Gay Couple in Florida Receives Approval of Marriage-Based Green Card Petition Just Two Days After Historic Supreme Court Ruling Striking Down DOMA

The DOMA Project Couple Receives First-Ever Approval of Green Card Petition, Recognizing their Marriage

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Just two days after the historic Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act Section 3, The DOMA Project participants, Julian Marsh and Traian Popov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida received good news. Julian’s green card petition for his Bulgarian husband was approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at 3:45 p.m. EDT Friday afternoon June 28th. On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for all purposes including immigration benefits, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Julian and Traian met in March 5, 2011 at a friend’s home in Florida. Within a week, they had a second run-in at another friend’s house and began dating shortly thereafter. “I met him, I fell in love, and that was it,” says Julian. They married in Brooklyn, New York in October 2012, because of the connections both have had to New York City and because their home state of Florida does not permit same-sex couples to marry. Traian (“Tray”) Popov has been a student in the United States since 1998 and is currently pursuing a PhD in Conflicts Analysis and Resolution. Julian Marsh is an internationally acclaimed DJ and music producer.

As one of the binational couples participating in The DOMA Project, Julian, a U.S. citizen, filed an I-130 Petition for his husband Traian on February 13th, 2013. Notification of the approval of his petition arrived by e-mail on Friday from USCIS within just two days of the Supreme Court ruling. June 28th was also, coincidentally, Julian’s birthday.

Since it was founded in 2010 by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, The DOMA Project has filed almost 100 green card petitions for same-sex couples affected by DOMA. USCIS has announced that will soon issue guidance for all DOMA-impacted immigration cases. The DOMA Project is working closely with members of Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that all petitions and applications filed by lesbian and gay couples be handled and processed as expeditiously as possible.

Florida’s Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio stated on June 13th that he would walk away from any Senate bill to address the needs of same-sex couples and their families.

“We have love, joy and happiness in our lives. Thanks to the Supreme Court and President Obama we have an approved green card petition and we get to stay in our home and our country. If DOMA had not been struck down we were faced with no alternative but to leave our home and the country that we love so much.  We feel extremely grateful and fortunate to have been given the greatest gift possible as we celebrate gay pride around the country. Today we rejoice. Next week we get back to work to defeat all the barriers to full equality,” said Julian from his home in Florida.

From Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:

“The approval of this petition demonstrates that the Obama administration’s commitment to recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples nationwide is now a reality on the ground, just two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down DOMA. We expect additional approvals of green card petitions in the coming days.

“It is symbolically important that the first gay couple to receive approval of their green card petition live in Florida, a state that has a constitutional ban preventing same-sex couples from marrying. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) has repeatedly and shamefully scapegoated gay Americans and their families, threatening to kill comprehensive immigration reform if it included a provision for LGBT families. Today, the Supreme Court ruling affirmed that committed and loving binational lesbian and gay couples in Florida and across the country deserve to be treated with respect and equal recognition under the law by the federal government. In stark contrast to Senator Rubio’s disparaging tone rejecting the dignity of lesbian and gay Americans, the Supreme Court ruling and the green card approval have brought justice to Julian and Traian.”

“This historic first green card approval confirms that for immigration purposes the Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA will extend equal recognition to same-sex couples in all 50 states, as long as they have a valid marriage.”

The DOMA Project is a campaign to stop the deportations, separations, and exile of gay and lesbian binational couples caused by the Defense of Marriage Act.

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


Masliah & Soloway, Immigration Attorneys Who Founded Immigration Equality & The DOMA Project, Offer Free Consultations to Binational Couples Impacted By DOMA

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Following the Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA, the founders of The DOMA Project, the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, will be offering free consultations to all binational couples impacted by DOMA who seek counsel or representation.

We ask every couple contacting us in connection with this offer to use the following dedicated e-mail address [email protected] to schedule an initial legal consultation. (We will respond to all requests by email within 48 hours, so please do not email us more than once unless you have not heard back from us by the third business day after you sent your request.) We will offer consultations 7 days a week, by phone, Skype and in person.

This offer is extended to all binational couples regardless of your location. All consultations are confidential, protected by attorney-client privilege. This offer is not part of The DOMA Project, which is our pro bono advocacy and public education campaign, but rather it is an extension of our law firm’s commitment to providing assistance to the LGBT families addressing immigration issues post-DOMA.

Consultations will be available to couples worldwide: we will offer flexible hours so that we can meet the needs of those in all time zones. We will ask everyone who contacts us for a consultation to please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support the work of The DOMA Project.

We will do our best to accommodate every couple needing assistance as quickly as possible. All emails will receive a response within 24 hours. (Please note that our law firm offers sliding scale, low cost legal services for individuals experiencing financial hardship, and extended payment plans for individuals with limited income.) We look forward to speaking with you in the coming days and weeks.

- Lavi Soloway, Masliah & Soloway

LOVE TRIUMPHS: Together for 26 Years in Five Countries, Eleanor and Fumiko Fight DOMA as Exiles in Canada

Fumiko and I met in New York City in the fall of 1986. I was 46 years old and working as a computer programmer. I had three children in their early twenties. Fumiko, a Japanese woman of 37, had been living in Mexico for some years, studying weaving. She was living in New York at the time with a friend and was planning to go from there to Guatemala, where she wanted to learn their indigenous weaving techniques.

Because she was looking for an opportunity to practice English and I was looking to learn Japanese, our friend Martita introduced us. Immediately, I was fascinated by Fumiko’s strong personality and deep voice, though it wasn’t clear at the beginning whether Fumiko was a lesbian. Little by little we got acquainted, with our Japanese-English dictionary never far from hand, and eventually we became lovers. For six weeks, we spent a lot of time together, but when January came, Fumiko had to leave. That month was a flurry of activity as I quit my job, subletted my apartment, and departed to join Fumiko in Antigua, Guatemala.

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Eleanor and Fumiko 

What a strange and exotic place! And what a wonderful reunion! We rented a small house in Antigua and bought a few furnishings. Life there was simple albeit a little boring, with the exception of our new love affair. Both being on tourist visas, we had to exit the country every three months, so there were a couple of interesting trips over the border to Mexico. By the third exit, we decided to leave Guatemala and go to live in Mexico City, where Fumiko had lived before. Taking many bolsas of accumulated household goods, we found a nice apartment in the center of town, right behind the American Embassy. Fumiko introduced me to her many friends there, but I grew increasingly restless, caught between Spanish and Japanese and having no real business in Mexico, aside from being with Fumiko. Eventually, I decided to leave and “do something else”. It had been a year since I had left New York.

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Together in Guatemala

“Something else” turned out to be a journey to Japan! Fumiko wrote to her various relatives and issued orders that this “Eleanor” was to be treated like a queen. They took me to local festivals, treated me to endless dinners, and even included me in a weekend trip to a hot-spring resort. After a few weeks, I found a job teaching English and got an apartment and a working visa. I was lonely, but Japan was fascinating and I discovered many things about the country on my own, being forced to do things myself that I might have relied on Fumiko to handle had she been there. I studied the Japanese language, kimono-wearing, abacus-calculating and even won a speech contest in Japanese! After about seven months, Fumiko left Mexico and returned to Japan to join me. We lived together for the remaining five months of my stay. In May of 1989, we returned to New York together.

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Dining together in Japan

We lived together in New York for a total of five years. Fumiko studied English, and studied English, and studied English. After six months, her tourist visa expired, and she applied for an extension. She was turned down. A postcard arrived from INS (the precursor to USCIS) saying that she would be deported if she didn’t leave immediately. Then nothing. She was suddenly undocumented. Fumiko couldn’t work, but I was making good money as a computer programmer while studying linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center part time. We started getting to know other immigrants, with and without valid documentation, and realized that even undocumented immigrants have a life, and in New York City not such a bad one. Someone told us that “undocumented aliens” could attend one of the universities in New York, and even get the resident tuition rate. That was very exciting to Fumiko, who had never been to college, so she spent the next year studying English even harder and taking the TOEFL several times. Finally, in September of 1992, she entered LaGuardia Community College.

For Fumiko, LaGuardia was a wonderful experience. She read books, wrote papers, visited museums and libraries, and discovered great satisfaction in learning, thinking, and discussing a whole range of subjects. Her interest was especially kindled by cultural anthropology: the customs, beliefs, art, and mythology of various societies. She found the American system of education very stimulating, with emphasis placed on the value of each person’s contribution, each culture’s differences. Also, around this time I started attending meetings of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force (later known as Immigration Equality) an organization which had been formed in 1993 by Lavi Soloway, who is also co-founder of The DOMA Project. Through this involvement, I started to participate in advocacy as a member of a community of lesbian and gay binational couples.

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Involved in the binational struggle from the start: Eleanor and Fumiko marching in the New York City LGBT Pride on June 26, 1994 with the Lesbian & Gay Immigration & Asylum Rights Task Force

In January of 1994 Fumiko graduated from LaGuardia with an Associate of Arts degree and entered Hunter College as a junior, but she was increasingly anxious about money. Without valid documented status, she couldn’t work in the United States, and I was now a full-time student living off a small inheritance, so there wasn’t much money to go around. At 46, Fumiko worried more and more about getting sick, having no insurance or savings to fall back on, and no pension for her old age. Perhaps also the discomfort of being totally dependent on me added to the stress of living in a foreign country, in a foreign language.

Fumiko returned to Japan in July 1994. She got a job in Tokyo that she was pleased with, and began to rebuild her life there. I visited Tokyo for two weeks over New Year (the big holiday in Japan). I was now a doctoral candidate in linguistics at CUNY and, at 54, I felt that if I didn’t finish soon, it was unlikely that I ever would. Fortunately, I managed to get a graduate student fellowship in Japan for the summer of 1995, so Fumiko and I were able to be together for most of three months. After returning to New York and my dissertation research; long distance phone calls continued once a week, with e-mails in between.

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Saying goodbye at the airport as Fumiko left for Japan

In July of 1996, after a 10-month separation, I packed up my computer and 70 lbs. of Xeroxed references and went to Tokyo to work on my dissertation there. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I was able to do my writing and research abroad! I spent six months in Japan in two 3-month stays (the length of a tourist visa), and returned to New York in February 1997 to complete my degree.

After I graduated with a Ph.D. in October, 1997, I went to Japan and got a job teaching English, and eventually a post-doctoral fellowship for two years. We both enjoyed those years in Japan (1995-2001, more or less), though we knew it wasn’t a permanent situation. During that time, Fumiko spent a couple of years completing the college work that she had started in New York, and eventually qualified for a student visa to the U.S. So, in 2001, we both returned to New York.

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Enjoying life in Japan

For three years, we tried various arrangements. I did some adjunct teaching and eventually found an IT job, where I worked until my retirement in 2007. Fumiko studied web design, and did an apprenticeship in real estate. Eventually, however, the visa that Fumiko held had to be renewed and she could not show the proper documents. Faced with an inflexible immigration system that had no room for her, in 2004 she decided to return to Japan once more.

At this point, it seemed there was no way for us to be together. It is is notoriously difficult to get permanent residency in Japan, especially for a person over 60, nearing retirement. So Fumiko got a job in Japan (one that she enjoyed very much) and reconnected with her friends there, building a new life. I was forlorn. Fortunately, I happened to hear a talk by a Canadian immigration lawyer, and learned that it was possible for both of us to emigrate to Canada. Previously unthinkable, it suddenly seemed like a desirable solution for a couple out of options. We began preparing our applications in early 2005.

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Together in New York

In the summer of 2007, just after my retirement, we found out that our applications were approved by the Canadian consulate. By that time, Fumiko had created a new career for herself in Japan, working with developmentally disabled young adults. Being in Japan also meant being available to assist her older sister, who has debilitating osteoporosis. It was difficult for her to leave but, for both of us, being together turned out to be more important than any other consideration, and we are grateful to Canada for making that possible. Neither Japan nor the United States offered us this hospitality.

Fumiko began to wind down her life in Japan, arriving in New York once again in the fall of 2008. Meanwhile, I was overseeing the care of my mother, Vicki, who also lived in New York and had Alzheimer’s. We ultimately decided that my mother would be moved to a nursing home in Boston, near my sister. It was a hard decision; I was very conflicted and felt as though I was abandoning her. After emptying my mother’s apartment, Fumiko and I prepared for our own move to Toronto, which happened early in January 2008.

We quickly settled into our life in Toronto, finding a permanent apartment and involving ourselves in the community. Fumiko was not able to find a job in line with her previous work of caring for the developmentally disabled, so she went into food preparation, working as an assistant sushi chef. In 2012, Fumiko started a three-year full-time art program run by the Toronto School Board. Fortunately, it is very inexpensive and quite thorough, including painting and drawing, print-making, photography, sculpture, and ceramics. She’s totally energized by the work and the community, and she’s well on her way to becoming an artist! For the first time, she feels fortunate to be in Toronto.

Celebrating Thanksgiving at Eleanor’s daughter’s house in Yonkers

For me, I am retired, and I find a lot to amuse me–Toronto is not so different from New York, just smaller and gentler. We live in a small neighborhood in West Toronto where I am an officer of the local residents association and also organize a seniors social group. I lead a women’s reading group, maintain a website for an older women’s advocacy group, keep active in the gay community, and follow local politics and theatre. Toronto has a lot to offer us.

Having lived in Toronto now for five years, we are happy here as permanent residents, notwithstanding the separation from both of our families. On my regular visits to the U.S., I enjoy being a hands-on grandmother. My grandson really is terminally cute and cuddly. In the same month I first visited my grandson, my mother died at age 97, peacefully in her sleep. We held a memorial service for her in New York during my time there. I continue to travel to the U.S. to visit my dentist and find affordable vitamins. So, between a growing family, an old dentist, and cheap vitamins, I may have to keep coming back to the Big Apple from time to time.

Last August, we got married in Massachusetts. As my son notes, we took a very pragmatic attitude about celebrating our marriage. After all, we’ve been together for over 25 years! We simply wanted the added ease and security that a marriage certificate offers. Nonetheless, we were both thrilled to be celebrating our love for one another with family and friends.

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Cutting the cake with family and friends in Boston after the wedding

Fumiko and I have endured many separations in the 26 years of our relationship. Our connection is very strong, despite differences of language and culture, and even of age. Our lives before meeting one another had taken quite different paths, and we may seem to be an unlikely couple. But we both feel that we are alike in many important ways, and that we really appreciate our differences as well as our similarities. We support and encourage one another through good times and bad. Sometimes there is frustration and anger, but usually there is love and laughter–especially now that we have the security of knowing that we will not have to separate again.

We’re well aware that there are many couples out there who have not yet found their safe haven. Our story is just one example of the unacceptable choices that binational couples like us have been forced to make since DOMA’s introduction in 1996. Couples like us, who have committed no crime but to fall in love with a foreigner, are asked to choose between the person we love and the country we call home.  For this reason,we have been involved in the gay and lesbian binational community’s struggle for fair and equal treatment in immigration law since the beginning. It is long past time to end this discrimination against our families. We will not stop telling our story until DOMA is finished and families like ours will no longer be torn apart. Please consider sharing our story and contributing to The DOMA Project. Our fight is not yet over.

Married Gay Couple Raising Four Children: How DOMA Has Denied Security to Our Family

We met through a friend in a large East coast city in 2003 and we immediately realized we had a lot in common including wanting eventually to raise children. When we met, my husband, who is from South America, was in the United States on an unexpired visa. We started dating and we did not give much thought to the immigration issues; we assumed that once this visa was no longer valid, he would extend his stay or find another visa, and eventually, somehow, a green card. We did not realize quite what we were up against. We were in love, and that was about as much as needed to know.

As these things go, the story gets more complicated. Two years into our relationship his visa expired and could not be renewed. If we had been able to marry then, we would have done so. But in those days marriage equality was still in its embryonic stages. We registered for a domestic partnership in the city in which we lived. Finally, in 2006 we were married in Massachusetts under state law, and in 2007 in front of all our family and friends, we had a religious wedding at our synagogue.

With these life milestone events behind us, we were as committed as ever about starting a family.

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Immediately after the wedding we began to explore options for adoption; we had some concern that my husband’s immigration status could present a barrier or a complication, but we were determined not to be forced to wait to move our lives forward. We always felt that of the many different ways to adopt, we wanted to adopt slightly older children who were in the foster care system. We knew there were so many who needed homes and that these children tended to have a tougher time finding adoptive parents and in many instances were bounced from foster home to foster home never finding adoptive parents. To our surprise, even though we were now living in a state that did not recognize our marriage or domestic partnership, the agency we found was willing to work with gay couples even though only one of us would be able to legally adopt the children under that state’s laws. We count ourselves very fortunate that two wonderful children were placed with us very quickly and we are now two years into the bliss and hard work that is parenthood.

Even though the state considers them as only having one legal parent, as far as they are concerned they have two dads who love them. Two years later we adopted again, this time two more beautiful children. We could not be happier and more excited about our growing family. Love is in abundance in our home and we are devoted to giving our children the security and guidance to ensure that they achieve their potential in life.

Have moved away from the East coast years ago, we now live in a quiet, friendly suburban town in a somewhat red state. We were initially a little worried that we might not be accepted into the circle of other families with young kids where we live. To our pleasant surprise, we have found that except for being two dads, we have much in common with all the other families, and we feel very integrated into our small community. At a distance we may seem like a lot of the other families and in a lot of ways we are. But, unlike the parents of our children’s playmates, we live in fear that, at anytime, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might discover that my husband is here on an expired visa and initiate proceedings to remove him from the United States. The reality we live with every day is that my husband, who is staying at home now full-time to care for the kids while I work, could be deported. In the eyes of federal law he is a single, childless foreigner who is without lawful status. Sure, we would fight and hopefully stop a deportation on the basis of new rules that are meant to protect LGBT families, but those are discretionary guidelines, and we know that such a fight would put us and our children through torture.

So, if you look at our family a little more carefully you will notice a few differences. We are cautious, perhaps to a fault, because we are so afraid of my husband being discovered, even if just by accident. So we never go to any airport, believing airports even for domestic flights to be risky places. My husband has not left this country or seen his family back home for 15 years. My husband drives five miles below the speed limit, always mindful that our survival as a family depends on his avoiding being stopped by the police. And if anyone ever asks us about his immigration status (which so many people do in a good-natured way) you will hear our canned, evasive answer followed by an immediate shift in the topic of conversation. Sure some of these precautions may strike you as over-the-top. We don’t feel like we can let down our guard until there is full legal recognition for our family by the federal government. Our four beautiful children need their two loving dads, and should never have to experience a high-stakes fight to keep our family intact. They deserve a peaceful and stable childhood, not one interrupted and shaken by the discrimination caused by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That is why, after 10 years, we decided to end our perpetual fear of the unknown and chart a different path, characterized by a more assertive approach. We have joined The DOMA Project by telling our story and filing for a green card. Enough is enough. We cannot sit back and wait for change to happen. We must make it happen.

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In so many ways, we are like all other families, but because of DOMA our family is not recognized by federal law, and so we must live with the anxiety that our family could be torn apart at any time, and our children could lose their dad. Ironically, my sister who is straight, also married a foreigner. They are a wonderful couple. They have also long since decided not to have any children together. They met in the same month of the same year that my husband and I met. However, once they married, she was immediately able to arrange for his green card and, two years ago, he became a proud American citizen. I wish them all the best and love them, but sometimes can’t help feeling a little envious of what my sister was able to do for her husband that I cannot do for mine.

Help us keep up the momentum toward positive change as Congress weighs whether to include LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform. Consider our family, and think about the importance of ending this nightmare immediately. No couple should ever be torn apart, and no parent should ever have to say goodbye to his or her children.

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Caught Between Wisconsin and El Salvador, Lael and Camila Face Expiring Visa and Worry About Their Future Because of DOMA

I met my fiancé, Camila, three years ago. We both worked at University of Wisconsin-Superior’s indoor climbing wall. She was an international student from El Salvador, studying biology. I am from southern Wisconsin, studying psychology. It was obvious that we both liked one another, but with Camila graduating in 3 months and planning to move out of state, it was difficult to know what was going to happen. One day we did decided to give it a chance and that’s where our story begins.

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Since Camila majored in biology she was eligible for a yearlong work-permit. This permit could be extended after the year for up to 17 months because biology is a “STEM” designated field of study (e.g., science, technology, etc.), but certain requirements would have to be met. As our love grew, we made the decision to stay together, which meant we would have to find a way for Camila to stay in the area, near the university where I was studying. The search for a good job in such a restricted location became a struggle. As time was running out on Camila’s year long work-permit we found her a job that met all of the requirements in order to be eligible to extend the visa. At this point, we began to realize that staying together was not going to be as easy as we had originally thought. It was not a simple relationship where love and commitment were the only factors, but how it also depended on the hardships imposed by DOMA and the strict immigration laws.

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One thing that has always kept us going is that both of our families are very loving and supportive of our relationship. Of course as our love continued to grow we knew that we had to stay together, no matter where that would take us. This past year I asked Camila to marry me, and she said yes. Even though this was one of the most joyful moments of our lives, it was also terrifying since we knew what we were up against with DOMA. We knew difficult decisions had to be made once Camila’s permit was up.
Camila’s work permit will be up in six months. As of now with the current laws the way they are, we would move out of the country in order to stay together. We most likely would move to El Salvador, Camila’s home country. The problem is that El Salvador, a third world country, is not LGBT friendly or accepting. We would have to hide our relationship, in order to avoid discrimination or even violence towards her family and us. El Salvador does not have favorable LGBT laws. Even though this would be a scary move on our part, we are willing to risk it as long as it means a lifetime together.

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Making wedding plans is very difficult not knowing what our future holds for us. It would be incredible, like many would agree, to be able to get married to the one I love and have this marriage recognized by my home country on a federal level. The United States is said to be a “free country” and a “melting pot,” if this is the case, then how come two people who love each other can go through so much pain, heartbreak, and difficulties just to stay together in this so called land of the free.
This is why we are sharing our story. Like thousands of other couples, we need DOMA to be struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress so that we can live a safe and long life of happiness together, wherever we choose to do so without being torn apart. We wish for all people, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, status, sex, race, cultural background to be accepted for who they are and who they love.  We encourage others to share their story, to empower themselves and to focus attention on this issue. Love fuels this fight for social justice, but change comes about because we engage in action to inform others and build a supportive community.  This is a fight, but together we will win.  Thank you to The DOMA Project for giving us an opportunity to share our story. We hope to return to this space in the future to share stories of happiness and wedding pictures!

VIDEO: How America Looks at Me – A Gay Immigrant’s Perspective

I’ve lived in the United States for almost fifteen years, with no real sense of permanence. That may seem like a long time to not be able to plan more than two or three years in advance, but it makes sense when you consider that I’ve been in this country on a series of non-immigrant visas, each visa having a specific purpose for me to be here. My first visa granted me four years for to complete my undergraduate degree, after which I requested another two years for my first graduate degree.


I’ve lived in the United States for almost fifteen years, with no real sense of permanence. That may seem like a long time to not be able to plan more than two or three years in advance, but it makes sense when you consider that I’ve been in this country on a series of non-immigrant visas, each visa having a specific purpose for me to be here. My first visa granted me four years for to complete my undergraduate degree, after which I requested another two years for my first graduate degree. That led to a job in my chosen field of book publishing, along with the H-1B visa permitting me to live and work here, which was renewed to the maximum six years. Eventually, having gained a foothold in one end of the book business, I decided to switch to the other end, returning to school to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. I never needed to plan beyond a few years. I had no choice: my non-immigrant visa has always been tied to a specific short-term goal or purpose.

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Of course, all that changed when I met my boyfriend, Joe, who eventually became my husband, Joe, and who, as an American, was more firmly attached to the idea of having permanent residence in this country. From the moment we said, “I do,” our lives entered a legal quagmire. Like so many other gay and lesbian couples we were legally married in our home state (Connecticut) and enjoyed the rights and benefits of marriage under the laws of our state, while having our marriage completely unrecognized by the federal government because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for all purposes under federal law, including Joe’s right to sponsor me, as his spouse, for permanent residence in the U.S.

DOMA hangs a cloud of uncertainty over our lives, making it almost impossible for us to plan things that would be a matter of course for opposite sex couples, such as whether we should renovate our bathroom this year, or if it makes sense to finally get that puppy we’ve wanted for so long. Mundane? Perhaps. But when you are denied the right to make the simplest decisions, that itself becomes a reminder of how powerless we are to solve the more important problems, like how we are going to stay together in this country.

I suspect that most people are well aware by now of DOMA and its discriminatory treatment of married gay couples. It’s all over the news. The President said publicly that the law, signed in 1996 by President Clinton, is unconstitutional. Congressmen (mostly Democrats) have been slowly coming around to the idea that the federal government has no interest in restricting recognition of existing legal marriages to heterosexual couples. And now, the nine men and women of the Supreme Court are getting ready to determine the fates of hundreds of thousands of LGBT couples and their families across the country, for now and for generations to come.

Wonderful. The national spotlight focused on this issue has far-reaching implications, impacting more than just the LGBT couples directly affected. It helps to sensitize our families and friends to our struggle. Personal stories like ours help to change people’s minds. Just ask Republican Senator Rob Portman. This is why the work being done by The DOMA Project is literally life-changing.

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But the reality of DOMA and its insidious discrimination was a concern for me and Joe long before the media picked up on it. When you’re in a bi-national same-sex relationship, the mere proposal of getting married and making a legal lifelong commitment to each other requires a level of constitutional scholarship that our heterosexual counterparts never even have to consider. Joe and I have probably done enough collective research into immigration law, marriage equality around the world, and Constitutional law as it pertains to marriage, to make a decent showing on the LSATs. (Full disclosure, Joe secretly hopes to be a Supreme Court Justice, one day. Hey, he couldn’t be any worse than Clarence Thomas, am I right?) And yet we still don’t know enough to feel comfortable navigating this maze without professional legal help, which is why we have Lavi Soloway. (He said that we make a really cute couple, and we respect his legal opinion.)

I guess it’s a good thing we live in the Constitution State. We can rattle off names and dates whenever our straight friends ask us about where same-sex marriage is legal. (Yes, we often explain, Connecticut was the second marriage equality state, after Massachusetts—they just didn’t make a big deal out of it, like New York or Rhode Island.) But my favorite question is whenever we explain our situation to someone, and they ask me, “Well, why don’t you just become a citizen? Wouldn’t that be easier?”

It would be theoretically easier, of course, but it’s nowhere near being easy. First, there’s the whole business of getting permanent residence (see the whole DOMA problem, above). But there’s also the inherent headache of an immigration bureaucracy that creates hoops and hurdles for immigrants trying to work within the system. The Senate recently seemed poised to make a historic bi-partisan effort to take steps towards improving this system. But, tragically for thousands of bi-national LGBT couples, normally pro-LGBT Senate Democrats decided at the last minute to cave to Republican pressure to remove an amendment to the bill that would allow gay Americans, like Joe, to sponsor their foreign-born spouses, like me, for permanent residence.

This is what we’re up against. A political system in which one party prefers to pretend we don’t exist (not even in log cabins), and the other refuses to stand up for what they know is right. So much for hope and change.

What if real immigration reform could pass Congress without being bruised and battered by partisan politics? What if politicians and media personalities did not engage in fear-mongering at the expense of the LGBT community?

I don’t have the answers to those questions. I prefer to stick to the simpler ones. What if you meet someone, fall in love, and want to take the next step in making a legally recognized lifelong commitment to each other? For me and Joe, the decision to get married was the easiest part of this journey. We knew we loved each other. We knew we wanted to be together, and to be recognized as spouses, for the rest of our lives.

And then one day, we asked, “What are we waiting for?” It was a very simple ceremony, just the two of us and the Justice of the Peace on the dock over the lake behind our home. But that was all we needed. Parties and big celebrations are fun, but we both knew that nothing mattered more than our love. Also, contrary to stereotypes, neither of us really cared to do all that expensive planning. I think my mom put it best when we called her in Trinidad afterward to tell her the news: “As long as you two make each other happy, there is nothing that anybody else thinks that matters.”

Joe’s mom wholeheartedly agreed, although she noted that she only lives thirty minutes away, and would have loved to be there with us in person.

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We do make each other happy, and have from the very beginning. We don’t have the most fairy-tale story of how we met (on the internet, like so many other couples in the modern age), but I have to say it’s been a fairy-tale ride ever since. Yes, there were a couple close calls with Immigration. Once when my old passport was about to expire, and it looked like the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate would not be able grant me a new one in time, we feared that I might have to leave the country for an indeterminate period. Another time, due to a mistake an immigration officer made on my I-94, I had to leave the country on very short notice, flying to Jamaica for the day to avoid a potential overstay with my visa. But we’ve seen enough stories on The DOMA Project to know that we’ve been very lucky in many ways. I still have legal status as an immigrant. The future may be uncertain, but for now at least, unlike too many other bi-national couples, Joe and I are able to be together.

But uncertainty is nothing new for me. It’s been my life as an immigrant for over a decade. And now Joe and I face uncertainty as we wait for nine members of the Supreme Court to make a ruling on DOMA. We’re hopeful for the best outcome, and mindful as to what is at stake for so many. But we’re also prepared for anything. Because, really, would be the worst outcome? That we might eventually be forced to leave the U.S. in order to be together? That would suck. This is Joe’s home, and I’ve spent my entire adult life here. But we know that whatever we do, wherever we go, we’ll be together. We made a commitment to love each other for life, and there’s nothing the Supreme Court can do or say to change that. And in an environment full of flux and uncertainty, that’s the only kind of permanence that really matters.

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(Yes, that exchange in the video epilogue actually happened. And, yes, he really did look like Michael Phelps. No, I didn’t take any pictures.)

Michigan Mom: I Want My Son and His Fiancé To Come Home From Turkey

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I am the proud mother of two sons; Adam (age 41) and Mike (age 38). From the time they were little boys my sons were taught respect for others, the value of hard work, what it meant to love and be loved, to be responsible and kind, and to cherish family. I know that they both aspired to be successful men, husbands and fathers. Each has worked hard to become the fine men they are today and equally deserve to experience the happiness and stability that marriage and family offer.

Adam married the love of his life, Shondell, and together they are raising my grandson, Connor (age 5). It is a joy to watch my son be a father and our relationship has even more depth because Adam now understands the trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood.

Mike is engaged to the love of his life, Erdi, and they very much want to be married and have children in the future. Mike deserves the same opportunity to experience the satisfaction that being a husband and father can bring every bit as much as his brother, Adam. However, there is a huge obstacle in the way of Mike’s chance to have what Adam can take for granted. Mike and Erdi are gay. Not only are they banned from marrying in most of the United States, but Erdi is Turkish and current immigration laws discriminate against gay couples who have a foreign spouse. Spouses of straight couples automatically gain entry to the United States if they marry a U.S. citizen. An anti-gay law, called the “Defense of Marriage Act” by denying equal recognition to Mike and Erdi, is tearing apart our family.

It is beyond my comprehension to understand why people believe my son Mike’s desire to marry could possibly undermine or destroy my son Adam’s own marriage. It breaks my heart that my grandson, Connor, is deprived of extended family and the ability to see his uncles in person. Skype is no replacement for Sunday dinner together. I will soon be traveling to Istanbul, Turkey to meet my future son-in-law, Erdi, and his family. I wish I could feel certain that Mike will someday have the opportunity to introduce him to our family. Any law that discriminates in this way against my son, also harms our entire family. This is not a gay issue, this is about American families. And it is time for this to come to an end, so my son and his partner can come home to us.

Read Mike and Erdi’s full story: “Mike & Erdi: Love Story That Began On Father-Son Trip Leads to Filing of Fiancé Visa Petition and a Move to Turkey.”

VIDEO: Love and Country in Portland, Oregon – Jensi & Carmen Build a Life Together for Nearly a Decade and Advocate for an End to DOMA

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Jensi and Carmen

Carmen and I look like opposites but 9 years ago when we, 2 transplants from afar, met in a local Portland, Oregon language exchange, we realized we had each found our other half.  In Spanish, the term is media naranja but in our Salvadoran/Maine/Oregon household, we say we are each other’s media mango.  We share a love of great food and strong values of social justice and a deep love and responsibility for our families near and far.  Next year will be a decade together, the same year we will celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents.

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Over the years, we have loved and supported each other through a lot of hard times and a lot of laughter too. We have happily provided a port in the storm for many family & friends needing temporary refuge during teenage or marital or midlife crises.  We always seem to find enough to make ends meet and are grateful that we have enough to share.

Our life together these days is similar to many couples our age – juggling a mortgage, work, old cars and being the caregivers for Carmen’s 85 year old mom. I also share guardianship with my aging parents for my brother with developmental disabilities in Maine.

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These are just pieces of who we are for each other and in our family and community life.

At the same time, another painful large piece of our life is that we are a binational couple with mixed immigration status living the consequences of a broken immigration system so every day of our life together here is uncertain and acutely precious.

As we work hard to keep up with payments, legal costs, and to support our family and friends, we dream of a life post-DOMA and post-immigration reform, getting to grow old together in our little house with chickens and lots of flowers and vegetables growing all around.

Watch our video below to learn more about our lived experience as a binational couple, struggling in the era of DOMA and immigration laws that are not inclusive of all families.

Love and Country: Trailer from Dan Sadowsky on Vimeo.

LIVE NOW! Workshop: Answering Questions from Binational Couples Preparing for the Post-DOMA Universe

Live Streamed Video Workshop by Attorney Lavi Soloway

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In this workshop, DOMA Project co-founder, attorney Lavi Soloway, will answer questions from gay and lesbian couples. Register now to receive log in information by sending an email to [email protected] To submit question(s) please send an email to [email protected]

This workshop is provided by the DOMA Project is a pro bono campaign of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC in conjunction with the Love Honor Cherish Foundation.


Please note: all our workshops are provided for informational purposes only. The answers provided in this workshop do not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. We cannot directly address the personal circumstances of any individual case, but we encourage you to continue to submit general questions until the date of the workshop.

Workshop Slides:

This workshop will be live streamed on Sunday June 2, 2013 at 9am PDT, 12pm EDT. You will be able to watch the workshop on this page at the time specified.

 


Watch the recording of our previous live workshops

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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.