Gonzalo and Arturo: Binational Couple in Chicago Engaged to be Married, Joins Campaign to Defeat DOMA
If you really want something, you have to do everything to reach your goal, or you’ll only be watching others succeed.
The first time I met Gonzalo in March 2011, I never thought a relationship between us would be possible; despite the fact that we’re both Latinos, we were living in different countries. Gonzalo was born in Colombia, he is forty-seven, an American citizen who has lived in Chicago for sixteen years. My name is Arturo; I am forty-two. I was living in Yucatán, México, when we met online.
I am anthropologist. Two years ago, I was doing the last year of my masters degree in environmental education science while Gonzalo was working on his research in the Latino community.
At first, we communicated via Skype. We were talking every day, two or three hours every night for approximately three months. We shared our worries and our personal dreams daily. We had had some bad experiences in past relationships, but we both agreed that these experiences made us stronger. Eventually, we started wanting to see each other in person and not just via a web cam. As I couldn’t travel because of my masters degree commitments, Gonzalo decided to visit me in México. He first came to see me in June of 2011 and we spent a wonderful time together. Face to face at last and closer together than ever before, we understood that we were falling in love with each other, day by day.
On the last day before Gonzalo had to go back to the U.S., we talked about the wonderful time we shared together: talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company, and then Gonzalo asked me whether we had a chance as a couple, and if I wanted to be more than friends. Of course, I said yes.
One month later, on my vacation, I had the opportunity to visit Gonzalo, so I came to Chicago for the first time. I spent the entire August with him, so I could find out how the life with him here in Chicago would be, and I liked it.
I had to return to México to complete my degree. Finally, when I finished my studies, Gonzalo asked me if I could move in with him. Moving to the U.S. had to be the biggest decision that I ever had to make: it was not easy for me. I like Chicago, but I also know how hard it would be to try to do everything right with immigration hassles. I visited Gonzalo again in December, 2011, planning to spend some time together to find out how our relationship would work for us. I stayed in Chicago for six months; this time helped us so much to grow as a couple and at the same time made our commitment more solid.
Then, in June 2012, I had to leave since my tourist visa didn’t allow me to stay for more than six months at a time. Saying good bye to Gonzalo was so hard, because I knew I wouldn’t able to come back to spend time together with him any time soon.
Love is something that needs constant care, but distance is always hard to deal with, and puts a strain on relationships.
As we know, DOMA has been destroying binational families by ripping them apart. Like any heterosexual couple does, Gonzalo should be able to file for a fiancé visa for me, but he cannot, because of DOMA. We had to continue using modern technology (Skype) to help keep our relationship going on a nightly basis.
Gonzalo is the love of my life and we have a very mature relationship. We understand each other and we want to have the opportunity to be with each other, to make a family and to build a future together.
I love to wake up next to Gonzalo, and to make him breakfast. I like feeling his breath next to me when we are in bed, I love listening to Gonzalo’s stories about his life in Colombia. I enjoy being part of his life, and I want to make him proud of me as much as I feel proud of him.
At night, we relax on the sofa in front of the TV, or talk over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. I love dancing with him, even if he claims that he has two left feet!
Sometimes we talk nonsense. But even when we argue, there’s always a word that eases any argument. Most importantly, I know Gonzalo cares for me, as I care for him.
I had to wait four months to come back to Chicago to Gonzalo, but this time was much harder to get there. On the way from México, the immigration officer at the Chicago airport asked me why I returned when only four months had passed since I left the U.S.
“I wanted to visit my boyfriend,” I told him, and he laughed in my face. I felt so ashamed! He called another officer to take me to a separate room. After an hour of questioning, I was allowed through. The experience at the customs that day, made us think of taking the next step in our relationship and getting married. Not because of immigration difficulties, but because we both want this and we love each other deeply!
To be honest, I don’t really need to move anywhere. In my country, I have everything that I would need: my career, my degree, my house, my things, my family, my culture, my friends. Even the legislation in Mexico is more gay-friendly now. But the fact is: Gonzalo cannot move to my country and I understand his reasons, so, if one of us has to move and if I want to have a relationship with Gonzalo, it’s going to be me.
I can leave my life behind. I don’t care, I love him. As many people do, I was waiting for the right person that I could fall in love with, and now I finally found that person, and fortunately he feels the same about me.
All we now need is to build our life together. We are planning to get married in July 2013.
As we join this campaign to defeat DOMA and bring about marriage equality from our home in Chicago, time is running fast. I hope our contribution to this struggle will result in great things to come for all the couples like Gonzalo and me.
It all started in 2010, during the Women’s Football World Championship in Sweden over the summer. Six nations, including Austria and the U.S., competed against each other, and there she was. Jamie. After playing against her, seeing her off and on the field, watching her passion for this sport, the way she acted, I just couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Some people may think that there is no love at first sight, but I think that they are plainly wrong. I had nothing else in mind but to find her. Back in my home country of Austria, the journey began. My goal was to find this mysterious person, whose name I didn’t know – who’d turned my head and kept my undivided attention. I had the idea of looking up all those names that were published in a folder that was handed out to all the teams while we were in Sweden. After some time, I found Jamie on my personal Facebook ‘hunt’. When I sent her a friend request – I was so nervous! I tried my luck, and I was praying for her to answer. It didn’t take her long at all, but it took me days to actually gather all my courage and send her a reasonable message. There I was, thinking about how to not make a jerk of myself and start a conversation that wouldn’t stop after one or three responses.
Fortunately, we rather easily struck up a conversation. Our daily talks kept going and neither of us stopped replying. We shared something special that neither of us could explain, since we’d never experienced it before. It took me a while to admit that Jamie was the one I was looking for – that she caught my attention during our stay in Sweden. This confession led to many sleepless nights. Walking to one another continuously, knowing that there was more between us, than we both dared to say. Then came the first attempt of defying the distance. We had a little countdown going, on Facebook and on a poster, where we crossed out each day we had to wait to finally meet each other in Chicago, close to where Jamie’s family lives.
We both were so nervous. She waited at the airport for me to arrive while I went through U.S. customs. We longed for this very moment for the last five months. We were so happy to spend Christmas holidays and New Year’s together. Living with Jamie’s brother, his wife and kids, we did various fun activities and I felt like a family member from the first day on. We went to Chicago a couple times, visited a museum, a zoo, went to the movies, out for dinner (where we found our restaurant – Rainforest Café) – just like any other couple; but as we were enjoying ourselves, we both knew that I’d have to return to Austria soon.
After that trip, we both knew that we wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of our lives together. What we didn’t know yet, was how difficult it all would turn out to be.
After four months of struggling with the long distance, Jamie booked her flight to Vienna, Austria. We were happy to finally have her meet my family. My family and close friends loved her the instant they met her and didn’t want her to think having to return to the U.S. again. However, we both knew that keeping her here wouldn’t have worked out, and so we made the best out of her stay. We went sightseeing, spent a lot of time with the family and friends, and also went to Budapest one time (where I had a football game). It was great to have her back, to be able to fall asleep and wake up together, kiss and hold each other whenever we wanted – and just act like any other couple, forgetting all the sorrows and struggling we had to go through the last couple months. Of course, this trip ended with a heartbreaking goodbye, without knowing when we’d see each other again. This time, though, it was even worse because we became so accustomed to be with each other that we couldn’t think of leaving the other one behind.
In the same year, in August, I was able to afford another plane ticket to the U.S. This time, I met Jamie’s mother for the first time. Since I stayed for a month, I was able to meet even more of Jamie’s family than before. Everything felt so familiar. We went to a football game, Six Flags – Great America, to Wisconsin, to the movies, again, to our favorite place – the Rainforest Café, Lake Michigan, and did all those fun activities normal couples would do. Staying a month gave us a little more time, but also made the upcoming separation worse. We became so accustomed to being with each other that the thought of separating once more was unbearable. We loved being with each other, sharing experiences, falling asleep with each other (there’s nothing better than that) and being there for each other. We always knew that one day, we’d get married; but this trip, we promised ourselves that once we can afford it (Jamie had no serious job and I was about to start college), we’d take this step. We didn’t know there were laws that would stand in the way.
Leaving Jamie and her family after a month hurt tremendously, also because we both knew that the time we could spend online would be reduced yet again. With college being right around the corner, and Jamie desperately searching for a job and returning to working jobs that were right at those times we both would’ve been able to talk to each other, there was nothing we would look forward to.
As it became unbearable for us to go on like this, I decided to take the rest of my saved money, to buy Jamie a ticket to Vienna (I couldn’t fly myself, since I had to go to college), and made her come here. It was the first time she accepted such an offer, and I was happy she did. We spent two wonderful weeks in Austria together, that gave us new motivation and ambition to fight for our final forever. We enjoyed our time together, even though we knew that we’d soon be separated once more. We tried not to think about it, but the thoughts were present. We kept ourselves busy, went to college, attended family festivities. Also, Jamie got to know my newborn god-daughter. I loved being with Jamie and the family. I loved to have her as a part of my life in Austria and would have loved the thought of keeping her here. Even though it was only two weeks, it strengthened our relationship and made us continue to walk our path.
Probably the most important thing that happened during that stay is the promise we gave each other. Since we weren’t able to marry at this time, we bought rings, giving each other the promise to get married whenever it’d be possible for us to do so.
In the following three months there was nothing on our minds other than the thought of being with each other again. As often before, there was hardly time to talk to each other due to different things that would come up, preventing us from talking to each other. Jamie was working a job that was usually at the times we would have been online – and until then, we hadn’t found a way to call each other without the result of paying a fortune. Usually, at the times she worked, I went to college. The time difference seven-hour time difference led to weeks of loneliness and the craving for the voice and presence of my other half.
Luckily, I had enough money saved to buy a plane ticket that would bring me to America. I could hardly wait to see my love and her family again, since the last three months were stressful and left both of us desperate and lonely.
This time I stayed for one and a half months. It was the longest we ever were together. I loved every second that we were able to share. Also, this trip was the first time we got to spend my birthday together. It is great to spend holidays and special personal days, like birthdays with one another. In the last two years, we weren’t able to celebrate any special days together – other than New Year’s in the year we met. We both became so used to the situation of being together, that the day I had to leave was worse than ever before. Of course, every time we had to separate, we broke down and cried, not wanting to let go of the other and not knowing how to cope with the situation, but this time was different.
Since day one, we always had in mind to spend the rest of our lives together. We never really talked about where we’d actually live, but with Jamie having landed a job, and me, being in the position and age to start a ‘new life’, some other place, we agreed on me moving to the U.S.
I started my research and found out, that as a gay bi-national couple, we aren’t granted the same rights that straight couples are. It caught me off guard that it might be the case that we’d have to wait a long time to be able to get the basic human rights that straight couples do have. We were suddenly gripped with the fear that if we married I might lose my right to enter the U.S., since Jamie’s home state of Indiana does not permit or recognize marriage for same-sex couples. Fortunately, we later learned during one of The DOMA Project’s recent conference calls that this fear was unfounded. Once DOMA is off the books, immigration law will recognize any marriage so long as it is legally valid in the state or country where it was entered.
I have to admit that we didn’t think it was going to be so difficult for me to move to the U.S. We didn’t know about DOMA, and we didn’t know about all the various visas that permit temporary (but not permanent) stays. There is no way for me to obtain a green card or work permit given our circumstances. Even though I went to a technology school in Austria, where I received an above average high school education, I probably wouldn’t be able to find someone who would offer me a job and would also be willing to sponsor me for a visa.
It seems like Jamie and I are always hitting dead ends and come back to the same spot where we started. If DOMA were repealed or invalidated, we’d be able to marry. We wouldn’t have to worry about when we’d see each other again. We could simply move together, start our forever, living through the good and bad times. With the stability that is obtained through federal recognition of marriage, we would be able to dream our dreams and eventually grow our own family. It would give us the rights we deserve, because we are not different. What people need to understand is that we, as a gay couple, are no threat to the community. We enjoy the same sorts of things that heterosexual couples enjoy, from Six Flags to Football to the Rainforest Café. Just because of our sexual orientation, we should not be forced to subsist with a second-class marriage in the U.S. or anywhere else for that matter.
It is time to change things, to not separate families anymore. Inspired by the many brave DOMA Project participants, we refuse to live our lives in limbo as the Supreme Court determines DOMA’s fate and our future. By sharing our story, we are helping to build awareness and support for a swift and unambiguous end of DOMA. We’re also helping to draw attention to much needed interim remedies like a green card abeyance policy. Such and abeyance policy would allow Jamie to petition for a green card for me, with the final outcome pending until a final ruling by the Supreme Court. This would allow me to remain with Jamie without fear of separation starting now. Such a policy has precedent and would be quite easy to implement. There is no excuse for delay. Jamie and I belong together. We hope we can count on you to share our story (or even share your own) and take action to bring our message to an ever-broader audience.
THE DOMA PROJECT AT THE SUPREME COURT
Analysis of Oral Arguments and Likely Rulings That Will Strike Down DOMA
Join the DOMA Project co-founder Lavi Soloway this Sunday evening at 8:00 pm EST (5:00 pm PST) to hear his analysis after he attended oral arguments this week in United States v. Windsor at the Supreme Court.
Lavi Soloway will describe the experience of attending the oral arguments from his vantage point seated in the second row in the well of court, directly behind the attorneys who presented arguments to the nine justices, and he will explain the most likely outcome of a Supreme Court ruling expected to come at the end of June. We will also discuss how oral arguments have impacted our strategy and address the most pressing issue facing binational couples fighting for full equality: what can you do in the next 90 days to ensure that we defeat DOMA at the Supreme Court and in the Court of Public Opinion and ensure a smooth transition to a post-DOMA universe.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT ON WEDNESDAY? HOW WILL WE DEFEAT DOMA AND WIN FULL EQUALITY? SIGN UP FOR OUR CONFERENCE CALL TO FIND OUT!
RSVP for this conference call sending an e-mail to [email protected] with the subject line “DOMA Project SCOTUS Conference Call” and you will receive instruction for calling in by reply e-mail.
If you will be unable to attend the conference call due to the time-zone difference, please contact Derek Tripp at [email protected] for other arrangements.
BRING THEM HOME: Binational Gay Family Exiled to UK Urges President Obama to Grant Humanitarian Parole
My name is Sarah. I’m 33 years old and a former resident of Tiverton, Rhode Island. I grew up in Rhode Island and attended Tiverton public schools from kindergarten until my graduation from Tiverton High in 1997. I went to Rhode Island College for four years as an Elementary Education major with a focus on children with Special Needs. I worked for Girl Scouts of Rhode Island (GSRI) every summer for almost 10 years and did hundreds, possibly thousands – I never counted, hours of volunteer work for GSRI as well.
It was through my work with Girl Scouts that I met my wife, Emma. In 2001 Emma, who is a British citizen, worked for the summer at Camp Hoffman in Kingston, Rhode Island. I was also working there as a lifeguard. We spent the summer as co-workers, and towards the end of her time in the States we grew close. When the camp closed for the summer in August, she spent the next two months living with me and my family until her visa expired in October. After an extremely emotional and teary departure that month, we knew that this was a relationship we would try anything to continue. Through letters, emails, and phone calls our relationship grew, and for the next 4 years, we spent all our spare money flying back and forth over the “pond” to see each other as often as possible.
I spent summers here in England, meeting her friends and family, only to have to return back to Tiverton to be back at my job in the schools I was working in. She would use up all of her vacation days at work to spend time with my family and me back in the States. In 2005, after years of very-long-distance relationship work, we had decided that we needed to either move to be with each other, or end the relationship that we had strived to build. We discussed it, and decided it would be best if Emma moved to America.
It never crossed my mind that it wouldn’t be possible due to the fact that we are gay. I learned that immigration rights are a federal issue, and even if we could get married in the State of Rhode Island, with a certificate just as any other married couple had, we would not be eligible for a spousal visa. She came to the US for a year on a student visa, but we couldn’t afford the international tuition for more than a year. Our world fell from under us. We had set our minds on Emma moving to America for so many reasons – I had a full time job in special needs education that would pay the bills and insure us both, my family was supportive of our relationship, Emma would be able to work or continue with college as well. We never fathomed that it wouldn’t work due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We still intended to get married and eventually live together; we were planning our future just like any young couple in love. However, my government and DOMA forced me into quitting my job, leaving my family, and moving to England so that I could be with my wife.
We married in the State of Massachusetts, and two months later I made the flight to my new home here in England. That was in 2006. I have now lived her for almost 7 years, and we have an almost three-year-old son together. He’s a dual citizen, as the UK recognizes our union for what it is, and he is therefore eligible to benefit from it. To be completely honest, neither of us wants to live here. My line of work lets me live anywhere in the world, so returning to the States wouldn’t be a financial burden. But right now, we do not have a path forward to returning to our home.
President Obama said on the White House website, “that Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.” But Emma and I were forced into that very position and are living this reality every day. If President Obama would direct the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to begin offering exiled same-sex couples humanitarian parole, my wife and I could start our lives in Rhode Island with our son; our home. There may not be a final resolution until DOMA is struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. But we are sharing our story because our marriage and our family and our future is worth fighting for now, and because our son deserves to be raised in America.
We join The DOMA Project in asking you to help spread our story and fight for humanitarian parole to end the exile and separation of gay binational couples. We are asking that you tweet our story to my congressional representatives in Rhode Island, urging them to advocate for humanitarian parole to the White House now. We should not be required to wait another day to come home.
— The DOMA Project (@GayBinationals) March 7, 2013
Sarah & Emma
Our story begins in May 2011, when I was passing the time in a generic internet chat room. At first, all I could see was that Ben was 23 years old and from the UK. By chance, somebody mentioned something about a musician that both Ben and I liked, prompting us to begin our first conversation, which lasted well into the night. After close to ten hours of talking, I returned to reality and thought about this stranger with whom I felt such a sudden and strong bond. Being from Texas, it was very rare that I had the opportunity to be so open with someone and talk about life, being gay, and growing up in such a religiously influenced part of America. It was from this point our daily video conversations via Skype and phone calls back and forth began. We spent the next few months getting to know each other, talking daily, learning more about things we had in common, backgrounds, thoughts on growing up on different continents, our passions and ambitions, etc. Discussions became plans, and plans turned into actions.
In September 2011, Ben made arrangements to come to Texas on a six month tourist visa. He arrived in mid-September and over the next six months we fell in love. As Ben’s six months here were coming to an end, we discussed our options as a gay binational couple, which seemed quite limited. Ben was aware that the UK had recently begun to recognize civil partnerships. After a lot of emotional ups and downs and some confusion, we decided that I would return to the UK with Ben and get to know his friends, family, and the place he called home. Our relationship continued to strengthen; we overcame many obstacles. Finally, on June 1 2012, Ben and I had a wonderful civil union ceremony. We felt a wave of optimism immediately after exchanging our vows. After consulting an immigration attorney in Britain we were told that due to recent changes in the immigration requirements applying to us as a couple, Ben wouldn’t be able to sponsor me for a visa to stay there with him permanently because he could not show he earned sufficient income to sponsor me. So despite the UK having provisions that allowed for the immigration of same-sex partners, this option was not open to us, despite being in a legally recognized British civil union. We had discussed our options of staying together in America, but we were already aware that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) stood in the way of my petitioning for Ben as my spouse.
So in September 2012, I returned to Texas, with a heavy heart and no plan to resolve our separation. Ben and I gradually became very upset without each other. It had been a full year of spending every day with one another, going to bed and falling asleep next to each other every night, feeling inseparable. It was during the recent election that I spoke to Ben for long periods of time about our hopes of our future together. With more and more media coverage and political debate focusing on same-sex marriage, DOMA, and the future of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans like me in binational relationships, we felt a renewed hope. After Barack Obama was re-elected, the focus on equal rights for LGBT citizens and their families only continued to sharpen. We watched as more and more couples spoke out and shared their stories, and gay and lesbian families mobilized and made the general public aware of the harm we suffered because we were denied equal rights. More and more States were weighing in on the debate with legislation moving to legalize marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. For me and Ben, it was clearly the right time to join this fight.
Knowing that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear cases debating the constitutionality of DOMA and California’s anti-gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, we made plans for Ben to come back for another visit to the United States. Ben flew from Britain at the end of November and both of us eagerly awaited the moment when we could hold each other at the airport and know that for at least some time, we were together once more. From the moment that the love of my life landed at his first layover in America, I eagerly awaited a phone call letting me know he was here and fine. I received a phone call, except it wasn’t Ben’s voice I heard through the phone. It was an U.S. Immigration and Customs officer informing me that my partner was being questioned and held until they knew the full story of who he was here to visit, how long he would be staying, and in what capacity he was related to me and my family. I came very close to falling apart in the next three hours, not knowing what was happening or whether Ben would even be allowed into the country. I finally got a call from Ben, distraught and sobbing on a public payphone in the middle of the airport where he had, after three hours, finally been allowed through customs and into the U.S. I comforted him and assured him that he would soon be home with me, and after another transfer flight, we were re-united.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14 this year, my husband and I were legally wed in the State of Washington under its newly passed marriage equality law. It was a day that we both had discussed and debated so much, never truly knowing if we would have that chance. The day was beautiful and we had an intimate ceremony with a few close friends and witnesses. After such a formal civil ceremony, we dressed casually and exchanged our vows and our rings above a waterfall before enjoying a quiet walk through the woods. The rest of our day was spent talking of our plans for our lives together, celebrating with our friends and dreaming of what could be. We spoke of our sacrifices and gains, our failures and triumphs. Our plans to apply for Ben’s green card, to stand proudly in front of an immigration officer and declare our commitment and love to one another. We want for nothing more than to be recognized and respected for what we are: a committed, loving, married couple, a family. We have spent so much time reading the many other stories written by couples in the same situation as ours, and we take great comfort in the feeling that we are not in this alone. We want the same treatment and the same rights as any heterosexual couple, or any other committed couple, for that matter.
We are prepared to be a part of this grass roots effort, to keep building this community of binational couples who take affirmative steps to realize their own equality. We are not willing to wait for a court or government to tell us what we already know: our love is equal, our commitment is equal, and we deserve to be treated equally under the law. As Ben is on a tourist visa, which will eventually expire; we now have no other option than to stand up and demand equal treatment, equal rights, and the right to a future together. We want to file a green card petition that won’t be denied purely because of DOMA, though denials continue because the Obama administration insists on enforcing the law even though the Attorney General determined the law to be unconstitutional two years ago. I love my husband and do not wish to see him walk away again, not knowing when our next meeting will be. As an American citizen, I want my president to stand up, and take immediate action to defend my rights and the rights of every other gay or lesbian citizen in the same situation. President Obama can do this by directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue policy that our green card case should be accepted and put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA. We want President Obama to use the prerogatives of his office to allow us to pursue the American Dream.
Seventeen Years After They First Met, These Two Gay Dads Are Fighting DOMA To Keep Their Family Together
Calvin and I met in Beijing in 1996. I was a young Dutch student, studying at Beijing University to obtain my master’s degree in International Environmental Law and Intellectual Property Law, while he was there on the UCLA Education Abroad Program.
Calvin grew up in a small town in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. After the war in Vietnam ended in 1975 and the American forces withdrew from the country, his family was thrust into poverty as a result of their support of US forces. Life under the new regime proved to be difficult: in the aftermath of the war, raising five children on a school teacher’s meager salary was a challenge.
With few options available, Calvin’s father, with his wife’s blessing, made the difficult decision to leave his wife and five young children behind in Vietnam to search for a better future, like thousands of other refugees before him. Calvin and his brother followed their father’s footsteps several years later. After four failed attempts, significant losses of hard earned savings to cover the costs of those “border crossing” attempts, and even a month’s jail-time when Calvin was nine years old, Calvin and his brother survived a horrific boat trip and made it to a refugee camp in a neighboring country by the ages of 12 and 13, respectively.
Eventually, Calvin and his brother were able to establish contact with their father, who several years earlier had made the journey across the Pacific Ocean as a refugee, ultimately settling in Northern California. Calvin and his brother remained in the refugee camp as minors for another year before they were finally reunited with their father in the U.S.
Once in the U.S., Calvin quickly thrived. He was an honors student in high school. Ten years after those traumatic events occurred, Calvin graduated with a double major at one of the finest universities in the country. Most important, perhaps, he became an American citizen.
As for me, I grew up in a small, religious, and socially conservative village in the Netherlands. I wore wooden shoes to school (yes, we small-town folk actually still wear them). My daily packed lunch consisted of bread, cheese and milk. My sister and I rode our bicycles for 20 kilometer to school and back every day regardless of weather conditions. My mom would knit our sweaters, my grandma would knit our socks, bedspreads and curtains. We grew our own food and spent many afternoon tending to the garden. On my days off, my after-school daycare program involved me jumping over the backyard fence to climb trees in the forest together with my cat Mickey, until mom called for dinner at exactly 5:30 every day.
Growing up in such a small town, I did not know of another gay person or even fully understood what it meant to be gay. The word did not exist in my world. As time passed, I felt suffocated and knew I needed to break out on my own as soon as possible and find a place where I could live freely and be myself.
At the age of 18, I moved to the other side of the country, to Maastricht, to study Mandarin and English. Traveling to Spain a lot, I had developed a keen interest in seeing more of the world. Seeing more of what it means to be free. Upon my graduation and official certification as a Certified Translator-Interpreter, I was given a scholarship to continue my studies at Beijing University.
Whether it was fate, random coincidence, or predetermined destiny (“yuan fen” in Mandarin), Calvin and I met while we were both studying in Beijing, China in the summer of 1996. The day we met, we didn’t in fact meet. I was walking up the steps of the entrance to my foreign student dormitory building, on my way to class, when Calvin rode by on his bicycle. I later learned he was, at that time, studying at a university across town, but was visiting some friends from his Education Abroad Program at my campus. What initially caught my attention was the manner in which he was riding his bicycle; he was horizontal on the bicycle, hands grabbing the handle bar and balancing his stomach on the saddle and legs stretched out. Chinese society is focused strongly on following rules and such a display of individuality was extremely rare. In surprise, I stopped in my tracks, put down my school bag and just stared at him in wonder. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know if it was because I had never seen a bicycle ridden the way he did (since I grew up with riding one), or the fact that he so freely went against conformity, without any care. It was one of those moments that only lasts a few seconds in time, but last forever in our heart. Watching him, I felt like someone had just knocked on my door and something was about to change. He also noticed me, smiled but said nothing.
Several months after, we met again, or rather, met. In a city of 16 million people, we met in an underground gay bar. Being gay was still illegal back then. There was only one gay bar in Beijing at the time, hidden deep in a hutong, which was forbidden territory for foreigners. The police raided the bar about once a month, and whoever was caught being there, would disappear. No prison or labor camps for gays. They just disappeared; they ceased to exist. My Chinese friends and I had to outrun undercover law enforcement once already, so I was more than aware of the risk involved. Yet that day we had both, separately, decided to wait for the sun to go down and carefully sneak into the hutong. We had both found the hidden club, and were enjoying the music, company and the feeling of being part of something exciting, dangerous and pure. In that way, being there reminded me much of the secret jazz club the cast-out minister daughter in The Color Purple had started. Being there felt very much like that.
Calvin and I met and fell in love within minutes. Although I was in no mood to meet anyone and fought it furiously, it was clear to both of us that this was it: The One. Fighting this was obviously irrelevant. The cautious and conservative-natured Calvin asked me to marry him a within a fortnight. We moved in together soon after, which was an easy feat, since boy and girl students were not allowed to stay in the same building and students shared their room with one other student. We had a great year.
I started working at the Dutch embassy later that school year, to make some money to be able to move to Los Angeles, to enable Calvin to graduate. I arrived in the U.S. with little money, two suitcases, no job and allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days on the Visa Waiver Program. Besides that, I brought faith, hope and determination. Within weeks I was able to obtain a job at the local Dutch mission, granting me a diplomatic visa to remain in the U.S. Giving up on my learned trade, I accepted the job gladly, knowing it would allow me to stay with my fiancé.
For twelve years, we both worked hard and built up our live together. We made many good friends and enjoyed the closeness of Calvin’s family. We consulted many lawyers over the years to find a way to obtain a residence permit, but my diplomatic visa blocked all chances on that, time and again. We lived a happy life, enjoying our friends and family, climbing the government ladder and enjoying each other. Calvin was offered a high level position with the federal government and soon passed me by career-wise. I knew I was confined to my job through my visa, but never regretted it, since it allowed me to be with my love.
In 2005 we got married in a beautiful little castle in the middle of the forest in Ommen, The Netherlands. Our family and friends, even from the States, all gathered there with us in witness. Our honeymoon in Spain was equally amazing and beautiful. We adopted our gorgeous daughter in 2006. Born in our own city, out of a Dutch father and a Vietnamese mother, the match was unthinkable and we took it as a sign. Our family bloomed and we were all happy as peas in a pod.
In 2009, the economic crisis hit my birth country and the Dutch missions in the US started a drastic regionalization of jobs. The Consulate General I worked for was forced to let go or transfer 18 of their 20 employees. I was one of them. Panic hit home now. Our contacts with lawyers intensified dramatically, but to no avail. There was no solution. We had to leave home. Luckily, if there is such thing while being exiled, I was offered an amazing position with the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. Even though we left home, kicking and screaming, at least we knew we’d be okay financially. Calvin was able to obtain a transfer and even managed to become supervisor, making even more than I already was. Within 3 months the whole family was back together, including our two cats.
The first two years in D.C. I did everything on auto-pilot. Made sure I did my job as well as possible, drop our daughter off at school, breakfast, lunch, dinner, doctor’s appointments, etc., while both suddenly being emerged in a highly demanding jobs. The first two years in our new lives, we barely existed.
In 2011, at the end of a trip to Spain with my brother, I finally woke up and realized we were withering away. In Madrid’s airport, I was unable to board the return flight to a life that was not ours. I could not lie to myself any longer: despite our constant fight to be who we are, we had been forced to give up far too much to keep our family together. The past two years had eroded our faith in life and we had become an empty shell of the happy-go-lucky couple our friends knew. We had lost ourselves, against our will. I told my baby brother: “I don’t want to go back there.” Surprised, he asked me: “Why not?” The moment I heard myself saying: “Because when I’m there, I’m different.” it all hit me and I burst out crying and made my way out of the secured area of the airport. I could not breathe.
I suffered a nervous breakdown. Anxiety attacks, uncontrollable shaking, crying. So much crying. I couldn’t stand to be in D.C. anymore and often disappeared into a world of my own, sitting outside for hours in the middle of the night, when nobody could see me. My heart had broken to pieces, together with my faith in life, in justice, in love. In my efforts to deal with the exile and all that came with it, and to make sure that the family could stay together and was taken care of, I had erased myself for the past two years, to such an extent that there were gaps in my memory. I found photographs of a Christmas party at our house, showing my sister from the Netherlands had visited us. It’s impossible to understand how much it hurts to find out what happened in your own life, by having to listen to other people’s recount of it, years after the fact.
My husband was extremely supportive and lovingly filled me in on things whenever something crossed our path that I did not recall. He held my hand, whenever I got caught off guard by them. With the tireless support of my husband, our family and our friends, I slowly got back to my feet and started to have faith again. I started relentlessly looking for ways to undo this exile. I wrote many letters to Senators, Congressmen and to President Obama. Being an immigration officer myself, I consulted with employees of USCIS, lawyers, my co-workers, my direct boss and even my ambassador. With their active support and a strong letter from the ambassador, we filed a green card application as a soon-to-be retired diplomat in November 2011. There was much, in retrospect, that I didn’t know about this process; despite all my networking, I really had no idea what I was filing. I did not know until this year that I was not even eligible to file it because I was still employed as a diplomat.
My husband, our daughter (now 6) and I were officially summoned to appear at the USCIS interview in 2012, which we thought was the final stage of the process; the officer explained to the three of us that our application would be sent to their headquarters for review, made it clear that the chance of approval was minimal and out of kindness even referred us to the Human Rights Campaign and The DOMA Project. This time, it was Calvin, now a high-ranking supervisor with the Department of Justice, who broke down and cried and begged for understanding. The silence during the long ride “home” from the Baltimore USCIS office was heartbreaking.
As soon as we arrived at the house, we decided to take our lives back into our own hands. We decided to sell the house in DC and buy a house in our hometown and just move back. Screw the world. Calvin submitted his transfer request the next morning. I would find a job based on my temporary employment card, and hopefully human rights will have evolved sufficiently by the time USCIS decides on our case. Go home to Los Angeles, or burst.
While all this was happening, we were contacted by Los Angeles County to let us know that our daughter’s biological mother had given birth to a baby boy and given it up for adoption. We happily made it known that we were most interested in adding him to our family also, but quickly noticed the additional pressure from that side to have us move back home as quickly as possible.
By July 2012, we managed to obtain Calvin’s transfer and find a temporary job for me at the Dutch consulate. We took our chances and proceeded to move back to our old neighborhood, close to a great elementary school. We made the big move, arrived safely and within a few weeks had made our new house into a real home. We worked tirelessly to fix the place up, while continuing the placement procedures and visits with our new son-to-be.
Our son is now officially placed in our home. He is well-adjusted and happy, as is our daughter. My husband and I are working hard to find new employment for me, once my temporary contract ends next month. His employment at least is steady now, giving us some peace and breathing room.
We wagered our future on the results of the elections and so far it paid off. Sure, our income is significantly less and my career as a Consular Officer is over, but we are happy here, surrounded by our family and friends. We will make things work here, one way or another.
The green card application was denied, as expected. I have no way of staying legally in the United States. I have a husband and two children, all Americans, but I am nobody according to the law of the United States, all because of Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. We will continue to fight; we have hope. We will urge the President of the United States to put into place a policy for same-sex binational couples like us. We will file a green card case and ask that it be put into “abeyance” until DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court.
The important thing we have learned is never give up on your dreams. Through all of our struggles in the pursuit of happiness, we know that we must never give up; we must speak up. For this reason, we are not idly sitting by hoping for change. We have sought professional guidance, have taken calculated risks, and have continued sharing our story. Now more than ever, it is important to raise the visibility of stories like ours, stories that illustrate how DOMA threatens the well-being of families like ours. On the eve of oral arguments before the Supreme Court on DOMA Section 3’s constitutionality, we want the Justices to know that Americans will not accept a decision that will subject our family and all other binational families to further hardships. It is my hope that we are able to offer our children a happy and secure future. The awareness-building we are doing today builds on advocacy of years past, helping to make that future a reality. We hope you will join us by sharing our story with family and friends.
Gabriela & Francisca: Married Lesbian Couple Forced to Live Thousands of Miles Apart Because of DOMA
At the time I met Francisca (who has Mexican and Spanish nationalities) through a mutual friend in 2009, I was living in the U.S., but planning to move to Spain to do a Master’s degree. Francisca lived and worked in Spain at the time. I can be an inquisitive person at times, and when we met I took the opportunity to ask her all about the city, the cost of living, the geography, the neighborhoods, and some other practical concerns. We then we began to develop our relationship by communicating over the long distance using Skype, falling more and more in love every day. She started the countdown to the day we were going to see each other for the first time. In those 99 days and twenty something hours our love continued to grow. And it continued to grow until one day she proposed to me. I said yes.
I settled down in Barcelona and we began our life together. We have lived happy and difficult times together. When the global economic crisis of 2009 began to lash Spain, Francisca changed jobs several times. We learned to persevere in good and bad times and know our strengths and weakness; we learned to love each other without condition. We married in May 2010 and it was the happiest day of our lives. The only regret was the knowledge that the United States government would not recognize our marriage, or allow me to return to my home and family in the U.S. with my wife. We understood we were among the lucky ones, but still we were forced to live in exile. We dream of a beautiful and spiritual ceremony, back in the U.S. with my friends and family, and not just a procedure in a civil court hall as did in Spain.
After many challenging months in Spain, we started to rethink our situation in Spain and we concluded that we could not live there long-term. We decided instead to move to Puerto Rico where my wonderful, supportive family welcomed Francisca with open arms. Francisca was limited to a 90-day visit to the U.S. and we valued that time. Francisca and I considered whether some employment offer in the future may qualify her for a temporary work visa, and we talked to a few people. Not surprisingly, no specific offer or plan materialized in this recession.
On the 90th day, Francisca had to leave the country. On my drive back to the airport, I became envious of all the people who have the opportunity to be with their partner and enjoy each other. After struggling with that feeling for a time, I have learned to appreciate everything I have in my life including Francisca. We’ve been seeing once a year, and our relationship is growing stronger in spite of the odds. Although we have our ups and downs, including suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression, we come out stronger and more empowered every time. She has taught me so much, even how to swim. I thank God everyday for having her in my life even though she is very far away.
Because of DOMA, we are forced to endure this physical separation. Like many other binational couples who get up every day with the ache of separation, we also yearn to be reunited, to simply be together. We know that most Americans believe the consequences of DOMA for binational families are unnecessary and cruel. However, many still are unaware of the heartbreak that DOMA causes. That is why we are sharing our story with the DOMA Project. We encourage you to share our story with friends and family.
We look forward to the day that I can file a green card petition for Francisca. In the meantime we join the many other couples who have shared their story via The DOMA Project and urge all those reading this to sign this petition to President Obama to stop denying green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay gay binational couples. Please sign it and share it with others. Together we will end discrimination that has forced me to live thousands of miles away from Francisca. We will keep fighting for our love, for social justice and for equal rights, and we encourage you to join us in this fight.
Si se puede!
*names have been changed in this story to protect the privacy of the authors
Dario and I had something special from the time we met in July 2010. On that first date, we had an instant connection – sharing our histories, our passions in life and our hopes for the future. I had met a partner for life. When, the following month, I was unfortunate enough to get quite sick, Dario took care of me every day to see to my quick recovery. Seeing his compassionate face each day as I struggled to improve made me smile through the pain.
The first few months of our relationship were intense; we saw each other every day and slowly introduced our lives and friends to each other. We were committed to each other early on in the relationship and decided to further commit when we began living together later that year. Not only were we joining ourselves together under one roof, but our little family included our dogs as well.
It seems every day we learn more and more about each other, and gain a further appreciation for the other. Dario has introduced me to his friends both here in the U.S. and in Argentina, as well as the family he has left in Argentina. Dario would very much like to share with me his cultural heritage and introduce me to his friends and family in Argentina in person, but we are unable to at this time. Communications with family abroad must be done online, as it is impossible for Dario to leave the U.S. for fear he will be not be allowed to return. Fortunately, my parents and Dario have bonded on a number of occasions when they have visited us in New Jersey and when we have made extended summer visits to their home in New Mexico. Each year, when we visit my family there, we drive across the country hoping to minimize the risk that Dario’s immigration status may be discovered and he may be taken away from me. The stress of Dario’s inability to obtain legal status hangs over us. All we are doing is taking a family road trip, but anxiety and fear mars what should be a fun and relaxing adventure.
My family has come to love Dario, and considers him to be a part of the family. Last summer, we decided to further our commitment to each other by getting married in New York. With close friends present, we had tears in our eyes as the officiant presiding over the ceremony declared us to be married. I feel blessed to be able to marry in a state that recognizes my love and treats it as equal. On our summer trip to New Mexico in 2012, we had a gathering of friends from the area and our family from the West Coast to celebrate our union. In August we hosted a formal reception at our home with close to 70 guests – family, friends, and co-workers. It was truly one of the most special moments of my life to have all those close to me celebrating the love and commitment that Dario and I hold for each other.
My inability to petition for Dario’s green card based on our marriage, a right any heterosexual binational couple enjoys, has denied us the opportunity to make plans and build a future together. Our inability to travel together out of the United States means that we are often separated for weeks each year as my job involves a lot of foreign travel.
Dario and I have made a home together, and our commitment to each other continues to grow stronger. However, every day we struggle with the fear of the possibility that our home may be destroyed by the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act which prevents the federal government from recognizing our marriage, including for immigration purposes. Because of this cruel law, the government does not see the love we share or the home we have built together. As a couple, we are invisible.
Dario and I hope to purchase our first home together, and in this process we are reminded how much is at stake with the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. We know that unless it is repealed or struck down, we will eventually be forced into exile in Argentina. We have joined the DOMA Project because we believe that we must speak out about the injustice of DOMA in order to bring about change. Without this change our lives, like tens of thousands of other binational couples, are on hold. We urge you to sign The DOMA Project’s petition (click here) to President Obama asking that green card petitions filed by same-sex binational couples be put on hold until the Supreme Court ruling. This important step toward greater equality would protect couples like us in the short term and prepare for a day when our green card petition can be approved.
Robert and Javier In Love: For Two Years They Have Been Forced to Live 7,000 Miles Apart Because of DOMA
From Honolulu to London…
My name is Robert. I am a family physician and HIV specialist living in Honolulu, Hawaii. My partner, Javier, is a video editor working for the BBC in London. We met on March 8, 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when we were vacationing separately at the time. It was truly love at first sight – in fact, when I tell the story to people I always mention that our first kiss happened at a waterfront party as the DJ was playing Katy Perry’s “Firework.” There were actual fireworks going off in the air above us (not to mention in each other’s heads). We were inseparable for the rest of the vacation but couldn’t quite see how a long distance relationship from Hawaii to London could work. All we knew at that time was that we had a deep connection and that we had both found something very special in one another.
When we said goodbye for the first time in Brazil it was extremely sad. But I was hoping I would see Javier soon. As it happened, I was taking my mom on vacation to Ireland just 2 weeks later and he offered to fly over from London to spend St. Patrick’s Day with my mom and me. I was excited at the notion of seeing him again and it turned out that my mom liked Javier so much that she asked him if he wanted to spend half of our Ireland vacation together. It was wonderful, not to mention one of the first times my mom was so comfortable with me being involved with another man.
We said goodbye to one another for a second time as he left my mom and me in Ireland to go back to London. Thanks to “WhatsApp” and e-mail, we kept in touch throughout everyday. I flew back to Hawaii not knowing when I would see Javier again, yet I knew in my heart we were meant to be together. A few weeks later, I received a call from one of Javier’s friends in London whom I met in Brazil. He told me that Javier wouldn’t stop talking about me and for Javier’s upcoming birthday all of Javier’s friends wanted to chip in and buy him a plane ticket to Hawaii to come visit me. When he asked me if that would be alright, I of course replied, “Definitely!”
Javier’s visit to Hawaii was wonderful. He felt attached to the place and got a really warm impression of the islands. He met all of my friends and learned about “the aloha spirit” as we say here. When we said our third goodbye, we knew that we were meant to be together, and that any doubts we had about whether or not this was just a ‘Carnival vacation fling’ were gone. We began to talk about his move to Hawaii.
His arrival was magical – I hired the biggest white stretch Hummer limousine that they had in Hawaii and put 25 of my closest friends inside. I surprised him at the airport and each of my friends whom he met stepped out of the limousine handing him a single white rose. I exited the limo last, handing him the final white rose and gave him a kiss. We rode around Oahu celebrating and the journey ended with a beachfront luau with Hawaiian songs and even a hula dance from Miss Hawaii. It was a memorable night.
Javier was brought to tears, as was I – my baby and I were finally together and we didn’t have to say any more goodbyes, or so we thought.
Javier came to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program. We assumed he could get a work visa and be hired by a company here based on his extensive work experience (5+ years) at the BBC as a Video Editor, but our immigration attorney explained that you need to have a Bachelor’s Degree in order to apply for this particular work visa. While Javier took coursework in Spain after high school, he didn’t have that degree or its equivalent, so we quickly realized that we were going to have to say goodbye again and in December of 2011, we did just that, although this time we had a plan.
Javier has always wanted to be the first person in his family to graduate from college with a degree. He concurrently wanted to further pursue his skills in video editing and become a master in his profession. Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu was recommended by his boss and Javier checked out the university himself before he left in December. They were very accommodating towards international students; they had scholarships available, and they had a great Media Program which contained courses that Javier was very interested in. He decided to apply for their Bachelor’s Program in Media.
In spring of 2012 Javier was accepted into Hawaii Pacific University and offered a scholarship! While he wasn’t granted any credit for his previous post-high school course work, he was excited about the notion of starting university in America. He could save on money by living with me, and I would be his financial sponsor to the university. The only thing left to do was to go for a student visa, which we were told was just a “red tape formality.” As we started to read on-line about people’s experiences at the embassy, we got a little worried given that I was Javier’s partner. We really weren’t sure if telling the interviewing officer that I was Javier’s partner would negatively affect their decision to grant the student visa. However the immigration lawyer we consulted told us to be honest and tell the truth so that’s exactly what he did. This advice turned out to be catastrophically incorrect. Had we consulted with The DOMA Project, we would have learned from immigration lawyers who specialize in LGBT immigration work, that I should never have been Javier’s fiscal sponsor in the first place, and that I should have been excluded completely from his application for a student visa. That one piece of wrong advice resulted in disaster. Had we known otherwise, we would be living together happily making plans for our future. Instead, the consular officer did exactly what we now understand was exactly routine procedure for gay or straight applicants for student visas with an American boyfriend or girlfriend living in the U.S. But at the time it came as a shock to us.
The day of the interview came and Javier was a bit nervous. That day, he admittedly went somewhat unprepared because we were told getting a student visa from the embassy in London was more paperwork than anything else. When the interviewer asked him “who is this person that is planning on helping to pay for your education if needed?” Javier was honest and said it was his partner. The application was quickly denied but Javier was not given any explanation as to why – not even when he asked. We were devastated but not defeated.
We decided we would do everything possible to convince the interviewer on the second interview that he did intend on studying and going to university and return to London to work in his field. We provided every supplementary piece of documentation we could think of. At his second interview several months later he brought a letter from his boss stating that he recommended HPU and that upon completion they wanted him to return to London to work for their company once again. Javier brought bank statements from his own bank account and his family’s bank accounts in Spain proving that he had enough financial backing to attend university. He wanted to explain that his family is very important to him and that he didn’t intend to live the rest of his life in Hawaii – a place so far away. But all that effort was too late. It was clear that once they knew about me, they would not believe Javier’s intention to return to London at the conclusion of his studies. Again, this is something routine, that we were simply not prepared for. Most attorneys working for years with gay couples like us would have known this terrain like the back of their hand. We went in blind; we made all the mistakes of naive first-timers. Javier believed that he had all of his ducks in order and he went into the second interview quite confident – only to be “interrogated like a criminal” to use Javier’s words. They didn’t even bother to look at any of the supplemental paperwork before they said “I have to agree with the first person that interviewed you. I don’t think you’re a candidate for a student visa at this time.” A lawyer with experience working with binational couples would have told us that a second time at the U.S. Embassy would have likely resulted in another denial.
I feel like we were mistreated, misinformed and discriminated against. Mistreated, because the Consular officials were rude and gave us no insight into how we might have overcome this hurdle; misinformed, mainly by the attorney I consulted; and discriminated against because I should have been able to file a fiancé visa for Javier, rather than rely on his ability to get a student visa. Javier developed a negative impression of this country because of how poorly he was treated through this whole process. It’s unfair and it’s not right. We want to live our lives together and it disturbs me to think that because of DOMA we can’t have the same happy life that opposite sex couples enjoy.
So it has been our decision to continue to fight as hard as necessary to be together.
On August 25, 2012, Javier and I committed our love to one another in a Legal Civil Union in the state of Hawaii. It was a beautiful ceremony held in the penthouse of the Sheraton Waikiki overlooking Diamond Head Beach– we were even blessed by a double rainbow which appeared at the end of our ceremony in front of a clear blue sky backdrop. It was truly magical and we both knew in our hearts that despite the challenges we may face, or how unfair the system may seem and in spite of all of the adversities we have encountered, one must not give up on love – because true love is hard to find, and once you have found it, it is worth fighting for! Javier and I hope that one day we will be able to be legally married and live the rest of our lives together. Until that day, we continue to maintain a long distance relationship from Honolulu to London, and we will continue to fight for just policies that ensure no gay or lesbian couple is ever torn apart.
President Unveils Historic Immigration Reform That Includes Provisions for Gay and Lesbian Couples (UPDATED)
Today, President Obama announced his plan for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada. In advance of the event it had been reported that the President will call for broadly inclusive immigration reform that includes provisions for same-sex binational couples (“Obama Will Include Same-Sex Couples In Immigration Plan“). The President did not disappoint. The speech itself described the broad outlines of new humane, fair and practical immigration policies, with the same basic underpinnings as the Senate plan released yesterday. White House staffers distributed a detailed plan to streamline legal immigration by “Keeping Families Together” that would broaden the family unification provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for the immigration of same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. This new policy, never before advocated by a sitting President, hews closely the language of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), and its predecessor, the Permanent Partners Immigration Act.
The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers. The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system. It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.
DOMA Project co-founders, Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, who, in 1999, helped draft the same-sex partner legislation now known as the UAFA, have called for its inclusion in any comprehensive reform package. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) the bill’s chief architect and long the most vocal advocate for lesbian and gay binational couples in the House, re-iterated his belief that immigration reform will not pass without a provision inclusive of LGBT families. Yesterday, the Senate unveiled a bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform that provided little detail and omitted mention of same-sex binational couples. Reacting to the Senate plan, Congressman Nadler said it would be “madness” to advance immigration reform that did not include protections for same-sex couples, adding “I feel certain that Democrats would not move forward with a bill that was not fully inclusive.” Today the President seemed to assure Congressman Nadler that he will fight for this provision.
On January 21, 2013, President Obama made history as the first President to acknowledge the rights of gay and lesbian Americans at a Presidential Inauguration. His call for equality for gay and lesbian Americans on that auspicious occasion was consistent with stated position that lesbian and gay couples should have the right to marry and that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional:
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
President Obama’s call for equality for lesbian and gay couples, as he stood just a few feet from all nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, is another important milestone in the fight against DOMA. We must continue to urge the President to use the power of his office to develop and implement policies that protect lesbian and gay binational couples and our families now. To have the unequivocal support of the president should be celebrated, but we must continue to demand and expect concrete actions to follow this soaring rhetoric.
Today, tens of thousands of same-sex couples in America continue to be denied security for their family and their future. The love and lives of same-sex binational couples are often strained because these couples are forced to live apart from one another, in exile from their home countries, or in hiding because the Federal Government will not recognize their marriage and commitment.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity”
The President should follow his public declarations of support for LGBT families with action, by directing the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to implement an abeyance policy for petitions by same-sex binational couples.
Please sign our petition to President Obama asking that the government stop issuing denials to green card petitions from same-sex couples. Your support means standing up for every couple whose marriage is rendered invisible under the law by the Defense of Marriage Act. President Obama has taken his stance for equality and we urge you to join us in holding him to that promise.
“My fellow Americans. We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”