John and Shaun Attend Their Green Card Interview, Determined to be Treated Like All Other Married Couples

Shaun John Interview

All smiles after the interview

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

Mike and Erdi

Mike and Erdi

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.

Mike and His Dad in Turkey

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.Mike and Erdi Kiss

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.

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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.

Erdi Mike Baby

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.

With Erdi's Family in Turkey

With Erdi’s Family in Turkey

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.

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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.

Married Lesbian Binational Couple in Kentucky Celebrate Ten Years Together, Share Their Story and Fight DOMA

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Joy and Lujza

In June, Lujza and I will celebrate our 10-year anniversary as a couple, and our 2-year wedding anniversary. A decade together is a milestone and achievement for any couple, but because we are a binational same-sex couple, we have had to fight for every day of those 10 years.

Like many young couples, Lujza and I met while she was a college student and I was a recent graduate, working an entry level job. We met online in the summer of 2003, when Lujza, who was an international student from Budapest, Hungary, was looking for friends in her new home. Almost immediately we fell in love. I was amazed by her stories of working as a translator for social workers and ministers helping the homeless in her hometown of Budapest, Hungary. She was and is kind, empathetic, and has a fierce commitment to justice and fairness. When she emailed me one of Shakespeare’s love poems, I was smitten. We soon discovered that we could not imagine living without each other, no matter how many challenges we would face.

At this stage, we would have begun planning our wedding and applying for a fiancée visa for Lujza, but because of DOMA, both of those dreams were impossible. The door to any family-based visa was closed. We were even told that if we married, we could jeopardize her status.

Instead of a wedding, we embarked on a 10-year nightmare of debt, anxiety, and dreams deferred. In order to keep her student visa, Lujza must carry a full-time course load, and is not eligible to work anywhere off-campus. We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on tuition for Lujza because it has been the only hope we had to stay here together. As a foreign student, she can never qualify for in-state tuition or most financial aid. For years we had to beg relatives, take out loans and credit cards, panicking each semester, fearing that we wouldn’t be able to scrape the money together.

The emotional toll has been as heavy as the financial one. Lujza has given up years of productivity and livelihood to remain a student so that we could be here together. We have delayed having a family, although our dearest wish is to have a child, because of the precariousness of our situation. All of our decisions have been informed by the fact that we could at any point have to leave the U.S. if she lost her student status due to lack of funds or some official noticing that she isn’t making progress toward a degree. We have a home, friends, a community, and a church here in Lexington, Kentucky yet we have always lived with the anxiety that this could be taken away, that we could be exiled by the U.S. government.

Lujza has made an immense sacrifice for our relationship by choosing to remain in the U.S. indefinitely, because we know that the chances would be extremely slim that her student visa would be renewed if she left the country after so manyyears. Lujza has not been able to see her mother in 10 years, even when she had cancer. Even though my mother-in-law supports our relationship, I have never met her in person. In addition, we have spent hundreds of dollars on therapy and medication to deal with panic attacks on my part and depression on Lujza’s part, resulting from the fear and anxiety we have endured for a decade.

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Ten years has been too long. We are so tired of the uncertainty and sacrifice that seem to have no end in sight, but we are not defeated; we have always fought to be together and we will not stop fighting now. DOMA has done this to us, no other law, no other obstacle, just DOMA. For us that means, winning our freedom to live our lives and plan our future requires defeating DOMA. We cannot afford to continue postponing our lives, for we can never get back these years. This is why we chose to travel to Connecticut to marry in 2011, mere weeks before Lujza’s beloved aunt died, so that she could see that dream fulfilled before she passed away. We have sacrificed money, tears, and wishes, but we can never replace those moments that we lose in waiting and postponing the important events of our lives. We are ready to fight for the same rights that every heterosexual American enjoys by applying for a green card based on our marriage now and fighting to have it approved.

We encourage others reading this story to contact The DOMA Project and share their story. The Supreme Court will rule on DOMA, but that is not an excuse to sit around and wait. The burden we have all borne for so many years has taught us that our love is worth fighting for. Let’s keep up that fight and educate everyone about the extreme harm caused by DOMA, and why it must be defeated once and for all.

We Haven’t ‘Already Won’ on Gay Marriage — Just Ask These Two Moms Fighting to Keep Their Family Together (VIDEO)

Diana and Ariana

WATCH: Diana and Ariana have been together for over a decade. They are raising their two-year-old daughter Gabriela

Last week was one for the history books. The world watched as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases asserting that the U.S. Constitution does not allow states or the federal government to exclude lesbian and gay couples from the institution of marriage.

Day one was the Proposition 8 case. Reports tended to be pessimistic. The tea leaf readers told us that the justices had recoiled at the big ask: marriage equality nationwide for same-sex couples. These same pundits generally agreed that on day two, a slim majority seemed to have little love lost for the narrower issue of the Defense of Marriage Act’s unprecedented federal definition of marriage.

Despite this mixed bag, the media breathlessly proclaimed that the gay marriage fight was already won. Most of us were all too busy celebrating future victories to notice the inherent contradiction.

The DOMA Project sign at the Supreme Court on the day of oral arguments of Windsor v US

The DOMA Project sign at the Supreme Court on the day of oral arguments of Windsor v US

Reality check: It was not smooth sailing for LGBT advocates in the Supreme Court last week, and a home run in both cases is unlikely.

Sure, there were thousands of LGBT activists noisily rallying outside the court, vastly outnumbering the contingent of increasingly fringe opponents. And, yes, it is true that, as Chief Justice John Roberts so inelegantly put it to Edie Windsor’s lawyer, “political figures are falling over themselves” to endorse gay marriage. One after another, elected officials have been proudly announcing that their opinions have “evolved” in our favor. Just this week Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) became the 48th and 49th incumbent U.S. senators to trumpet support for marriage equality. Then Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) became the 50th, and only the second Republican in the Senate to defy his party’s current platform. Meanwhile, Time blasted the headline “Gay Marriage Already Won” across its cover, along with a sultry photo of a lip-locked same-sex couple. The relentlessly shrill right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh conceded, “The genie is not getting put back in the bottle. And I think that’s right. I don’t care what this court does with this particular ruling, Proposition 8. I think the inertia is clearly moving in the direction that there is going to be gay marriage at some point nationwide.” And even Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly agreed that gay and lesbian Americans had essentially won, saying:

The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That’s where the compelling argument is: “We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else.” That is a compelling argument, and to deny that, you’ve got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.

While this is all very exciting, it could be bad news for proponents of marriage equality. Have we already forgotten that only shortly before California voters passed Proposition 8 in the first place, public opinion polls suggested that this constitutional amendment would be easily defeated on Election Day? Were you one of the many who assumed that Prop 8 would never pass? Did you do anything to help the LGBT community and our allies secure equality in 2008? What are you doing differently now?

Forty-one states still deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and every agency of the federal government denies the very existence of married gay and lesbian couples. We cannot afford to drink the Kool-Aid this time.

Instead, we must continue to share our stories and take inventory of the ways in which discrimination still affects our daily lives. If we do not, if we relax our guard and cease to engage our family, friends, neighbors and elected officials in an ongoing discussion about our shared humanity, we risk missing a crucial opportunity to seize the moment and make this momentum yield actual change in our daily lives. Let’s not forget that genuine equality involves far more than marriage. We have a long way to go.

Changing our Facebook profile photos for a hot minute is but a baby step in an otherwise arduous journey. So much remains at stake for countless LGBT families still struggling every day, precisely because we have not won. Reversing legal inequality requires repealing unjust laws or persuading courts to strike them down. It is a “long game” process that cannot be avoided because of a sudden avalanche of confident magazine covers, cheering headlines and newly enlightened politicians.

To this day, the United States federal government offers no protection for married, binational same-sex couples. Two years ago, to great praise from the LGBT community, President Obama denounced DOMA as unconstitutional because it impermissibly denies recognition to married lesbian and gay couples for all federal purposes, including immigration. But did his administration stop enforcing it? No. Lesbian and gay binational couples remain shut out of green cards and fiancé(e) visas, two key elements of our family unification-based immigration system. As a result, LGBT families are still torn apart, forced into exile or left fighting every day to remain together in this country. None of them feel that we have already won, and to say that is an insult to their struggle.

 

This video is part of the collaborative series “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,” produced by the two of us for The DOMA Project and The DeVote Campaign.

Ariana and Diana are one such couple. They have been together for over a decade. Their beautiful daughter Gabriela is a nursery school student who has no idea that her moms are at the center of the fight for true marriage equality so that she never has to be separated from either of them. Because of DOMA, Ariana cannot sponsor Diana as her spouse to legally live, work or even drive a car in this country. Diana has not been back to Colombia since she first arrived here 12 years ago, seeking safe haven from violence that had claimed many close to her, and threatened her too, especially as a lesbian. She hasn’t seen her Colombian family in all these years. They can’t get visas to come visit her here, and she is trapped in the U.S., because she could be deported for a minimum of 10 years if she leaves.

Becoming a parent made Diana confront the consequences of discrimination like never before. It meant everything for her to introduce her parents to Gabriela, so Ariana traveled alone with their daughter to meet Diana’s parents in Bogotá. As Diana relates the story, they fell in love with their granddaughter. Little Gabriela is the only connection they have to their own daughter. Looking at the photos of her parents with Ariana and Gabriela, Diana brushes away tears. She has no idea when or if she will see her parents again.

Truly fighting for equality means understanding this enduring struggle as if it were your own. Winning requires reaching out within and beyond the LGBT community. The issues we are facing are not merely about sexuality. They are about humanity. Until the basic freedoms that form the bedrock of this country are made available to all citizens equally, we have not yet won, and we cannot declare victory.


Originally published by Brynn Gelbard and Lavi Soloway at HuffingtonPost

Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Brynn Gelbard started the DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. For more, visit devotecampaign.comfacebook.com/devotecampaign and twitter.com/devotecampaign.

In 2010, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, Lavi Soloway launched the DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples. For more, visitdomaproject.orgfacebook.com/thedomaproject and twitter.com/gaybinationals.

Marriage Equality on Trial: Listen to Oral Arguments in the Case Against DOMA at the Supreme Court

AUDIO: Marriage Equality on Trial: listen to oral arguments in the case against DOMA at the Supreme Court.


DOMA at Supreme Court

Listen to oral arguments in the case against DOMA at the Supreme Court

Download (PDF, 698KB)

 

 

Hernan and Carlos: Separated by DOMA, United by Their Love For Each Other and Hope for the Future

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Our love story began three years ago when I was logged on to my Facebook account one day and noticed a “friend request” from Carlos, someone I did not know. As any Facebook user knows, friend requests are a fairly constant feature of social networking. I don’t usually accept the friend request of a stranger, but on that day something made me want to know more about this person. At the time, I had no idea that the face staring back at me from the screen would become the love of my life, the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.  Those realizations came later. On that day, I accepted his request and joined his friend list.

Days went by before we happened to be on line at the same time and we started talking.  I was nervous but curious. I greeted him and asked who he was. He introduced himself to me in a way that caught my attention; he was very captivating. With time, our conversations became more frequent and it got me wondering why he had sent me that friend request in the first place. Turns out, a complete coincidence, and luck brought Carlos to my Facebook page.  My first name and last name are the same as one his relatives, and he had sent the request mistakenly thinking I was that person.  That didn’t matter much, as soon as we started to get to know each other were glad the coincidence had brought us together.

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It did not take long for us to realize there was a very strong chemistry between the two of us. We kept on talking over the internet and got to know each other better and better. Later we got to exchange telephone numbers and were able to communicate via Blackberry Messenger and Whatsapp. And, little by little, what had started as a friendship (since neither of us had even acknowledge yet to the other that we were gay), started to get more intense. And we would talk all day, up until late at night.  The direction our friendship was heading to made me develop feelings for Carlos. Even though I did not know him in person, ours chats felt as if we knew each other throughout the whole life. And since we became good friends, I felt like telling him about my sexual orientation. One day, while chatting I told him: “Carlos, I am gay. I hope that does not bother you.” I was anxious to know what he would think about it, when he replied: “Do not worry…me too.”

This was a very special moment for the two of us, it felt as if it was meant to be. We were now talking daily and I couldn’t keep my feelings to myself any longer.  I told him: “Carlos, you know what? I like you.” I did not know what his reaction would be, but he replied instantly: “I also like you a lot.” He asked if he could call me and I could not resist to his request, I had to listen to his voice. When he called and I answered the emotion that took over us was mutual and we decided that it was about time to go on Skype. We set up a date and saw each other. Ever since that, we keep in touch through web camera, we meet every time we have some free time and share everything together.

We went on like that for days, talking whenever we had a chance, getting to know each other better and better. We started dreaming about meeting in person, and this was exactly what happened. Thanks to Carlos’ job which allowed him to travel to different cities in the US frequently, we got to plan our first date. He had to travel to Washington, DC and this trip presented our first opportunity to meet in person; I waited anxiously for that day until it finally happened. I took three days off work to go to DC. That day, Carlos arrived in the morning and I got there in the afternoon. He was waiting for me at the airport. We could never forget that moment, when our eyes met for the first time, when we first hugged without being able to say a word such was the emotion. All we did was cry, happy to know that we were now together.

Those were the best three days of our lives, we were always happy even though we knew that the moment to say goodbye would come sooner than we could imagine. During those three days, we went for walks, had dinner, and shared beautiful moments which made us decide that we would start a formal relationship, without caring about the distance that would separate us. The final day came too quickly, and we had to say goodbye. His flight going back to Colombia was scheduled for the morning and I had to go back to Boston in the afternoon. That was a very hard and sad moment, we did not want to let go of each other but we knew that was how things had to be. Later that night we spoke again on Skype and it was even harder to see each other on the computer. Ever since that day, we sleep with our cameras turned on so that we can feel that we are close and that we live together. For the past two years, we have had the good fortune to be able to see each other every three months or so, either I go to Colombia, where Caros lives, or he comes to the United States. Last Thanksgiving he suggested that we have a wedding in Colombia which was a very special occasion. We started to plan when would be the best time to do it.

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On January 17 of this year, I went to Colombia to attend our wedding which was to take place the next day; and then 3 days later we had to say goodbye one more time.  Like all binational couples, we experience repeated heartbreaking separations. The goodbyes at the airports are always so hard and emotional, and this one, coming right after our wedding celebration, was no exception. These are unending moments, leaving our hearts anxious and uneasy, almost as if they were taken out of us. The loneliness of having your loved one far from you is truly indescribable; although we have the constant faith that we will meet soon again.  The experience of spending time together and then separating again, has tested our relationship and has made it stronger.  Our desire to be together and to build a happy future here, in the US, is bigger than any barrier that we encounter in our way.

Our wedding in Colombia is recognized under Colombian law as a de facto marital union (“Union Marital de Hecho”) which is performed with public notary and is similar to “common law marriage.” This provides the same benefits as heterosexual marriages in Colombia.

We hope that one day soon that we will be able to end this separation and live each day together in the U.S., building a home and a life together just as all other loving couples.

We thank The DOMA PROJECT for the great work that they have done and the support they have given to make come true not just our dream, but also the dream of all of those couples who are on the same situation.

Misstep? State Department Posts First-Ever LGBT Travel Info, With Advice For Gay & Lesbian Americans Forced into Exile Because of DOMA

Former Senator John Kerry, Now Secretary of State, has long advocated for lesbian and gay binational couples

Former Senator John Kerry, who recently succeeded Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State, has long advocated for lesbian and gay binational couples

In an unprecedented move last month, the U.S. State Department (DOS) addressed the specific needs of LGBT Americans traveling abroad by posting a page entitled, “LGBT Travel Information” on its website. In addition to alerting LGBT tourists to inhospitable and dangerous places where they are at risk of being imprisoned or killed, the page rather strangely includes three immigration related questions, seemingly unrelated to typical travel advice.  Stranger still, the questions all relate to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the context of same-sex binational couples. DOS advises that DOMA prevents gay Americans from petitioning for green cards for their spouses, and follows with this question: “How can I obtain a foreign residence and/or work permit so I can live abroad with my foreign national spouse/partner?” This rather straightforward acknowledgment, on a DOS website, that gay and lesbian Americans are forced to expatriate because of DOMA struck some as insensitive and surprising. (Obviously, we welcome the U.S. government offering meaningful assistance when relocation is necessary, but the DOS did not even come close here.) The actual answer to the proposed question provides a link that leaves gay and lesbian Americans who are contemplating exile to search through a list of embassies and consulates of other countries.  (More on that link, below.) We were left scratching our head at the juxtaposition of this Q&A series with the language at the top of the page that quotes former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It strikes us as awkward, and that’s being charitable, for the administration to be championing the human rights of LGBT persons, while also acknowledging that it is showing the door to some lesbian and gay Americans because of DOMA.  The exile of lesbian and gay Americans is presented briefly and superficially, as if the tragedy of being uprooted from friends, family, workplace, and community, constitutes no more of a burden than planning a trip abroad.

“By fighting for the rights of so many others, we realize that gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”  Secretary Clinton – December 6, 2011

The DOS website’s guidance is also inconsistent with the spirit of President Obama’s declaration (which remains posted on the White House website) that “Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love.”

We acknowledge that DOS may have been sincere in the effort to be helpful, believing that it can assist gay and lesbian Americans forced to leave their own country with links to foreign embassies. What we find objectionable is that this information is delivered by an administration that has refused to implement policies that would end the forced exile of gay Americans, such as humanitarian parole and deferred action.  By refusing to put such policies in place, the Obama administration is complicit in the continued exile of gay Americans, even as it declares DOMA to be unconstitutional and refuses to defend the law. We should expect more from a President who has spoken so eloquently about equality for lesbian and gay couples, who has directed his Department of Justice to aggressively fight DOMA all the way to the Supreme Court.

Even if well-intentioned, the guidance from DOS is a poorly conceived “how-to leave the United States” guide directed at lesbian and gay Americans.  We urge Secretary of State John Kerry, a long-time advocate for same-sex binational couples, to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, and offer real solutions like an LGBT-focused “How To Stay in the United States with Your Partner and Family” guide backed up by policies that keep our families together until the Supreme Court has ruled on DOMA.

usdos-lgbt-doma

To make matters worse, the actual “information” provided to lesbian and gay Americans forced into exile is actually a link to a full list of prospective countries (Afghanistan through Zimbabwe) where they might find a refuge outside the U.S. However, as the State Department warns on the same page, many countries on the list are too dangerous for an LGBT American citizen to travel, let alone settle as a same-sex couple. Given the trauma and sacrifices that thousands of lesbian and gay Americans have suffered in exile, this sloppy approach to this issue is unacceptable. Rick, an American who has lived in exile for three years in Taiwan with his husband, Brian, notes:

“While we have lived in Taiwan we have had to deal with Brian’s mandatory military service, his travel restrictions, my effort to find employment, being forced to live in the “closet” as a gay couple, and my learning to adapt to a new language and culture. Why did all of this happen? Only because the U.S. government gives me no way as a gay American to sponsor my partner, the love of my life, for a green card. And so I am building a new life in Taiwan not of choice, but in exile.”

John Kerry, as the newly appointed Secretary of State, will have a vital role in assisting exiled binational couples in their return from foreign countries. As Senator, John Kerry was personally well aware that forced exile is not a “choice” for lesbian and gay Americans with a foreign partner, including many who were his constituents; as Secretary of State he should encourage the administration to develop a humanitarian parole policy designed specifically for same-sex binational couples and their families.  Humanitarian parole is just one necessary measure to protect same-sex binational families from further tragedy. The Obama administration can implement other policies that would keep LGBT families together and prevent exile in the first place.

    • The President should create a humanitarian parole policy that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to admit the foreign partners/spouses and children of lesbian and gay Americans as “parolees” immediately so that gay and lesbian binational couples who are currently in exile will immediately be able to return to the United States.
    • The President should instruct USCIS to stop denying fiancé(e) and marriage-based “green card” petitions for same-sex couples, and put all such cases in abeyance until the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA.
    • The President should extend deferred action for the foreign partner/spouses and children of lesbian and gay Americans who are already residing in the U.S. without lawful status.
    • The President should immediately put in place a moratorium to stop the deportations of the partners of gay and lesbian citizens, rather than leaving deportations to the discretion of individual deportation officers and ICE prosecutors.

These policies, long advocated by the DOMA Project, would allow the Obama administration to act consistently with its prior statements of support for gay and lesbian binational families.  In the stories of couples profiled by The DOMA Project, the need for the above policies (especially humanitarian parole) is overwhelmingly apparent.  These stories illustrate just a glimpse into the needless harm caused by the Obama administration’s continued reluctance to adopt interim policies to reunite binationals exiled by DOMA with their families in the U.S.

For any binational couple, uprooting one’s family is no casual matter, but making an impossible choice to leave behind an elderly parent in the U.S. or separate from a foreign partner overseas can be excruciating.  Few couples’ stories illustrate this better than DOMA Project participants, Martha and Lin, whose nearly 15-year commitment to one another and their children was threatened by DOMA forcing the couple to travel back and forth between the U.S. and the Netherlands every 6 weeks for nearly 2 years.  In 2000, Martha made the emotionally difficult and costly decision to relocate to Amsterdam from Silicon Valley, California.  Eleven years later, Lin wrote,

“One day [Martha] will have the right to live in the same country as her mother, her sister and her brothers, the country in which she was born – and to do so without having to leave me, her spouse, behind. We deserve that simple but critical right.”

Martha and Lin and thousands of binational couples like them have waited far too long.  Today, in 2013, binational families like Martha and Lin’s continue to be needlessly separated or exiled because the Obama administration’s failure to implement policies like humanitarian parole and deferred action.  There is no excuse for delay.

Exile affects not only binational couples and their children, but their extended families as well.  Jesse and Max,  one of the founding couples of The DOMA Project, are an American-Argentine couple who have been exiled in Europe for more than ten years.  They are sorely missed by their tight-knit American family.  Jesse’s sister, told The DOMA Project in 2011,

“until DOMA is repealed, my family will continue to suffer. My parents save their hard earned dollars to make the expensive journey to Europe once a year to see Jesse and Max, while we otherwise satisfy ourselves on their ability to make infrequent visits here. This injustice must end. I join other family members of binational couples who fight against this discrimination.”

Jesse’s mother adds,

“As an American and as a mother, I feel that it is important to add my voice to this issue and demand that my government cease discriminating against my son.”

FAIL: DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano Blames DOMA for Refusal to Hold Green Card Petitions in Abeyance

NAPOLITANO YOU TUBE

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the White House Press Briefing

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responds to a question put to her by journalist, Chris Johnson, of Washington Blade about putting “green card” petitions filed by married same-sex couples in abeyance until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA in June. (Chris Johnson’s question is at the 25 minute mark on this video.)

“The legal advice we’ve received is that we cannot put it in abeyance because DOMA is the law.”

Statement by attorney Lavi Soloway, co-founder, The DOMA Project:

The Defense of Marriage Act prevents USCIS from approving marriage-based petitions filed by lesbian and gay Americans for their spouses, because as long as DOMA is the law of the land our marriages cannot be recognized by the federal government. But DOMA does not prevent Secretary Napolitano from ordering that these green card petitions be held in abeyance. Putting these petitions on hold does not violate the spirit or letter of DOMA.

It is regrettable that the administration continues to cite the questionable “legal advice” that DOMA prohibits any remedies that would protect married binational gay and lesbian couples. Furthermore, this interpretation of DOMA is contradicted by their own action in the deportation context, where after two years of telling us that they could not issue a moratorium to stop “DOMA deportations” for that very reason, the administration finally issued guidance in October 2012 to prevent deportations of the same-sex partners and spouses of American citizens who would be otherwise eligible for green cards if not for DOMA.

It is time for the administration to do three things to help binational couples who are suffering incalculable harm every day because of DOMA:

  • put all green card cases filed by married, same-sex binational couples into abeyance until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA
  • extend humanitarian parole to all foreign partners/spouses who are stuck abroad and end the exile of lesbian and gay Americans caused by DOMA
  • offer “deferred action” to the foreign partners/spouses of lesbian and gay Americans who are currently in the U.S. without lawful status so that they may have lawful status and the right to work and provide for their families.

The administration has the power to stop DOMA from tearing apart LGBT families, separating partners from each other and their children. The Obama administration’s lack of movement on these interim remedies cannot be blamed on DOMA, and is inconsistent with President’s recent statements championing equality for lesbian and gay couples.

Carrie and Claire, Separated by DOMA for Seven Years, File for Green Card Based on Their Marriage

Carrie and Claire
After an anguishing recent 15-month separation, both of our families could see how hard the time apart was on us and insisted on providing us with the funds we needed for Claire to come for Christmas and New Year holidays. Our families suffer right along with us; our pain is their pain. Claire arrived December 12, 2012 and was due to return to the U.K. on January 8, 2013.

Both of us are in financial dire straits, mine being fixed disability retirement while still supporting our college-student daughter and Claire’s being unemployed and, at over age 50, categorized as ‘low priority’ by ‘employment services’ in the UK. Nothing about our situation will change any time soon and we both were fighting severe depression. As stress exacerbates my flare-ups and diminished immune system, I remained ill most of the 15 months we were parted.

We are acutely aware of the years that have passed us by and the many milestone experiences unshared. After 5+ years of legal marriage and 7+ years as a committed couple, we have reached the point where we can no longer live apart. Enough is enough. Our health and age are constant reminders that time is precious and now is all we will ever have.

Claire is still here legally under the visa waiver. We are scared, excited, and honored to join other couples in fighting for full equality.

When last I wrote, one year ago, we thought we had a workable, interim plan. I would go to the UK every 6 months for 3 months at a time.  This plan ran its course. We could not manage the separation, the travel and the cost any longer. And so we have made the decision to file for a green card.  To put this decision into perspective, we share with you a post we wrote in February 2012.

I did return to the UK in June 2011, in time to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday with her and my wonderful in-laws. This trip, I felt better prepared. I had made sure the wheelchair I needed was ready and waiting before even deplaning. I had everything available to show that I was in full compliance with the 6 month limit on my Visa waiver. Going through security would be a breeze. I watched a family ahead of me zip through the process, under 5 minutes for a family of 5. Yes, this would be so much better. The young man pushing my wheelchair through the airport wheeled me to the only agent working at that time. I am a disabled 56-year-old woman, rather conservative and conventional in my appearance. I have just spent 18 hours getting to this point and am in incredible pain and I’m exhausted. I am pleasant and polite.

I presented my passport and had my itinerary for my return flight handy. I had only stayed 85 days on my previous trip, so I wasn’t really worried about the fact that I was staying 90 days this time—still within the 6 months allowed. The agent never met my eyes, asking why I was returning so soon as I had only left 3 months previously. I answered honestly, “Visiting family and friends.” He challenged me about how I could afford to stay for 3 months and I explained about my disability direct deposit and my debit card. He did not seem satisfied. I offered to provide proof of my income, he declined. He needed Claire’s name and address, which I promptly provided. Every question he asked, I answered. I was starting to get concerned when he still refused to look at me and just kept looking at my passport and the other documents he requested. After what seemed hours, but was actually only about 45 minutes, he told me he would let me enter the country this time, but I would not be allowed to return to the UK again. Period (or, as Claire says, “Full Stop”). Not just, give more time between visits or stay out of the UK longer than I am in the UK or anything that was open to interpretation. This was the last time I would be allowed to enter the country. I was fighting tears as we wheeled away. My helper was appalled by the way I was treated and asked that I not judge all British by this experience. I was shaky, but I thanked him for his kindness.

We finally reached my beloved Claire, who was getting increasingly worried as everyone from my flight had long since passed and there was still no sign of me. When she saw my face, she knew it had been bad. Still, the long taxi ride to Peterborough was joyful–we were together and had the whole summer ahead of us. I arrived on Wednesday and Claire’s 50th birthday was the Saturday. Her mum and step-dad joined us to celebrate, my first meeting with my in-laws. To say we got along well is an understatement. I could not be more blessed and delighted to call them “family.” I’d spoken with them many times by telephone, but to finally meet them in person–it felt like it was my birthday! I only wish I hadn’t been so tired and still jet-lagged…. Still, it was wonderful, feeling the love and support from Mum and Dad. Our three-months flew as quickly as the previous stay and I had to leave my love the day before our 5th anniversary. (We count the date of our commitment ceremony, 7 September, 2006, as our official anniversary, even though we legally married in Canada 1 year and 1 week later on 15 Sept, 2007.) Leaving her this time was the hardest–we had no way of knowing when we would next be able to be together. It’s been nearly 6 months, now, and we still wait. Knowing I am unwelcome to visit the UK and having no recourse except to apply for a visa as a civil partner is hard. However, as soon as we are in a position to do so, we are applying for a Married Partner (spouse) Visa for me to be able to return to the UK and resume our interim plan.

We wait for the economy to improve, DOMA to go away, the passage of UAFA, anything to finally allow us to live peacefully in the US near our family. We wait for our time to join those who are fighting for our families.

Judy & Karin: Lesbian Golden Girls Fight DOMA, Argue for LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform to Be Together

2613 Judy and Karin September 2012 DHS 630Karin and Judy are two of approximately 35,000 binational same-sex couples living in America. They met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the seal. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, they became domestic partners, and in March 2011 they married in snowy Vermont before a justice of the peace and the staff of their bed-and-breakfast, who were so moved watching these gushing grannies tie the knot that they bought them flowers and champagne and treated them to dinner at the most romantic restaurant in town.


(cross posted from The Advocate)

Karin and Judy are two of approximately 35,000 binational same-sex couples living in America. They met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the seal. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, they became domestic partners, and in March 2011 they married in snowy Vermont before a justice of the peace and the staff of their bed-and-breakfast, who were so moved watching these gushing grannies tie the knot that they bought them flowers and champagne and treated them to dinner at the most romantic restaurant in town.

When Judy and Karin returned to Northern California, on cloud nine after their whirlwind wedding adventure, they were not content to sit idly by while the tide of acceptance and equality slowly gravitated in their favor. President Obama had only just announced that his administration would no longer defend DOMA in court because he determined it to be unconstitutional. With that being the case, gay and lesbian Americans should have become eligible to petition for green cards for their foreign-born spouses. The White House made no provisions to ensure that this was possible, however, and has continued to enforce DOMA. As retirees whose simple wish is to enjoy their golden years together without fear of being torn apart or having to expatriate, Judy and Karin began publicizing the real-life struggles of same-sex binational couples who are fighting for the right to be together in this country and who need the president to protect them now.

They also joined the DOMA Project and became one of the first legally married same-sex, binational couples to hold the president to his word by applying for a green card. Unlike many other gay and lesbian spouses, whose petitions are still often flat-out denied, Judy and Karin were granted a green card interview, where they presented evidence of their genuine, long-standing relationship, just as any opposite-sex binational couple gets the opportunity to do. The immigration officer was very supportive and complimentary of their more-than-ample proof. But without direct orders from the president, and with DOMA still in place, their green card petition could not be approved. Instead, their case was held for further review while the government considered their request not to decide their petition until the Supreme Court or Congress determines the fate of DOMA.

For as long as Judy’s application for Karin is on hold, Karin can legally remain in the United States, but she is a prisoner here, unable to leave the country without likely being barred from returning. And this is why it was impossible for them to attend Michael and Shirley’s Scottish wedding.

The bride and groom, of course, understood and are so proud of Mum 1 and Mom 2 for all the work they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made while fighting for equality. Still, they think it’s absurd that such an inhumane law remains on the books in America, of all places. They think it’s outrageous that because of DOMA, Karin was detained in an immigration cell after flying into San Francisco International Airport, where she was interrogated for hours without water or the ability to make a phone call while Judy waited, terrified, not knowing what was happening to her wife. And they think it’s unfair that Judy then had to take early retirement to ensure that she and Karin could be together wherever they were, especially after immigration officials warned Karin that she was visiting this country too often and that she would have to leave indefinitely.

2613 Judy and Karin September 2012 DHS 630

Challenging DOMA: Judy and Karin attended a green card interview in September 2012

So often, the marriage equality movement focuses on paving the way for loving spouses who have their whole lives ahead of them. On this Valentine’s Day, which is also the anniversary of Judy and Karin’s domestic partnership, we are reminded that couples of all backgrounds and ages as well as their extended families are directly affected by DOMA’s discriminatory and destructive consequences and will continue to be until this unjust law is overturned. And when it is, it will be fair to say that one of the true inspirations for its demise were a couple of rambunctious grannies — or, as Judy lovingly says, “Golden Girls” — who made use of retirement by relentlessly fighting for equality.

BRYNN GELBARD, a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker, started The DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. You can follow her on Twitter @BrynnGelbard.

LAVI SOLOWAY, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, launched The DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples, in 2010. Keep up with The DOMA Project on Facebook & Twitter @GayBinationals.

JUDY RICKARD is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, 2011, Findhorn Press.

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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.