may not have mattered. We felt we needed to try every avenue so not to remain forcibly separated.  Our love was so strong it could not tolerate surrender.

Now we find ourselves saddened that we must continue to endure this separation due to the injustice of our current immigration laws.  Although I am periodically able to travel to and from the Philippines with no problem, it is both expensive and relegated to when time off from work is available.  Our story is like so many other same-sex couples in similar circumstances who are forced to live apart due to current discriminatory restrictions.  I wonder how many people realize the financial and emotional toll same-sex and/or bi-national couples have to endure.

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Our last day with Francis’ family in the Philippines.

I now am more determined than ever to find a path in which Francis and I can be together.  I have considered relocating to the Philippines and living in exile at least until a change is made in our current laws.  I have consulted numerous immigration attorneys who are sympathetic, yet all agree that this is almost a no-win situation.  There has been discussion of the option of was possibly sponsoring my fiancé for a work visa through my family’s business.  I have researched this, but it appears to be quite complicated navigating all the paperwork and understanding the requirements, if it is even viable.

With regard to employment-based visas, these can be just as difficult to obtain as a student or tourist visa.  Three common categories of employment-based visas are L-1, H-1B, and E visas.  Even though Francis may be eligible for an H-1B visa as a nurse, this type of this visa does present some problems.  First H-1Bs have an annual quota and this year’s quota has been filled which means USCIS is not accepting petitions for H-1B visas until April 1, 2013, employment on October 1, 2013.   In addition, H-1B employers must show the position requires a Bachelor’s degree.  Francis would need a U.S. employer to file a petition for the H-1B on his behalf and the position would have to be directly related to his field of study. USCIS’ position on nurses is that only senior or highly-specialized nurses qualify for H-1Bs because registered nurses generally need only an associate’s degree.   It is incredibly unfair and frustrating that we are left with almost no options.  But of course there is one option, the only option, the single most obvious and apparent option that presents itself to every binational couple, though it only functions at this time for opposite sex couples; that option is a fiancé visa and a green card. That is the fight we must undertake now. We cannot be distracted by an alphabet soup of visas! It is degrading, costly, and insane to play this game. My government has no business treating me this way, and I am ready to fight back.

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In spite of the sadness and frustration, we will continue our fight to be together.   Each obstacle we face results in our being even more determined to succeed in our goal of creating the life of which we dream.  A life, unfortunately, unfairly allowed to a limited segment of our country’s population.  Our hope is that soon we, and all other couples currently separated or facing the possibility of separation, will no longer have to endure this legacy of injustice.  We all deserve a life and family not separated by distance and discriminatory rules and regulations. Our dreams are your dreams. They are the dreams of all human beings. We seek to live in peace, together.

I made a promise to Francis.  I will not stop, I will not give in, and I will not allow any person, embassy, rule, or injustices have the final say in our life together.  This is my vow to my beloved Francis, the one man whose path crossed mine by some universal miracle.  I now fight not only for our dream, but for the dreams of countless couples who know the pain of separation due to the inequality wrought by DOMA.

 

Newlyweds Jeff and Diego Fight DOMA For a Future Together

Growing up, my parents instilled in me the age-old golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Making the happiness of others a priority became natural to me. I always hoped to have someone in my life that would strive to make me happy in the same way. When I came out as a gay man to my friends and family, my mother told me that she felt that everything she had every dreamed for me would no longer be possible. It was not that she couldn’t cope with the idea of me being gay; rather, she feared that I would be prevented me from having a family, prevented from marrying the person of my dreams and denied the opportunity to be the amazing father she believed I could be. It was not until we had numerous conversations with many assurances that marriage and family were still a possibility in my life that my mother became comfortable with the real me. What moved me forward to acknowledge and accept myself had been driven primarily by my desire to have the same shot as everyone else at finding my true love.

Growing up, my parents instilled in me the age-old golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Making the happiness of others a priority became natural to me. I always hoped to have someone in my life that would strive to make me happy in the same way.  When I came out as a gay man to my friends and family, my mother told me that she felt that everything she had every dreamed for me would no longer be possible. It was not that she couldn’t cope with the idea of me being gay; rather, she feared that I would be prevented me from having a family, prevented from marrying the person of my dreams and denied the opportunity to be the amazing father she believed I could be. It was not until we had numerous conversations with many assurances that marriage and family were still a possibility in my life that my mother became comfortable with the real me.  What moved me forward to acknowledge and accept myself had been driven primarily by my desire to have the same shot as everyone else at finding my true love.

In February of 2011, I met Diego, and every struggle, every confusing and difficult day, every moment of questioning my purpose in life, and every feeling of being alone all began to fade into my past. In our serendipitous first encounter, Diego and I briefly separated from our respective groups of friends that night, wandering into each other. From Diego’s memory, “wandering” would be better described as me “clumsily” causing his cocktail to spill all over his shirt. However, I like to remember that as the best strategic move of my life.

Celebrating Christmas with Diego and my mother.

Diego and I immediately hit it off. We talked on the phone for hours about our families, our friends, our interests, the places we’d traveled and the places we wanted to go. But what I remember most from those very early phone calls and dates is Diego’s contagious laugh. He has this amazing laugh that brightens up the darkest days, brings positivity to difficult situations, and serves as a constant reminder that I have found the man that I have always been looking for. It was Diego that finally brought to me what I had always given to others – he wants to make me happy the same way I’ve always wanted to make others happy.

Over the course of the first few months of dating, we learned a lot about each other. Diego, for example, is a Brazilian citizen in the United States on a student visa. He recently completed his graduate studies in architecture. He has a passion for modern, yet simple architectural design, which today is reflected in the home we share together (that Diego decorated, of course). I, on the other hand, work full time as the Operations Manager for a payroll company and am completing my final year of legal education in corporate law, which Diego has reminded me on occasion that dating a law student puts him at a disadvantage when we are trying to sort out a disagreement.

Throughout our relationship, we have fallen for each other more and more. It became so natural for us to think in terms of “we” rather than “I”. The day we moved in together was one of the most exciting and happy moments of my life. The ability to wake up every morning next to the man that I love and fall asleep every night wishing him sweet dreams has brought immeasurable happiness to my life. Like all couples, we have our arguments, and we make up, some times faster than others (I am a bit stubborn). Still, the moments that remain in my heart are those when we’re driving and our favorite song comes on the radio leading to us singing (or screaming) lyrics at each other; the lazy Saturday mornings of watching Brazilian soap operas online (don’t judge!); the huge smile and wave Diego gives me every single time he walks in our front door telling me that he missed me so much, and that finally being with me was the best part of his day.

A wintry day at the beach.

Unlike most other couples, however, we’ve been faced with the pressure of Diego’s uncertain future in the United States and our ability to keep us together. Diego’s student visa is nearing expiration, which leaves us with few choices to keep him here in lawful status. Either he finds employment and gets a work visa, or he continues his education. Diego has applied for an huge number of jobs in and around Los Angeles. However, his industry has been especially hard-hit by the recession, and many those employers are unwilling to petition for Diego’s work visa in such uncertain economic times. Reluctantly, Diego decided that he would be willing to continue to maintain a full time course load at school in order to maintain legal status to stay in the country. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford the steep tuition fees that must be paid in order to maintain his status as a full-time international student and comply with the requirements of his student visa.  Each day that passes brings the day of reckoning closer. Diego’s visa will expire soon, but our love and our commitment to each other will not.

Each day, I close my eyes and I thank God for bringing Diego and me together, but we know that we are faced with a harsh reality. It is simply impossible for us to survive on one income while I’m in law school and Diego cannot work.  We’re faced with limited ways for Diego to survive here, as he is unable to legally work and I cannot afford to support us both for the long term. Additionally, the mental toll it takes on a highly educated and talented person to be turned down time after time for employment because employers are reluctant to file paperwork for an employment visa. Recently, we’ve been faced with the reality of car troubles, limited financial resources, insane working schedules, seclusion from our friends because of those schedules, and hundreds of conversations about what else we can do. There are days where we feel like we have hit a wall. Diego has said “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” And by “this,” Diego refers to constantly fighting for our human right to be together, and to be able to provide for us!

We know that no matter where we are, we’ll be happy together. However, we want to stay in the United States. My family is here, my best job prospects are here, and our home is here. Every time we drive down the coast with our windows down, we feel so fortunate for such a beautiful and amazing place to live. But the ocean doesn’t have the same smell, color, or incredible sound when I’m not sharing it with the man that I love. My career prospects would become much less important without having Diego there to support me in the tough days and cheer for me when I have successful ones. In other words, my life here would never be complete if Diego is forced to leave me. In Brazil, we’d also be faced with legal challenges, but ones that can be overcome, as judicial remedies are available for same-sex couples seeking immigration benefits in Brazil. But our life is here under the sun, with our friends, our favorite restaurants and hiking trails, our dream careers, and my family to whom I am incredibly close. Life seems so scary to think that we have to “chase” our right to be together.

However, we have hope. What we have does not come along every day. It is precious. We believe we are destined to be together. We have had numerous conversations about accepting our circumstances, challenges and all.  We know that we will find a way to be together. A month ago, I proposed to Diego while walking the beach in Santa Monica on a Friday night. I told him that, while I couldn’t afford to buy him a ring, I was making a promise to him that, for the rest of my life, I would protect him, support him, love him, and fight for the lives that we both deserve to give each other. The immediate road ahead of us was going to be a difficult one, but my life no longer made sense without his smile, laugh, amazing loving nature, contagious personality, positive outlook, and every other aspect of him that I have madly and deeply fallen in love with. He accepted!

On Friday, October 12, we got married in New York City. We had planned to marry in California, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would reject the appeal in the Proposition 8 case as soon as it convened at the end of September, but as the weeks passed we decided that we would not wait. Instead, after consulting with our family and friends, we decided to move forward with our plan to marry, even if we could not do that in California. Marriage, for us, is our way of solidifying everything we have been through together, the love that we have for each other, and our commitment to spend our lives together. While we traveled to New York by ourselves, we knew we were not alone. And when we return, our family and friends will join us for a sunset ceremony on the beach and a celebration to follow.

Wedding Day October 12, 2012 in New York City.

The worry then, of course, is our inability to protect our marriage because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) excludes us from the marriage-based immigration process created precisely to unify families. It is painfully obvious that immigration laws created to keep families together should apply to all families, and we know any reasonable person would agree with that premise.  As if we needed another reminder of the irony and hypocrisy of excluding gay couples from family-based immigration, Diego comes from one of the more than 20 countries that provide for the immigration of the same-sex partners/spouses of their citizens.

We return from New York vigilant and optimistic about our future.  We believe that binational couples like us, and those who are separated or forced to live outside the United States, can bring about change in this world. Each one of us possesses the key to winning equality: our own voices. Diego and I are both strong-willed and determined, and we will fight.  Yes, we worry that by this time next year we may be forced apart or exiled from our home.  This does keep us up at night. Every moment with my family and every conversation with my mother scares me even more, as it reminds me what DOMA will do to my family if we do not win this fight.

For years I have chased a dream of graduating law school and fighting for the rights of others. That dream is still alive, despite the challenges that we face. But my dream, my career and the contributions I want to make to this world, will be stripped from me if I am forced to leave my own country. Not only would my country be denying me the right to live in this country with my husband, but it will be taking me away from my parents, my siblings, and numerous nephews that love their “Uncle Jeppy” and from the rest of my large extended family. DOMA is not only poised to destroy the family Diego and I are building; it also impacts our large American family of which we are an integral part.

We are joining The DOMA Project to advocate for immediate policy solutions to protect us and all other binational couples, and to keep moving forward the fight for full equality. We will call on our elected officials and the Obama Administration to respect the commitment and the sacrifices we bi-national couples make every day, by ensuring that we can stay legally in this country. I know that the Obama administration can take steps today to protect all gay binational couples like us. The President cannot repeal DOMA or re-write our immigration laws but he can direct his Secretary of Homeland Security to come up with remedies that ensure all gay and lesbian binational couples are able to be together. Our families cannot wait.

Love should be respected with humane protections, not ignored and trampled upon with forced separation or exile. DOMA must go, but while it is still with us, we must all work to limit its impact and ensure our families are kept intact. By telling our stories and refusing to stand by passively, we are are bringing about this change. We encourage other binational couples, including (or perhaps especially) those who are separated or exiled, to join us by by sharing your stories with friends, family, and elected officials. It is unconscionable that the federal government has not yet put in place policy to match the words of the President on the White House website: “Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.”

This President has the power to keep my family together, but we must join together to urge him to implement policies that will achieve just that.

Born in America, But Forced by DOMA to Leave Her Country, Karlynn Lives in Exile with Laura in Northern England

“Every day that I live in forced exile because I am gay, is one day too many. To end this, we all must make our voices heard now.”

 

My name is Karlynn and I am a native of Southern California.  If you were to have asked me two years ago where I would be living today, I would never have guessed that the answer would be northern England. While my days here have been filled with abundant joy, the circumstances that have resulted in my new life abroad are not by my design.  Nor am I the only U.S. citizen forced into this specific situation.

As Americans, we all wear labels imposed on us from the day we are born.  I proudly share many of these socially-constructed labels with millions of Americans: tax-payer, law-abiding citizen, California voter, daughter, sister, friend, granddaughter, and co-worker, for example.  However, only one of those labels prevents me from living in the country of my birth.  It denies me and my family our fundamental rights that should be granted to all human beings.

It is all because I am gay and my partner, Laura, is not an American citizen.

It’s because of  the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the spouses of gay and lesbian American citizens from being recognized as our spouses for any purpose, including immigration. This discriminatory practice is spelled out plain-as-day on the U.S. Department of the State website: “Same-sex marriages are not recognized by immigration law for the purpose of immigrating to the U.S.” Just the fact that my own country is advertising this shameful violation of my rights is itself shocking to the conscience.

It is completely possible for a opposite-sex couples in our situation to submit a petition and application to immigrate to the United States. They will be required to submit supporting evidence to prove the validity of their marriage in order to eventually be granted the permission for their foreign spouse or fiancée to come to the United States. However, this routine process that keeps loving, committed couples together, is not even a remote possibility for lesbian and gay binational couples.

Laura and I became aware of the complexities faced by binational couples while we were still in the United States and the expiration date of her visa began to draw near. I knew without a doubt that she was the one I wanted to spend my life with, and vice versa, though we weren’t engaged at the time. We started brainstorming heavily, spending many hours trying to solve the perplexing riddle of how we were going to keep her in the country.

Our search led us to consider many options, palatable and unpalatable.  Ruling out one after one, the only possible and legal solution we could come up with was to have her go back to England for a few weeks and return to the U.S.A. on a tourist visa. We understood, however, that this course of action would really only buy us 90 more days together — a temporary respite before we would have to face the same grim scenario once more.  All that mattered to us was reuniting as quickly as possible, so we proceeded with the plan.

I will never forget the morning her visa expired, reluctantly driving to the airport and being forced to say goodbye to my sweetheart due to circumstances outside of my control. It felt uncanny to bid adieu to one another because we hadn’t spent one day apart since we first met. With all the strength I could muster, I put on my bravest face. On the inside, I was unable to shake the hollow feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that told me that our time apart was going to be significantly longer than two weeks. The optimist in me thought instead about her return to California. One of my ideas was to surprise her with an engagement ring at the airport.

After what seemed like forever, two weeks had passed. It was a day filled with a mixture of relief and excitement, knowing that I was just a few hours away from properly proposing to my wife-to-be. Around midday, I received an unexpected phone call. The unmistakably familiar voice on the other line Laura’s. I was thrown off guard by the sorrow that resonated in her words as she spoke. During her layover in Philadelphia she was stopped by  Customs and Border Protection. Because she had attempted to re-enter the country too soon after her previous visa had expired, she underwent additional scrutiny as is typical for any repeat or frequent visitor suspected of having the intent to immigrate. As a result, U.S. authorities would not permit her to continue on to San Diego. Instead, she was detained and required to board the next flight back to England. Suddenly, the full knowledge that she would not be back in my arms on that day swept over me. I was devastated.  I was powerless to do anything, while my own government cruelly denied me the right to spend even 90 days more with the love of my life.  She was in fact, only visiting, because that’s all she was permitted to do. And then, to add insult to injury, I was hours away from proposing to her.   To top it all off, Laura revealed to me that she, too, had purchased an engagement ring during her time in England with the plan to ask for my hand in marriage at the airport as well. Fighting back tears, we proposed to each other and vowed to spend the rest of our lives together — all via text message.

Just like that, the life we were beginning to build together had been thrust into a state of limbo. While apart, we found that the geographical distance, the 8-hour time difference, and the monetary and emotional costs of our separation proved to be formidable challenges. Thankfully, the correspondence between us continued uninterrupted due to a steady stream of text messaging, email, international calls, video conferencing, and old fashioned letter writing. Of course, nothing can replace being in the same physical space at the same time with the one you love. So, despite our access to the modern conveniences of communication, the distance made each day an agony. We once again put our minds together to come up with a lasting solution.

Laura had no qualms about relocating to the U.S.A. This was ideal because I was in the process of actively pursuing my second Bachelor’s Degree in nursing. I had every intention of finishing the course, but the daily torment of not having her around was starting to affect my studies. Getting her here had become my top priority. We mulled over the issue for weeks and weeks, examining each idea from every angle, but to no avail.

As the days progressed, it was clear that there was no way to bring my partner into this country as my fiancée. The more we searched, the more I began to grow frustrated. The love of my life was constantly fighting back tears, battling depression, unable to eat or carry on with her life in England. I sometimes felt that it was my fault, that I was to blame for putting her through this.  It was the first time in my life I had felt discriminated against and one of the few times that I have felt ashamed of and embarrassed by my country.

With no other options, I decided to forgo my life here in California to be with my partner in England. In the course of three weeks, I handed in my notice at my place of employment, quit the nursing program, cashed out my retirement, gave away or sold all of my possessions, and moved out of my apartment. That was the easy part. Informing my friends, co-workers, and family members of my plans took all the courage I could find. The general consensus was that I had lost my mind. Of course, these types of remarks were easily forgiven because they came from a place of caring deeply for my well-being and protecting my best interest. I was taking a huge leap of faith – it was the single bravest thing I have ever done in my entire life.

Once the dust settled, I was blown away with the amount of support my friends and family provided me. It was with this encouragement that I was able to find the strength to work on all the paperwork and documentation needed to obtain an entry visa to the United Kingdom. At last, our 102 days of separation had finally come to an end. I would get the chance to propose to my fiancée in person.

 

Laura and I married on November 9, 2010, in a civil partnership ceremony fully recognized by the U.K. government. Now, I have full permission to work legally, equal access to all marriage benefits, and the right to adopt children — same as any Briton. Unfortunately, this still does not change the reality that our union is not recognized by the U.S. government, leaving me with two very limiting options:

  • My wife and I can remain in England together for an indefinite amount of time until Federal laws change in the U.S.A. During that time, we would not have the luxury of traveling together between our respective homelands as we please, as bi-national heterosexual couples are able to do.
  • I can return to California alone without my wife: bitter, completely empty, and heartbroken.  Frankly, this has no chance of happening.

Ask yourself what you would do if you were forced to tailor your life around such “choices.”  In the name of life, liberty, and our pursuit of happiness, we will continue to call for equality until it is fully realized.  If the U.K. amends its laws to end unequal treatment of lesbian and gay couples, then I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the United States of America can too.  And that is why we have joined The DOMA Project to fight for an end to the exile and separation of lesbian and gay binational couples.  We believe that it is important to speak out and to let the government know the consequences of this unjust law.  We support The DOMA Project’s advocacy for humanitarian parole to allow spouses and partners of lesbian and gay Americans to enter the United States and keep couples together.  If such a temporary remedy were available to Laura and me, I would not have been forced to uproot myself from my home and my family and move thousands of miles away.  Every day that I live in forced exile because I am gay, is one day too many. To end this, we all must make our voices heard now.

 

Janice & Margie: Married Lesbian Couple in North Carolina Fights DOMA to Stay Together With Their Children

Janice and Margie are a married binational couple who have lived together in North Carolina since 2005. They are raising two children together. Here, Janice shares the story of her family fighting to be together as her visa runs out.

Most of us have fond memories of the time we first met the love of our lives. Our story is no exception. In pursuit of the one, I spent some time on online dating sites to no avail. One night, tiring of the pursuit, I decided if no one came online with whom I could talk, I would power down my laptop and watch TV. After a couple of hours, I was about to logoff and reach for the remote when a stranger typed “hi.” I thought about ignoring her as I couldn’t be bothered with another pointless exchange, but something inspired me to say “hello” back. By the time we finished chatting eight hours later, it was 6 a.m!

That was almost eight years ago. That chance online encounter has since evolved into a loving and committed relationship, despite that fact that we were 4,000 miles and five time zones apart. Through many nights of talking for hours on end, we came to know each other’s lives, and we shared our dreams and aspirations. The following March, I came to visit Margie in the United States and realized that I didn’t ever want to be without this woman. When it came time to return to Britain to my family, my job, and my apartment, we felt as though our hearts were being ripped out of our chests not knowing when we would see each other again.

Once I got home, Margie and I resumed our daily ritual of chatting for hours on end. One day, I mentioned casually that I had always wanted to go back to college. Margie suggested that I come to the U.S. to study here. After some research we realized that this would achieve two goals: I could pursue a new career and we could finally be together. In October, I made a short trip to see Margie and visit the college I would be attending. I was full of anticipation for my studies, but I was excited, too, because I would be experiencing this new chapter in my life alongside the woman I loved. I gave up my apartment in London, packed all my belongings and moved to the United States in December 2005 on a student visa.

Today, I hold an Associate’s Degree in Web Technologies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science; however, my proudest accomplishment is the life that Margie and I have built together. Margie’s children have become mine. They see me as their second mom, who loves and supports them. Her parents, New Yorkers who are in their late sixties and early seventies, treat me as if I was their daughter. Anyone who knows us can see that we are a typical family, caring for each other through thick and thin, celebrating holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.  But the story, for us, does not end there.  My student visa is about to expire and I have found no way to stay legally in the U.S. with Margie and our kids.  Because we are a lesbian couple, the regular avenues of immigration designed to keep families together are closed off to us.

Janice and Margie on their wedding day

Our savings have been depleted by the cost of my foreign student tuition fees, and my inability to work because of visa restrictions. We were forced to take on student loans so that I could complete my degrees. All the while, Margie has held down two jobs to keep us going, which is more stress and strain than she can bear at times though she never complains. For her, keeping us together is the only acceptable option. Whenever the topic comes up, she says with great conviction, “you are not going anywhere and that’s the end of it!”  but I know that she is as terrified as I am.

Now in our fifties, we are at a time in our lives when we should be able to save and plan for retirement. Instead, I am a middle-aged college graduate forced to maintain my status as student to keep my family together.  As a result, we are faced with a debt that will take 20 years for us to pay off, and I have no guarantee, as my visa expires, that there will be any way for me to stay in the U.S. alongside the woman I love, and our children.

We decided, as a family, to fight back.  On June 21, our extended family gathered with us in Clifton Park, New York where Margie and I were legally married, after almost 8 years together. We would have married sooner, but we feared that this would complicate my obtaining another student visa, if by some slim chance that were even necessary or possible in the future.  So we held off, though we felt married to each other in every way possible.

The brides with Margie’s parents

The day of our wedding was magical. We celebrated all that we have, before the people we love most in the world. We experienced the joy of newlyweds embarking on the next chapter of life together and of a lesbian couple finally able to participate in a rite that so many others take for granted. We fought back tears of happiness as we exchanged our vows and as our family watched on, fighting back their own tears that we were finally able to become the married couple we had long felt we already were in so many ways. It was a scorching hot day, but we didn’t care. We were now married, and that’s all that mattered. After the ceremony we took more photos, and my father-in-law and mother-in-law treated us all to a wonderful meal at an Italian restaurant. My father-in-law then surprised us by booking a room for us at a gorgeous hotel for our wedding night. We were very spoiled by our family that day. The whole week was full of celebration, and we realized just how much our marriage meant to our entire extended family. I don’t think my Margie’s mom has come down off of cloud nine yet!

In our home state of North Carolina, 61% of voters recently approved a hateful constitutional amendment to forbid us from marrying. We feel forced to hide who we are. There is no way to describe how it feels to deny your own existence, spinning yet another tale about how we are just friends who just live together. We are afraid that Margie would lose her job if her employer found out she was gay, because of course there is no protection against such discrimination. This is a matter of survival as her job supports the four of us, and has kept me in the country.

All we want is the same protection provided by the immigration law to other couples in our situation. Margie and I are married, I am her wife. We should be able to file a green card petition and that petition should be approved. Our love for each other and for our children is no different than that of any other married couple.

A happy family photo

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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.