Mindi and Bev: A Love Story That Began Almost Three Decades Ago, Continues With a Fight to Be Together in the U.S.
We first met almost 28 years ago, when I was a college exchange student in London and Bev was on her young adult walk-about off that big island called Australia. We met on a month-long tour through Europe before my semester began. While atop the 7000-foot high Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland, Bev and I stumbled upon a cave on a fateful moonlit summer night. It was an idyllic evening with the moon shining into the cave. That was a life changing moment that would come to impact both of our lives in more ways than we ever imagined. We fell in love at that time and didn’t want our romance abroad to end.
Bev ditched her friends with whom she was going to continue traveling and extended her leave from work just to stay with me in London. It was devastating to experience that first departure when Bev had to return to Australia that winter. Each and every separation that would come thereafter was no easier.
After completing my semester in London, I returned to my college and family in New Jersey, with a heavy heart without Bev. We wrote long letters to each other every day, and had to wait around one week to receive each letter through the post. There was no Internet, no Skype, and no texting in existence for us at that time. We each had stacks of letters and cassette tapes of us talking to each other. We spent a fortune on phone bills as we were insistent on being able to at least talk to each other for an hour every other week.
A whole year went by before we were able to see each other again. Bev scrimped and saved enough to be able to come visit me in New Jersey a year later for three months. I was still a college student, working part-time, and we simply appreciated just being able to be together over those three months. I tried to get Bev the “white Christmas” she had always dreamed of by planning our Christmas in Boston. Doesn’t it always snow up there around Christmas? Apparently not; it rained, and that didn’t even matter in the end since we got to spend Christmas together. From Boston, we went on to see our nations’ capital for New Year’s. It did snow there, just a bit late for Christmas. Our last few weeks together were then spent in San Francisco and Hawaii. It was in Hawaii when we parted again for another devastating separation. Bev went back to her job in Australia, and I returned back to college life in NJ.
While we were very much in love, we weren’t able to work out a way for us to be together permanently. The letters and phone calls continued on for another several years. A point finally came when we had to just stop contact altogether, just to keep our then separate lives somewhat functional.
17 years passed by without any contact between us. We each had moved on and, in the process, we had lost track of each other. I was at work one Monday in late 2009 when I had to retrieve a personal email from my cell phone. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw a Facebook email from Bev in my inbox. I was not really a Facebook user at all; my profile on Facebook included a photo of a dog, and in fact, I put a profile on Facebook only because of my 13 year-old niece. As it turned out, Bev wasn’t a Facebook user either. She ventured on just to search for me. She wasn’t sure if she found the right person, but she last knew that I was living in San Francisco, and she knew I loved dogs (my profile photo). Her email message was somewhat encrypted with references that only I would recognize. She wanted to make sure she found the right one. She did. My heart pounded all day and I was completely unproductive at work. The emails started and then the phone calls. We were both able to really appreciate the technological upgrades that had taken place over the years. Many years had gone by, but the one thing that never left either one of us was that burning feeling inside for each other.
We started talking about planning our in person reunion. It was my turn to go to her country this time. When we tried to figure out the timing, I thought we should wait out the next seven months so we could celebrate our birthdays together for our first time, which are one day apart. My ulterior motive (not shared with Bev at the time) was that I really wanted to lose some weight before seeing the love of my life again for the first time after not seeing her for 23 years. Bev was exasperated and was not about to wait seven months for our reunion. I relented and agreed to three months. I was going to meet Bev in Sydney around Mardi Gras. I was lucky to be able to get a month off of work and go half way around the world to reunite with Bev after 23 years. The flight and getting through customs seemed to take forever. I finally got through when Bev, at a petite 5’1”, leaped over the barrier and ran up to me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a stretch limousine waiting, along with a chilled bottle of champagne inside the limo. That was the first time we saw each other; we had not used Skype during the months we were back in touch and we only exchanged a couple of current photos of each other. We spent two weeks in Australia and two weeks traveling around the South Island of New Zealand. We had to keep pinching each other to make sure this was all really happening.
Bev was able to take a leave of absence from her job and return to the U.S. with me. We were able to have a somewhat normal life as a couple in the U.S. for the next 15 months, but Bev then had to leave the country and return to Australia. We were apart again, working hard to find a way to get Bev back to our home in the U.S. We were able to get another visa for her to return five months later. While we could more easily set up our home in Australia together as Bev can sponsor me as her partner, my parents are getting older, while Bev’s parents are deceased, so it made sense for us to settle down in the U.S. It would be much better for us to be able to get legally married and for me to sponsor Bev for a green card as my spouse, than to rely on a temporary work visa. We do feel lucky that we are together, and we know we will be together for the rest of our lives, wherever that might be.
The point for us is that destiny is too strong to get in the way of us being together at this point, wherever we are in the world. We have learned that love has no borders and neither DOMA nor the U.S. government will come in between our love. We feel it is important to share our story, because we too have struggled since 2009 to find a way to be together and build a home in this country. Brick by brick we are dismantling discrimination by sharing our stories.
Together for 25 Years Through Thick and Thin, Marie and Leigh Share Their Story: Why We Must Defeat DOMA
I am Marie, a US citizen in a domestic partnership with my Canadian life partner, Leigh. Though many see us as “married,” we legally cannot marry in California, and even if we could our marriage would not be recognized by the federal government. Each year we hope that this is the year we’ll finally be able to marry and have our relationship fully recognized so that, as a citizen, I can sponsor my wife for a green card, just as other American citizens are able to.
I was raised in a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley during the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, I was unaware of the discrimination that was prevalent toward gays and lesbians. I felt an attraction to a female friend when I was a girl, but knew somehow I could not mention this. I remember my older brother telling me, that two girls kissing each other was wrong and illegal. Hence, my first lesson of living in the shadows.
As I grew up and moved out on my own and entered the work force, I was drawn to and worked in non-traditional work for women in the mid-1970s. I worked in various positions of Shipping and Warehouse Management and have progressed into Logistics Analysis.
During the 1980s, I became aware of and got involved with the gay community. I was heavily involved with a group that helped gays and lesbians with the coming out process. I was involved first as a participant and then became a facilitator for leading discussion groups to help assist individuals with issues in coming out. During this time, “coming out” meant coming out to your family, not necessarily the world. I was still very deep in the closet where the rest of the world was concerned. I came out to my mother and sister and younger brother and though it was rough at first, my family began to understand and embrace me. After Leigh and I met and became a couple, my family embraced her as a member of our family. Leigh’s family accepted me fully as well. Her brother and his family come down from Canada and stay with us on their vacations as we are not able to cross the border into Canada to visit them.
Before I met Leigh, I had been in two gay relationships — one of eight years and one of two years duration. And though those relationships were meaningful I did not know or realize what real love was until Leigh and I became a couple. I had never met any binational couples before and was not aware of the restrictions they lived under. Yet I knew that when Leigh told me of these restrictions, there was nothing that could or would deter me from living the rest of my life with her. She is my life.
While I was growing up in California, Leigh grew up in Vancouver, BC, Canada, within a strict Mennonite community. Her father was a rigid fundamentalist minister. In high school, she excelled in the arts and dreamed of attending art school. Her father believed art was not a “real career” and pressed her to attend bible school, as all of her relatives did. After winning a fine arts scholarship in 1976, Leigh began saving and planning to attend school for a career in the arts.
In 1979, Leigh entered the United States on a student visa. She attended design school and worked part-time. During this time, she met her first gay partner and learned very quickly that gays and lesbian were not treated equally as heterosexual couples. She naively assumed they could legally marry and was shocked to learn that not only was marriage out of the question, she was not to admit under any circumstances to being gay during immigration interviews. A co-worker recommended an immigration attorney, and Leigh sought his assistance. The attorney recommended applying for one year of practical training after graduation, and a retainer was put in place. As graduation approached, Leigh attempted to reach the attorney repeatedly with no success. She learned that no paperwork had been submitted and battled to have the retainer fee returned.
With her student visa about to expire, Leigh consulted a second attorney. He recommended “laying low” and remaining in the U.S. until amnesty was available. He also made sexual advances toward her.
In 1980, Leigh and her then partner suffered a home invasion and attempted rape. They chose to go to Canada together, where Leigh could work and save for a 4-year college education. In 1981, Leigh visited the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver, where she learned that a Bachelor’s Degree was needed for her to qualify for a work visa as a “skilled worker.” During this time, Leigh’s partner suffered tremendous depression due to prolonged separation from her family. She returned to the U.S. to be with her family. Leigh followed six months later with a second visa.
After another year of school, funds dwindled and her second visa was set to expire. In 1983, she decided to remain in the United States to stay with her partner. These are the types of decisions binational couples are forced to make. Many of these decisions remain secretive and hardships remain unknown. Binational couples face a lack of freedom that affects both partners and their families.
Leigh and I met almost 30 years ago in Los Angeles and became fast friends. Five years later, after both our relationships ended, we began dating. Leigh was very nervous about the transition, fearing that if it didn’t work out, she would lose her best friend. Her fears were well founded as two of her previous gay relationships had folded, mostly due to the added stressors binational couples face. I, on the other hand, felt very optimistic believing we could have our friendship and a loving, romantic relationship – the best of both worlds. I knew within me that my love for her was so strong that nothing could come between us. I’m happy to say that, 25 years later, I was right.
In the mid-80s, I met Leigh and her partner at the time during various community functions. My partner at the time and I invited them over for dinner. Her partner and my partner had been in a previous relationship. Talk about a tangled web. Somehow, Leigh and I got stuck cooking the dinner while the two “exes” took a walk down memory lane. While preparing dinner, Leigh and I connected immediately and a friendship began. We lived and worked in the same vicinity and began carpooling. You get to know a person really well when you’re stuck in L.A. traffic during rush hour on a daily basis.
After Leigh’s relationship ended, she moved in with a friend. Though she no longer lived in the same vicinity, our friendship deepened. I would drive over to visit her on a daily basis and we would talk for hours. During this time both of us realized our feelings for each other were fast changing. By the end of November 1987, we were a couple. One and a half years later, we decided to make the move and live together.
We continued attending community events with friends, most of whom were unaware of the secret we held – that Leigh was a foreign national living in the shadows. It’s like living in a double closet. We joined a gay L.A. couples group and participated in many activities such as manning the booth during Christopher Street West celebrations and marching in the Pride parade. We attended many meetings and donated some of our lesbian artwork to raise funds for the organization. We served as the Hospitality Couple in the first year and the following year were nominated as Vice Chaircouple.
Leigh shared her past experience with me, she told me that being in a relationship and loving a binational spouse is extremely difficult. Every couple faces tough times, but the added fear and stress a binantional couple faces can be back breaking. I, ever the optimist, would not be deterred. I knew we were tenacious and determined, and would remain together in spite of the obstacles.
In the 1980s, an amnesty program was signed into law. We consulted with legal aides at a free clinic in Los Angeles, where we were disappointed to learned Leigh was 6 months shy of the date in order to qualify. She had not been “continuously illegal” during the law’s time frame.
In spite of not qualifying, our relationship continued to flourish and our families supported us. We always remained hopeful that one day we could legally marry and this nightmare would be over. It always seemed just around the corner.
Through the years, we repeatedly consulted legal counsel. They all told us the same thing: that there was nothing they could do unless we could legally marry or immigration reform would pass Congress.
By 1990, it had been seven years since Leigh had seen her family. We received a surprise call from her brother informing us that he was coming down and bringing Mum in tow. We had a great time showing them around Hollywood, traveling to the beach and just spending endless hours talking and reconnecting.
Throughout the 1990s we continued to take every step possible to validate our relationship. In 1993, when the City of West Hollywood offered the first Certificates of Domestic Partnership, we jumped at the opportunity. In August of that year, we received our Certificate of Domestic Partnership from the first city in southern California to do so. It felt like one step closer to marriage.
On November 27, 1995 we celebrated our eighth anniversary with a commitment ceremony lead by a legal minister. Invitations were sent, vintage wedding gowns purchased, and a friend offered their home for the ceremony. While my family was able to attend, Leigh’s family was unable to due to her Mum’s health and inability to travel at the time. We had written our own vows and said our “I dos”. Unlike heterosexual couples, however, we did not receive the Marriage Certificate after the ceremony. We did, however, enjoy a wonderful 3-day honeymoon in Laguna as a wedding gift from our closest friends.
In July 1996, we flew to Seattle with two friends and drove into western Canada, so Leigh could visit her mother. Leigh’s Mum had supported her since she came out in 1980 and consoled her when she learned that DOMA had been signed into law.
In 1997, Leigh’s Mum visited us, her second trip to California. Leigh’s Mum always treated me like a second daughter and would send us greeting cards to remember our anniversary and birthdays. During that visit, Leigh’s Mum wept with joy at the sight of the wedding gowns we kept.
In 1998, beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations, we were able to purchase a home together. This was one of the greatest joys of our relationship, the ability to nest as other couples did. We gardened, we decorated, we entertained and held family gatherings for the holidays. This was another step for us to be closer to marriage.
In 2001, I had to travel to New York for company business. It was a trip I did not want to make. It was in August, and my flight was originally scheduled to return on Tuesday, September 11th. I insisted with my employer at the time that I had to return before this date to attend classes that were starting on that same date. Prior to the trip, I directed Leigh on where the insurance policies were, I signed multiple checks in the event she needed funds, and told her that if anything happened to me she was to file a wrongful death suit. Little did I know that, because our relationship wasn’t recognized legally and DOMA prevented federal recognition, Leigh would never have been able to file a lawsuit had something happened to me. I was fortunate that I returned on Friday before the tragic event of 9/11. After that, we made an appointment with an attorney for Power of Attorney over medical decisions and finances.
After 9/11, the world changed for everyone and we were impacted as well. We understood the need for security but began to live a more fearful life. With security tightening around the country, Leigh’s mobility was limited because, rightly or wrongly, we feared heightened scrutiny. We felt our world grow smaller and were feeling more isolated from Leigh’s family. We learned of ICE raids within our area that tore families apart, children came home from school and no one was there. Husbands and wives waited for their spouses to come home, but they did not come. I became concerned for Leigh while I was at work. My sister and brother-in-law gave us a security door for Christmas. Lack of mobility also meant that Leigh could no longer drive. She decided the risk of being pulled over was too great. Today, an appointment 15 minutes away by car takes Leigh 1 ½ hours by bus. She relies on others for rides. It’s a forced dependency she hates. We are so fortunate to have a wonderful inner circle of friends who understand our situation and offer their support in any way. One of our friends calls it “circling the wagons.”
In July of 2003, we registered as Domestic Partners in the State of California. Again, this felt like one step closer to marriage and gave us a bit of hope.
Leigh’s Mum had suffered many health problems. With travel impacted, Leigh feared her status would not be resolved before her mother died. In 2006, Leigh received the phone call every daughter dreads. Her brother, a fire fighter, had found her mother collapsed on the floor. She was rushed to ICU. Leigh consulted another immigration attorney, who told her she could visit Canada but not return to the United States. She said goodbye to her Mum via cell phone. Leigh felt like a failed daughter and fell into a depression at the loss of her mother. Not able to be at her Mum’s deathbed or in attendance at her funeral, or to help her brother in person during this time was too much for her to bear.
It was during this time that the Congress was voting on immigration reform. Again, we hoped for humane change. Every time a vote would approach, Leigh would dust off her years of documentation in preparation to file.
Leigh sent a compassionate plea via postcard to every member of the United States Senate. She wrote: “I could not hold my Mother’s hand to comfort her. I could not be at her side to say good-bye. The Senate returns on the day of my Mother’s funeral, which I cannot attend. Crossing borders could ban me from the U.S., the country I love. I work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to society. I want to come out of the shadows. For years I have hoped to see my Mother one last time. I prayed for humane immigration reform that would allow me to earn my legalization. We are one of many families separated by fear. Please remember me and honor my Mother when you vote on immigration reform.”
For so many years, we hoped that DOMA would be overturned so we could legally marry and I could sponsor my wife, as most other citizens do. We contemplated living in exile in Canada, where I as a US citizen have more rights in Canada as Leigh’s legal partner/wife than I have in my own country. Leigh insisted that we stay in California and not pull me away from my family. She knew what separation felt like.
Though we have been dealt some legal blows as a gay couple, those blows do not divide us. In spite of all of the laws that have come out to hold us back as a gay couple, it has not stopped us from loving each other, from being committed to each other. If anything, our bond and our commitment to each other grows stronger. During times when it has been difficult or when an unfavorable legal decision comes out, I confirm to Leigh that that’s OK, no matter what, we’re still here, we’re still together.
For over twenty-five years we have clung to the rocks, waiting for DOMA to be overturned or immigration reform which would include keeping gay families together. We have consulted, planned, hoped, had hopes dashed, read countless articles, met with attorneys, and done everything we could. Even though DOMA currently restricts us, we remain hopeful. Inclusion of LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform, under debate now in Congress, is so critical. Gay families must be treated equally and not be torn apart. DOMA hurts families in far reaching ways. Anyone who knows what we have been through for the past 25 years would know immediately that all families are the same, that all love is the same, and the our immigration laws that are meant to protect us and keep us together must work for all of us.
We are grateful for the love we share. Each workday morning when we get ready for work, we say to each other, “You’re my everything. You’re my life.”
We feel incredibly blessed to have each other. We are incredibly grateful for this gift and this opportunity to share our story alongside all the other binational couples who have joined The DOMA Project.
Mother’s Day Present for North Carolina Lesbian Couple: BIA Rejects USCIS “DOMA Denial” of Green Card Petition
Just before Mother’s Day this North Carolina family learned that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected the denial of the marriage-based green card petition they had filed last year. The BIA sent the case back to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Field Office in Charlotte, North Carolina for further processing with orders to conduct complete fact-finding, including an interview, to determine whether they would be eligible for a green card if not for Section 3 of DOMA. This is the thirteenth time that a married same-sex binational couple, participating in The DOMA Project’s pro bono legal challenge to DOMA, has received a “remand” from the BIA after the USCIS denied their green card case because of DOMA. The DOMA Project has filed 45 appeals filed on behalf of married lesbian and gay couples never once has the BIA ever upheld the denial of a green card petition by USCIS. All the appeals that have been decided to date have ordered the USCIS to re-open the cases and fully process them to determine eligibility, clearly anticipating, it would seem, a post-DOMA future.
Becky, Sanne and their daughter Willow live in Asheville, North Carolina. They first joined The DOMA Project in July 2011 when they shared their incredible, moving story, “Ten Trips, a Wedding and a Daughter: Exiled Binational Couple Finds a New Life in Belgium.” In 2012, Becky and Sanne settled down to a life in North Carolina. They married and filed a green card petition on the basis of their marriage. They also participated in our short film series, “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines of DOMA,” which was produced by The DOMA Project in collaboration with Brynn Gelbard and the DeVote Campaign. (Read more about our collaboration on this series here.)
So what is next for Becky , Sanne and Willow? As the BIA has rejected the denial of their green card petition, they anxiously await news from the Charlotte, North Caroline Field Office of USCIS and hope that their long-awaited marriage-based green card interview will take place next month just in time to coincide with a ruling from the Supreme Court striking down DOMA for good. We wish Becky and Sanne a Happy Mother’s Day!
Rick and Gonzalo met online in the first days of January 2008. It was cold and dark in Northern California where Rick lived, but it was the middle of a hot summer in Cordoba, Argentina, which was Gonzalo’s home. All it took was a “nice profile” instant message sent by Rick, and Gonzalo responded.
An online relationship began, including emails, chats, and skype and phone calls. The more time they both spent getting to know each other online, the greater the mutual desire to meet face-to-face. But San Francisco was over 6000 miles and 10,000 kilometers from Cordoba. Gonzalo was working long hours as the finance and administration director of a large manufacturing company, and Rick was working on his transition from a senior technology executive in Silicon Valley to a focus on philanthropy and real estate.
But with a connection that was strong and building, both Rick and Gonzalo were determined to meet. And when Gonzalo began planning a holiday in Brazil in February, Rick decided to “take the plunge” and make the long trip to see if Gonzalo was as wonderful in person as he was online. The plans were made: Rick would fly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while Gonzalo was there on a holiday, along with three close friends from Argentina.
As Rick was flying from the U.S. to Brazil, he thought about his life and his relationships. As the member of a prominent Mennonite farming family, he was surrounded by love and a commitment to values and to family. However, homosexuality was high on the list of things that were “verboten,” the German word for forbidden. He had left the community in Pennsylvania and felt more acceptance as a gay man in California. However, his career and his family forced him to stay “closeted.” A relationship with a European man had lasted 11 years, but his partner had never been successful at obtaining a “green card” to live and work in the U.S.
Rick began to imagine what would happen if he and Gonzalo really liked each other upon meeting. How would they build a life together? Where would they live? Was this a case of deja vu all over again?
Of course, the rest of the story is a now-familiar one, and similar to others on this site. Rick and Gonzalo met on February 16, 2008, and sparks flew. What was going to be a dinner together turned in to a week together. Rick met Gonzalo’s friends, and they all hit it off. Rick and Gonzalo were falling in love, hard.
A few weeks later, Gonzalo visited Rick at his California home. After another few weeks, Rick visited Gonzalo in Argentina. By June, Rick and Gonzalo realized they had a very strong connection, and they decided they wanted to be together as a loving, committed couple. But how? Where? What would they do professionally? There were many questions.
In June 2008, Gonzalo told his family and friends that he was going to the United States for an extended period of time. There were many questions, and Gonzalo was not really sure how to answer some of them. But in a huge leap of faith, Gonzalo arrived in California, and Rick and Gonzalo began a life together.
They had a wonderful time, sharing all the components of living together: meeting friends, caring for their dog, working on the house, going on long weekend trips, working on Gonzalo’s English skills, planning a future. Gonzalo began to make Rick’s house feel like a home for all of them. Laughter, music, and love filled the house.
But as time went on, reality began to set in. How would Gonzalo continue his career in the United States? How long would he be able to stay on a tourist visa? With previous experience with a man from another country, Rick began to become angry with American society and government. Why was he, a successful American paying the same taxes as everyone else, being denied the most basic right of all–the right to be with the person that he loved?
Rick had become active in politics, and he told his story to many people in the Democratic party, including then presidential candidate Barack Obama. And Mr. Obama told Rick, “I will fully support equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians.” Rick actively campaigned for Obama and he returned to his home state of Pennsylvania to help get out the vote. For a period of 10 days in late October 2008, he knocked on doors, he made phone calls, and he told people that he believed that the country needed a President Obama. Rick and Gonzalo celebrated Obama’s victory in November 2008, but then as Proposition 8 won in California, the reality of the long fight ahead to stay together began to set in.
Gonzalo and Rick continued to share a life together in California when they could; Gonzalo would travel back and forth between California and Argentina several times a year to be home with his family and friends, and to obtain a new visitor’s visa. Finally that day came that all binational couples learn to dread. In December 2009, an immigration officer at the Miami International Airport began to question Gonzalo. Why was he coming and staying so often? Who was his American contact, Richard? After lots of questions, Gonzalo was admitted, but only for a few months. When he arrived in San Francisco, he said to Rick, “Honey, we are going to have problems staying together here in the U.S.” And Rick knew Gonzalo was right.
They began to interview immigration lawyers, and they learned that legal immigration was incredibly difficult. They explored investment visas and employment visas. All were difficult, expensive, time-consuming, and risky. They concluded that because the U.S. seems unable to control illegal immigration, legal immigration had become very difficult. Even as a young and highly-educated potential immigrant, Gonzalo’s choices were limited. And Rick began to remember all the different visas he and his former partner had tried. They had applied for an EB-5 investment visa, and after spending tens of thousands with immigration lawyers, accountants, and business lawyers, their application had been denied.
The more they deliberated, the more they began to weigh options involving other countries. Should they both move to Argentina? What about a new life together in New Zealand or Australia, or in the United Kingdom? (These were countries where Rick had once lived as a technology executive).
Argentina, here we come!
After much discussion, Gonzalo and Rick decided to move to Argentina. Rick concluded that his country, the United States where his family had lived since 1717 after leaving Switzerland and Germany for religious freedom, no longer wanted him and the man that he loved. They began the process of figuring out how to rent their home, get their dogs Maggie and Emma to Argentina, and where they would live. Would they rent or purchase a home? Would they live in Buenos Aires or in Cordoba? What would Rick do professionally? And how would Gonzalo re-enter the workplace, after having spent the past 18 months traveling back and forth between his home in Argentina and the U.S.? All that disruption to their lives, could they just pick up the pieces and put it all back together in Argentina?
Since Gonzalo was only granted a few months stay on his last visitor’s visa, there was not much time to decide. On February 23, 2010, Rick took Gonzalo to the San Francisco International Airport for his trip back to Argentina. They held each other for a long time, knowing that their relationship was entering a new and rocky stage.
Many trips to Argentina
After Gonzalo arrived back in Argentina, the relationship went back to lots of phone calls, skype calls, text messages, and emails. Rick was left alone in California, trying to get the house ready to rent. Gonzalo was back in Argentina, without his apartment and a job. He was living with his parents, and he began to question what he would do. Would he wait until Rick arrived in Argentina?
Rick began to make as many trips as he could to Argentina, so they could keep their relationship on track, and so that they could decide together and support each other. But it was difficult to find people to take their young dogs, and to take care of their home. And the U.S. real estate market in 2010 was still very depressed. The rental market for large suburban homes was very soft. Many prospective tenants came and went, and nothing came together.
All the uncertainty put a big strain on their relationship. Depression and loneliness set in for both Rick and Gonzalo. They both knew they loved and missed each other, but what was the future for them?
Finally they decided that Buenos Aires was the best place for them to live, and Gonzalo moved there. He found a job, and a close friend rented him an apartment in Recoleta, a lovely neighborhood of the city. Rick would travel to Argentina every few months. But they missed living together. They missed sleeping in the same bed every night. They needed and wanted to live together immediately, but months turned into a year, and they were still living apart.
A New Chapter: Hope for a Future in the U.S.
In 2012, Rick learned about the work that Lavi Soloway and his team at Masliah & Soloway were doing. They were submitting marriage-based green card petitions to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for certain carefully selected married same-sex couples in a carefully designed campaign to challenge DOMA. For twenty years, they were leaders in the field of immigration law, LGBT rights and marriage equality. And they were successful in providing temporary immigration rights to foreign-born spouses of lesbian and gay U.S. citizens. When Rick and Gonzalo began to think about the possibilities, and the risks, they decided it was the right thing to do. Gonzalo sent Rick two dozen beautiful red roses, along with chocolate, a large red heart, and a card that said, “You are the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. Will you marry me?!” Rick cried tears of joy, and called Gonzalo in Buenos Aires. Yes, he said. Si! I want to marry you more than anything in the world!
In early October 2012, Gonzalo arrived in San Francisco. Rick and their “girls,” Maggie and Emma, went to the airport, along with flowers. When Rick and the dogs saw Gonzalo, they went running to greet Gonzalo. Their family was back together. For months, Rick and Gonzalo thought about their future. They knew that they wanted to marry in the United States, but they still had no plan for a legal avenue that would give Gonzalo the right to stay in the United States.
On February 7, 2013, Gonzalo and Rick were married at City Hall in New York City. Rick’s oldest brother, Ken, was their witness. The city opened its arms for Rick and Gonzalo. The hotel put them in the wedding suite at no extra charge. Waiters were bringing champagne to celebrate. The broadway show they attended, Jersey Boys, had their song (You’re Just Too Good To Be True). And on the day before they returned to California, the skies opened up and snow began to fall. The Blizzard of 2013 was like the icing on their wedding cake.
The Green Card Case
In March 2013, Rick filed a green card petition for Gonzalo, just like any other American citizen would do for his foreign-born spouse. Under the careful supervision and legal counsel of their lawyer, Lavi Soloway, the couple applied for a marriage-based green card. As of this writing, Rick and Gonzalo still do not know what the outcome will be. Will their application be denied, which current U.S. law (DOMA) would dictate? Will Gonzalo be forced to leave the country? This is the worst case scenario, but there are also some very positive and hopeful possibilities. They decided to share their story with The DOMA Project, as well, to advance the incredible progress of this movement of binational couples.
Rick and Gonzalo have peace of mind, knowing that what they have done is blazing new trails to equality for all lesbian and gay Americans. And if their love-based application is denied, they will together leave the United States for one of the many countries that will recognize their relationship. They will not be denied the most basic right of all–the right to be together in a loving, committed, mutually supportive relationship. Love will prevail.
17 Years Ago Today DOMA Was Introduced In Congress.
Since it was signed into law by President Clinton it has caused immeasurable harm to lesbian and gay Americans and our families. It has destroyed marriages, torn apart families, depeleted savings, forced us to defer plans to start families, to buy a home, start a business or pursue our education. DOMA has robbed us of years of our lives, it has left us poorer, unable to care for our families, forced into exile, separated from those we love, living in fear of a deportation, hiding in a double closet and enduring a constant, crippling burden of stress that few relationships could survive.
And yet we are still here, tens of thousands of lesbian and gay binational couples, DOMA WARRIORS all of us, not waiting, but fighting. Not sitting on the sidelines, but joining a movement made by us for us. We have empowered each other, and we have created a supportive environment to share our stories and lift ourselves up. DOMA has destroyed much, but our love endures.
We have fought this fight for love, and we will win.
Keep up the fight every day until DOMA is gone and we have achieved full equality for our families. Do not give up and do not give in. Share your story ([email protected]) and donate at a level you can afford to The DOMA Project at www.domaproject.org/donate and love will win in the end.
55 Days Left In Our Advocacy Campaign: Let’s Share Stories of 55 More Binational Couples to Defeat DOMA in the Court of Public Opinion
We are looking for binational couples to join our campaign. Your story is a vital part of winning this struggle.
What should our story say? What should we share?
How you share your story is entirely up to you. Here are some suggestions that we feel make for a fuller story for the readers:
- Tell us how you and your spouse/partner met, fell in love, and decided that you wanted to spend the rest of your life together.
- Describe the sacrifices you’ve made as a couple to be together or to see one another.
- Share how DOMA has affected your life. What would your future be like if you were treated the same as any other married couple?
- Provide pictures or videos: images help establish an emotional connection between you and the readers, making it easier to relate to personal stories.
Your testimonials, videos, photographs will help us put discrimination into terms that everyone can understand: its cruel impact on individual couples and families. Anyone interested in getting involved to help raise awareness of the impact of DOMA on binational couples should contact us at [email protected] or via our contact form. All information received will be confidential.
Binational couples who are currently in separate countries and binational couples living abroad are welcome. Couples who want to participate without revealing their full names or other identifying information are also welcome, however, all couples are invited to write their stories in first-person voice or using first names only. All stories submitted will be edited and reviewed by The DOMA Project Team including our attorneys and returned to you for final approval before posting. All questions should be directed to [email protected]
I was raised in small town Paradise, California. José was raised in Talca, in central Chile’s wine country. In 2004, we were both living in Miami. I had relocated to Miami from my work from New York, when both our paths crossed. A mutual friend, invited José and I to meet at his home for dinner. He knew we would become fast friends, but little did he know how fast. When we first met, I knew José was the “one.” As funny as it sounds, for us it was “love at first sight.” Jose later told me it was my smile that won him over. We talked for hours at our first meeting, and immediately made plans to meet again. Nine years later we are still talking and planning and spending our lives together.
That first day, into two, and then two to three. Before we knew it we were spending all our time together. From that point on, José and I were pretty much inseparable. We have so much in common and complement each other completely. In the beginning we were looking for every opportunity to spend time together. Since we were both in South Beach, Miami, we spent a lot of time just walking. We must have walked miles and miles just talking and getting to know each other.
Being from the west coast, we had a lot in common: Chile and California are a lot alike. We’re always comparing our origins and lives and taking about our families. José told me a lot about how his mother were always very close. He told me about his life and how his mother, was a woman of strong convictions, and a secret community organizer for democracy in Chile. He told me about, how his father, disappeared under that regime for over 6 months and that he never spoke of it. José’s first experience in democracy was to vote in their referendum to overthrow their dictator. José loved his mother dearly. She was very happy that José and I had met, and was very supportive of us being together; she called me “son” when they talked.
Our lives have had its ups and downs, It has not always been easy for José, living in the US. But the one thing we know: together we were strong and could accomplish anything. Any problem that occurred that first year just seamed to disappear. Together we were the two halves that were meant to be together to be whole. We created a home together, moved to Coconut Grove, and adopted our first Dog, Lola, from the Humane Society,
One of the most important moments of our relationship was the morning when Jose and I discussed about getting married. “David, Are you serious about our relationship?” My answer was that I loved him and I knew it from the first moment I first saw him and knew we would be together. That was the moment we decided to become engaged. We read that same sex marriage was now legal in Massachusetts, and we would be ready for it. On New Year’s Eve 2005 on the steps of the Basilica in Coconut Grove, Miami, Jose and I became engaged. We both made a commitment to each other that night that we would marry when the time was right.
Our lives soon took us to New York, where I had lived previously. After almost a three year engagement, in July 2008, I read that Massachusetts would permit out of state same-sex couples to be married in that state, and that former New York Governor David Patterson had decreed that New York would honor those marriages. I was so excited when I read the news, that in my typical not-so “romantic” approaches I “texted” to Jose, ”Will you marry me?” He responded, “Yes.” That was it. Yes, I proposed by text message.
The next few months were all planning: the date, location, days off work, flowers, etc. The one thing I knew was that I had to be married in the Church, since growing up I had always been a devout Episcopalian. I found a priest that would do it and a Justice of the Peace for good measure to solemnize the occasion. ”I don’t want anything to go wrong,” I remembered telling José. So on October, 3, 2008 we were married at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston. A Priest, A Justice of the Peace, the acolyte for the Mass, the photographer and José and me. The most private, yet most sincere and blessed event in our lives. José reminded me how nervous I was that day, and I remembered seeing how scared he was; how serious he was to the commitment we had made to one another. That day we became David & José Jones-Munoz! Our families were waiting to hear about our marriage, José’s mother and family in Chile and mine from California. The big surprise was the two Lei’s sent from my aunt, from Sacramento, I was surprised by that choice, since Lei’s were not from our familiar traditions. She told me that she had read that the lei was the symbol of love and she wanted us to be surrounded by love on that day. We realized how perfect that was.
The overarching impression we got that day was the loving acceptance that those who lived in Boston presented to us. From the clerk at the registrars office who took extra time with us, while she made the line of twenty wait, to get all the details correct, to the local café where we stopped for a quick champagne to celebrate for pictures, and telephone our families, where the entire restaurant passed a card around congratulating us on our great day. In the Boston Commons as we passed those with business suits, strangers said to us, “Thank you for getting married in our city.” To us that was the sign that our marriage was like any other marriage. It was real in all respects. From our priest and the Church ceremony, to the Justice of the Peace the impact was exactly what we expected.
Upon returning to New York, there were many issues DOMA that we confronted us in our day to day lives: we planned to buy a house, but we were limited by the opportunities and the programs that we could have applied from HUD. José’s status would not permit us to do so. Even the State-run First Time Buyers programs accepted our marriage but due to DOMA, we could not use his income as qualifying income. In another instance, José’s income disqualified us on a New York City local option. It came back to us over and over, that since DOMA was the law they could not help us with any process to buy a home.
2010, was a hard year for José. His mother had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. Jose had been making attempts to make her life more comfortable, but eventually she passed away in her sleep That was a sad day for us both. The pain he felt and the pain I felt knowing that he could not go home to see his family during this time of great sadness was indescribable. All I could do was to support him during those dark days, and let him know that his family was here for him. I never got to meet the woman that was such a great inspiration to José and made him the strong person that he is today, the person I love so much. I would have loved to meet her because of her strong influence in her community and her family.
When New York passed Marriage Equality it was a great day for New York. We wanted to be a part of it, so, on the first day, July 24, 2011, we waited in line for 4 hours, and in front of a New York Court Judge Marcy Kahn, at City Hall we were married again. Our witnesses were a couple that had been together for over 25 years, and inspiration for our relationship. José was so emotional that the Judge had to ask if he was ok? He was, He always cries when he’s truly happy. (There was a lot of crying that day!) In New York we had all the experiences we didn’t the first time. The crowds, friends and the reception put together for all the newly married couples at the LGBT center in NYC by City Council President, Christine Quinn. People stopping us on the streets to congratulate us from the sanitation man riding on a truck, to a waiter in a store, to a small kid with his parents, and tourists in Times Square all applauding and wishing us a happy marriage.
DOMA has placed so many obstacles in front of us that opposite sex couples don’t face. The lack of immigration for José, his ability to work freely and have economic security. Our desire to buy a house., The Ability to travel home and mourn with his family when his mother passed away, The security that if something would happen to one of us how would the other survive? So many rights and privileges that the Federal government provides to Opposite Sex Couples. As Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg said federal marriage benefits “touch every aspect of life. Your partner is sick. social security. I mean, it’s pervasive. It’s not as though, well, there’s this little federal sphere and it’s only a tax question. It’s — it’s — as Justice Kennedy said, 1,100 statutes, and it affects every area of life.”
After DOMA, our lives would totally change almost completely.
VIDEO: Surprise Marriage Proposal By American Visiting Partner in London, Another Couple Separated By DOMA
I departed San Francisco last week to again visit my partner in London. This visit was different however, as I brought along with me a ring and a secret.
After meeting two years ago, Michael and I had no idea how difficult it would be to just be together. As a binational couple, we have been forced to live apart for the last two years, with the exception of frequent visits back and forth. The Defense of Marriage Act prevents me from petitioning for him to be able to immigrate to the U.S. to live with me.
Michael and I are both the type of people that never let anything hold us back—any problem can be overcome. But what we were not prepared for, is that in this case, the law is designed to keep us apart by not recognizing our relationship. This was particularly hard for me to grasp since my brother was able to sponsor his foreign-born wife, while Michael and I had no similar option.
Throughout this time, most aspects of our lives have been put on hold, while careers, housing, doctors, and finances have all been in constant flux. It is also enormously difficult to nurture and grow a relationship while in different countries. When you love someone, you want to build a real life with them, not speak to them online. And yet, we know we are lucky because many couples cannot even enjoy visits because of limited financial means or lack of access to visas. I go to London regularly so that we are together as often as possible and Michael has spent a lot of time in the US, but it is difficult for us to manage the financial burden of a relationship that must be maintained over thousands of miles.
I believe that as we continue to tell the stories of our lives we will advance our country to one where all couples are treated equally under the law. Michael and I see a future in which the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, and we are able to live together permanently in the United States with access to a green card based on our marriage.
Back to the proposal! I flew to London for one of my regular visits and, secretly, I had planned to propose. As I decided how I would do it, I thought about all that we’ve been through. So much of our experience has been isolating and lonely. Moving frequently, friends not knowing how to ask how things are, and feeling unsupported by my government. I knew that I wanted this gesture to show community and support as we continue our fight to be together. I did not do this proposal quietly or in a private place. Instead, I used the cafeteria of the London office of my company and, as you can see in the video below, I involved a few hundred people in the project.
Five minutes before the proposal, all of the TV screens in the cafe showed a timer countdown. At about 10 seconds, Michael remarked “it’s really busy in here. Also, what’s the timer for?” I won’t ruin the ending, but I think you’ll enjoy watching this video.
Please feel free to share this with others, and if you are a binational couple impacted by DOMA like us, share your story with The DOMA Project. It is through telling our stories that we show the impact that these policies have had on our families, and we stand up and are counted. We know our love will conquer any of the barriers put in our path.
John and Shaun Attend Their Green Card Interview, Determined to be Treated Like All Other Married Couples
Ever since we married in January 2012 and later decided to file a green card petition – the same way an opposite sex couple would- we knew, if we were lucky and our case was not denied outright because of DOMA, that we would have to face a green card interview. We spent the last year working closely with The DOMA Project, visiting both of our U.S. Senators and our Representative, to educate them and their staff on the issues married same sex couples face under current immigration law. We fought to win their support to have an abeyance policy implemented, so couples like us could have our marriage based green card petitions placed on hold, until DOMA was finally struck down. (Below is a short video of our wedding reception in January 2012, narrated by our attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway.)
Outside of that, our life was just like any other newly married couple. For the first time in more than 11 years, we no longer had to face constant separations when Shaun had to leave the US and return to the UK for months at a time, because we made the decision that he would not leave again and that we would not be separated. Instead, we decided that we would fight for the green card that should be ours, the future and stability that should be ours and the respect and equality under the law that should be ours. Aside from this legal process, for the first time we spent all our time together uninterrupted by travel after a short visit, we established a more robust social life and adopted two orphaned kittens. Our house became a real home and finally we had a true sense of being a family. Imagine that for 11 years we made do with visits and separations and had such a fractured life as a couple. We now had a home. For sixteen months, Shaun and I have experienced what so many other couples in our situation are denied because of DOMA: the simple right to be together in this country, in our home.
Then we received our interview date, and reality set in. We were not like other families. No one had introduced a bill to defend our marriage, or to ensure Shaun would be able to stay here. Even after 13 years together and a legal marriage, we had to once again be reminded that in the eyes of the federal government, we are no more connected than two strangers on the street.
As we gathered all we needed on the night before the interview, we were tense. I tend to withdraw under stress and Shaun snaps easily. We ended up having one of the first arguments we had since we married. The pressure and fear of the unknown, of being one of the first same sex couples to attend this kind of interview, really got to us. By the time we arrived for the interview the next day, we were both emotionally on edge.
Our appointment was set for 1:30 pm. We sat waiting with our lawyer Lavi Soloway, who always helps relieve our anxiety. For many binational couples like us, our relationships are sustained by years of visits. Each visit depends on the judgement of an immigration officer at the airport when the foreign partner lands and seeks entry as a visitor. Those experiences are stressful for both of us. We never knew when it might be the last time Shaun would be permitted to visit me. So when it comes to facing an immigration officer, we experience tremendous anxiety. Everything rides on it. Shaun had many bad experiences with immigration officers in the past. Some had been rude and did their best to be intimidating. Having our lawyer with us yesterday as we waited to be called for the interview made Shaun feel like the little kid bringing his big brother along to defend him against the bullies.
After waiting a short while, Shaun’s name was called and we were led to one of the interview rooms. We sat in a pleasant, brightly lit room. No bars on the windows, no lights ready to be shined into our eyes like interrogations on TV cop shows. We were politely asked to take seats while the officer briefly read through our file. One of our fears was that they would ask me questions about events that happened so long ago, and that I would not recall exact details; those fears turned out to be groundless. They did not ask the color of his shirt on our second date. They did not ask him what the shoe sizes of my parents were. We laughed after that we had been worried about those things.
We went to the interview with photos, bank statements, utility bills, letters from friends who vouched for our relationship. We brought all the evidence we had to prove that we had a real marriage, that we lived together, and that we lived our lives as a married couple. This is the process for all other green card marriage interviews, and it was in a way comforting to be able to go through this process and have our marriage treated like all other marriages, in this way, even if we could not leave that day with an approval of our green card petition. The officer looked through our photos with all the captions showing our lives together from our first date in 2001 to the present and he asked a few basic questions about how we met, how much time we had actually spent together. The majority of the time he reviewed through our petition and application that we had filed with the Immigration Service in February 2012 and reviewed our joint legal documents, insurance policies etc. He asked Shaun a series of questions to determine his eligibility to be an immigrant to the United States. He reviewed our financial documents and Shaun’s medical exam that had been submitted previously. Throughout the whole 45-minute interview the officer was polite and respectful to us. There was no language used that treated us differently from an opposite sex couple. In fact our sexuality was not mentioned and DOMA was not referenced at all.
During the interview we knew that we were not alone. We knew that we were there representing tens of thousands of gay and lesbian binational couples who are engaged in a fight every day for the right to be together with the person they love. We knew that the world was changing outside the four walls of that office and that change did not happen on its own; the momentum toward equality resulting from the courage of so many who came before us. That courage and that momentum toward equality was also with us during the interview. In a sense, DOMA was with us as well, though it felt very much that the old statute from 1996 was on its last legs.
At the end of the interview our lawyer went over some legal and technical aspects of a same sex marriage application with the officer. We were the first gay couple interviewed at this particular office. The DOMA Project has filed green card cases for approximately 70 same-sex couples since 2010, some have been denied earlier in the processing when it is discovered that they are a same sex couple, and others made it to an interview. Of those who were interviewed, some were denied at the interview itself. We knew we were lucky that we had made it to this stage. We knew that The DOMA Project had won 10 cases at the Board of Immigration Appeals ordering the Immigration Service to re-open denied cases and conduct interviews where they had not taken place.
All that being said, we know that at any time after our interview we may receive a letter in the mail denying the petition based on Section 3 of DOMA. Despite what some people think, the Obama administration is still not willing to do what is within their power to do: to hold all same sex applications in abeyance, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA. With our entire future in the balance, and we continue to speak out and encourage others to join in the fight to defeat DOMA.
Mike & Erdi: Love Story That Began On Father-Son Trip Leads to Filing of Fiancé Visa Petition and a Move to Turkey
My name is Michael Curtis. I am 38 years old. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the past ten years, I have lived in California; first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, I moved to Turkey to be with the man that I love.
The story of how I came to meet and fall in love with Erdi begins with an e-mail I received from my father deep in the winter of 2012. (Deep winter meant 65 degrees and brunch outside at Joey’s Café in sunny West Hollywood.) It had been six months since our trip to Germany together in August 2011 and my Dad wanted to have another father-son trip. Since he chose Berlin last time, he left the destination of our new adventure up to me. “Istanbul,” I told him. I’d never been to that part of the world. Together my Dad and I had traveled not only to Germany, but England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hong Kong and China and all over the United States. Traveling is what we loved, our way of spending quality time together, and it was time to make it even more interesting—a Muslim country at the crossroads of East and West.
We were one week into our two-week excursion through the Turkish west coast. We began in Istanbul, and a couple days later took a bus to Gallipoli to see the war memorial and hang out in the coastal town of Canakkale, then Izmir and Selcuk where we toured Ephesus. This second week would be all Istanbul, we had planned. We flew in from Izmir on Monday, August 20. My friend of ten years, Damian, who was currently living in Belfast where he’s from, had arrived to meet us the night before; we toured the Hagia Sophia that afternoon. I had never seen anything more beautiful. That was until later that night, when, after Dad had gone to sleep, Damian and I decided to visit our first Istanbul gay nightclub, Tek Yon, in the Taksim area of the city.
It was a Monday night and the club was not particularly crowded. The club itself was nothing new to us. Having lived together in London, and in West Hollywood myself, and San Francisco before that, Damian and I were abundantly familiar with gay nightlife, and, perhaps humorously, there really wasn’t much of a difference between our experiences with gay nightlife in various cities or even different countries. But this night would prove to be much different than any other typical night out.
We were having a beer in the outside patio, debating how much longer to stay, when I quickly and without much thought turned my head around to look behind me. Standing there alone several feet away was, without a doubt, the most beautiful man I have ever seen. And clichés be damned, our eyes met. It took a second to register that we were truly staring. But it was quickly unmistakable and I nodded to acknowledge him. He nodded back. I turned to Damian, and turned back—he was still looking, and then I waved him over to talk to us.
He spoke perfect English. We introduced ourselves, I mispronounced his name, Erdi, and he immediately began a conversation with Damian. They chatted and chatted while I stood next to him. This is cool, I thought, and then inevitably began wondering if it was me that he was interested in. Just as the knots in my stomach began, he injected into his conversation that he thought I was attractive, and put his arm around me. No more questioning. Soon Erdi and I were saying goodnight to Damian, and hailing a taxi.
By morning it was clear this was no simple holiday romance. This was special. Erdi made me laugh. Though I was in a very foreign city, in a very foreign country, I was perfectly comfortable in his home. I was with this young Turkish man—originally from a small village in the east of the country—but I was at home. I was at peace. I didn’t really need to, but I asked if I could see him again. He smiled, said yes, and we spent every day together for the next week. Being with him was so easy, natural. We talked about world politics, economics, our cultures, music, film, gay life in the U.S. and Turkey. Mostly we laughed. We watched YouTube videos of ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. Indeed, that was what connected us most deeply—our recognition of and appreciation for the absurd all around us. We understood each other. And I admired him. He was born poor by any country’s standards, but pulled himself out by disciplined study, earning scholarships to the best schools in his area, finally being accepted at one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities, Istanbul University, to study economics.
It was a struggle balancing my time with Erdi while still trying to make the trip about Dad and me. It wasn’t easy. I introduced my father to Erdi one afternoon, and we toured the Grand Bazaar. It was awkward. Dad could feel the tone of the trip shift and it saddened him. It was clear I had met someone important, and we had a long, emotional talk about what was happening. In the end, Dad understood this was no fling, and accepted the situation. Two months later, my father would buy my plane ticket to return to Istanbul and so I could be with Erdi again, and today he couldn’t be more supportive. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful father, and to have had him at my side when I first fell in love with Erdi in August 2012.
My final night with Erdi, that initial trip, ended in tears and uncertainty. I asked him to marry me. “Why not?” I said. He said yes. Of course, knowing each other for such a short time we jointly acknowledged that we were half-joking, but I truly felt the possibility, and so did he. There was obviously never a question whether I would see him again, just when and how. And so I returned to the United States, but my heart did not leave Turkey or Erdi.
After one week of constant emailing and messaging on the Viber app (then Whatsapp and Tango), we graduated to Skype. Our first Skype call lasted six hours and it felt like minutes. This became the norm. Erdi would stay up until 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning to talk with me when I got home from work. We never went longer than two hours, when we were both awake, without texting. Our connection grew, and so did the torture of being apart. There were times I felt I could reach through my computer screen and touch him, and the fact that I couldn’t was almost too much to handle. Going through the process of developing a relationship is filled with obstacles enough. Add to that a distance of 6,000 miles, and all the cultural differences… let’s just say it wasn’t easy. But neither of us was going to give up. Still, we knew that too much time apart would strain our relationship irreparably, so I planned a return trip to Istanbul as soon as I accumulated enough vacation time at work. I put the plane ticket on my credit card, later covered by my Dad (as a surprise birthday present), and planned ten days over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was so excited to be back with Erdi.
Would it be the same, we both wondered. We were scared. Every conversation leading up to my return made us feel more connected. We shared everything about our lives, but we hadn’t spent exclusive time together, physically in the same place. We only really knew the euphoria of the first meeting, with a defined expiration date, and, possibly, with the “safety” of no specific commitment. This trip would be an opportunity for us to truly determine whether we would go forward as a couple, really make a commitment and endure all hurdles and barriers that make it a challenge for a couple from two different countries, not to mention all the life changes ahead of us to make such a relationship succeed. We were convinced, and remain convinced, that our love for each other will conquer all.
The good news is that it went better than either of us could have hoped. We spent every moment together. He took me to meet his family in Izmit, who were warm, stuffed me with food and joked about me in Turkish, knowing I couldn’t understand.
I met Erdi’s parents, and six of his seven brothers and sisters. We spent the days cooking, watching movies, talking and laughing, sharing our lives. He loves electronics, so we spent quality time at several electronics stores. The only thing that had changed was that we were closer. And we knew we were in love. We knew it was big, life altering. And getting on that plane home was absolutely excruciating. Immediately we put in motion our plan to be together permanently, as soon as possible.
The next two months were the hardest of our lives. We were empty in our daily lives without each other. And we weren’t exactly sure what to do. Could he get a tourist visa and visit for a few weeks? Could I go back to Turkey once I accumulated more vacation time? But we would have to deal with the awfulness of separating again, and the pain of indefinite uncertainty. We wanted stability; we wanted a chance. We wanted to get married and have children. Often we talked about how we would raise them; when we did, I admired him more. This was the man I wanted to be a father to my future kids.
I arranged to meet with immigration lawyer, Lavi Soloway, who I had met through friends. I knew he specialized in immigration law and had worked with thousands of binational couples. I had followed his work at The DOMA Project. We went over the details of filing a fiancé petition with the U.S. government, and he explained to me the current and changing nature of various relevant laws. I took the perspective that as a United States citizen I should have the same right as anyone to sponsor the man I love to come to the U.S. as my fiancé so that we can marry, establish a permanent home and raise our family. And so we are moving forward.
While I began the fiancé visa process I also knew that I didn’t want to spend any more time apart. It was a strain on our relationship. So I decided to move to Istanbul to be with him. My life in West Hollywood was becoming meaningless without him. When I broke the news to my roommate, who is also my closest friend in Los Angeles, she told me she already knew it was coming, because, really, emotionally I had already left. I was emotionally with Erdi.
I moved in with Erdi in Istanbul on February 2, 2013. I continue to work remotely as a consultant, writing and copy-editing for the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, and am in the process of applying for a residential visa for Turkey. Erdi and I spend every moment of the day together—we cook, watch movies, shop, take walks around the city in the foggy cold and rain (I’m trying to get used to it), visit family, do what normal couples do, and we talk about the future. My father is planning a visit in the summer, while my mother and brother and his family will come in the spring. Our dream is to return to the United States later this year once the fiancé visa is approved so that we can marry in New York State.
To all those reading this, who have fallen in love with someone far from home, who face unjust laws that put barriers between them and the future they seek to build, I can only say that for me there was never a question. Love must come first. That means it must be valued and defended. Our stories must be told and shared. It will be a struggle, but it will not defeat us. Every day our love grows stronger, and so does my resolve not to be forced into exile by my own country. I want to come back home to my life in California with Erdi. The fiancé visa petition that I have filed for him can only be approved if DOMA is struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. The act of filing this petition is both an act of optimism, and an act of defiance. We do not accept the status quo. We do not accept that we are not equal. We have the power to make change happen by standing up and defending what is right, and good, and just. One day very soon, our collective efforts will achieve full equality.