President Obama: “Don’t Let DOMA Destroy Our Marriage.” Gay Veteran Files Green Card Case For His British Husband After 11 Years Together, Fighting for Their Future


By the time I reached my mid 50s, I had begun to let go the hope of finding a life partner. Maybe it was a combination of society’s views of gays, combined with the scars of a Catholic upbringing, that left me feeling I did not deserve what most people had. All that changed when Shaun entered my life.

We met online, and at first it was just the occasional chat.  He was in England and I was in California, so we had something of a geographical and time zone challenge. After a while, I found myself looking forward to coming home from work to see if he was online. A strong bond of friendship quickly formed. Shaun talked to me in a way I had not known with others. He was honest and very direct with his observations. Sometimes his words seemed too direct, later I understood that everything he said, came from his caring about me and wanting me to have a better life. I began to have feelings for him that I had never felt for another person. What makes this even more unique is that these feelings developed even before I ever saw his face, as this was before webcams or online photos where as commonplace as they are now. When Shaun sent me the first photo and I saw the image that went with the words, I was blown away! 

Six months after chatting, I learned that Shaun would be coming to Los Angeles to visit friends, who would go around the United States riding roller coasters.  Little did we know that we were going to set out on a decade long roller coaster ride of our own.

John and Shaun’s First Photo Together, January 11, 2001

I was excited that Shaun was coming to Los Angeles, but my heart sank immediately when I learned that he would be so close, but that his itinerary did not leave time for us to meet. Then one evening the phone rang.  It was Shaun asking if I would like to join him and friends for lunch the next day. Before I knew it, I said YES! That day was one neither of us can forget. It was January 11, 2001. Shaun tells the story of how when he first saw me he was a little afraid, as I was bouncing up and down with excitement. If I was, it was nerves. In person he looked even better than his photos. As we ate lunch my hand began to tremble with joy. He reached over, took my hand and looking directly into my eyes, he whispering in his British accent, “It is OK, just relax”.

Our lunch went so well, that Shaun altered his plans and spent his final week with me. It was then that we knew that this was more than just friendship. We spent one of the best weeks of our lives together. Then we faced what would become a constant source of agony for us – the airport good-bye.

A few months later Shaun retuned for a month. We then committed as a couple and began to look for ways to stay together. I had no idea that would be near impossible.

 We tried everything from student visas to business visas. All required an investment of money neither of us had. We contacted our elected officials. Most just sent a standard reply, saying they could not help. I pushed harder and went to the office of my member of congress. One of her staff suggested that Shaun “find a woman to marry”, in order to get a green card. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and even the American Civil Liberties Union just replied saying, “The time is not right for cases like yours.” Then for a year between 2002-2003 we opened our life to a documentary maker, who was making a film about binational couples. After completion they could not find a distributor. It was not seen as marketable. Our plight seemed hopeless.

For the next decade we lived what we called two half lives: one half together, and the other half alone. Shaun has always been employed by his family, so with their help and support he would spend three months in the U.S. and three months in the U.K. In 2002 Shaun was stopped on entry to the U.S. and detained. They questioned him for hours. They opened his case and just threw his clothes onto the floor as they searched it. One officer held up toiletries and other personal items, while a second laughed and made comments on what was in his case. Eventually he was allowed to stay for six weeks but told he would no longer be able to use a “visa waiver program” to visit. He was told that he must apply for an actual visitor’s visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. Shaun did as told, and he received the visa; but several more times he was detained – some times for as long as five hours. During the times he was questioned, I would be left waiting at arrivals, with no idea what was going on.

One time I was told by an airline representative that Shaun was going to be handcuffed, taken to a detention center and flown back to the U.K. the next day.

 Each time he was detained, Shaun cut back the time he would spend in the US. He would ask immigration, how long he could visit without it being a problem. He was told, “You are just coming here too often,” or “visit here less than expected.” He was never given a clear rule to follow. All the trauma of this had a serious affect on his health. He would sink into deep depressions as his time to leave me came closer. Then before he returned to the US, his fear of immigration would consume him to the point of not being able to eat or sleep. Each time he became convinced that he would be denied entry and banned from returning to the US for ten years. Twice a year, for ten years, he repeated this grueling routine. He would stand in a line, hoping that we would be allowed to continue our lives together. We were both all too aware that at any time, a U.S. Customs and Border Protections officer could destroy what we had worked so hard to build together.

We have had to hold our relationship together using webcams and phone calls. When we were apart, Shaun would wait up until past midnight his time, so we could chat for an hour or two when I got home from work. One of the hardest parts for us, has been when one of us is sick. During the times I was too sick to go to work, Shaun would spend all day on the phone with me. Then at night I would put the webcam on while I slept, and he would watch over me.

Shaun and John on their Wedding Day, January 11, 2012

As I have grown older, the health issues have become more serious. Just before Shaun was to return to the U.K. a year ago, I was given the news that I might have had prostate cancer – my PSA level was high. There was no way Shaun could stay with me. His visa was to expire and he had to leave. I once again took him to the airport and returned alone to our home, to our things, to the place we shared together for the last eleven years. Then I got a call saying the doctor had done a second PSA test and it was even higher than the first. I was facing cancer alone. I was facing possible surgery alone. I was facing a life crisis without my partner. There was no way Shaun could re-enter the US for a few months, or he would run the risk of being denied entry. I got so scared and angry I had a meltdown. I raged that this treatment was inhuman! I have worked all my life. I paid the same taxes as straight couples. I served four years in the military for my country. Why did I not deserve the right to have my partner at my side when I was sick? If not him, then who would be there to nurse me if I was ill? I sat down in the middle of the living room floor, with tears in my eyes. I was scared and my fright turned to anger, then my anger turned to determination. It was at that moment, the feelings I once had about not deserving what straight couples had, vanished. I deserve the same rights as they have!

John in the Navy in 1966

I was fortunate that my treatment did not involve surgery, but during that time one image kept coming into my mind. During the brief window in 2008 when California allowed gay couples to marry, Shaun and I had watched a wedding at the beach near our home. As the sunset touched the ocean, two young women with a small circle of friends, walked to the edge of the water. They stood there quietly exchanging vows as the light faded. When the darkness fell they walked hand in hand back to their house. It was simple and beautiful and I wanted that too! I wanted to have that right. I wanted to have all that Shaun and I have fought to keep together, sealed by marriage. I promised myself that if marriage returned to California, then finally we would have that too.

Sadly, by the end of 2011, marriage equality had not yet been restored to California and we were growing impatient.  In January 2012, Shaun and I would celebrate our 11th anniversary together as a couple, and I would retire after 50 years in the workforce. We wanted to celebrate these life milestones with something special. So on January 11 we flew to New York and were married. It meant more to both of us than we ever imagined. We are as proud of our marriage license, as if it were a diploma from an Ivy League college, because it was not something that came to us easily. It was all so special for us, that we did not think too much about the consequences that could result for us as married binational gay couple. We were soon to be reminded of that, however.

As we flew through Detroit on our way back to Los Angeles, we were sent as a couple to a TSA agent.  Sure, it was just a domestic flight but the TSA has broad power to question travelers and somehow they picked on us, two newlyweds heading home. What followed were a series of personal questions including, how long had we known each other? What was the nature of our relationship? How did we first meet? What were our plans together? As an American citizen, I have NEVER been questioned in that manner. It was intrusive and spoken with an intimidating tone. For the first time I saw a little of what Shaun has faced each time he entered the US.  Although we were not technically being interrogated by immigration officers, the worst fears ran through our mind. We both panicked, fearing that if they found our marriage license in our possessions Shaun may be sent to a detention center for displaying intent to remain in the United States while he was a visitor; we had read that had happened to others. The fear in Shaun’s eyes was so intense, that I made up my mind that this had to stop! We could no longer live this way.

As a married, gay binational couple, Shaun faced not only questions, but a strong chance of being denied entry when he was next to have to return to the US. That was the turning point. 

We joined Stop The Deportations-The DOMA Project so that we could join the fight to end deportations, separations and exile caused by the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”  We recently filed a marriage-based green card petition and will now fight to convince my own government not to deny our case, but to put a final decision on hold until DOMA is struck down by the courts.

I am proud to have lived to see my own President send out a public message to the isolated and vulnerable LGBT youth of America, assuring them that they are not alone and encouraging them that “it gets better.” Still, I wonder, Mr. President: what about me, what about the seniors, the vets, the married gay binational couples? And what about this veteran who proudly served his country during the Vietnam War?  How can it possibly be that I enlisted to do my duty and prepared to sacrifice everything for my country to defend the freedoms we so often take for granted, but my country now wants to destroy my marriage and tear my husband away from me?  If, Mr. President, you deport my partner, if you take away all that I have worked for my entire life, when I AM ALONE – what is your message for me? You can take action now to save us from this disaster. You, Mr. President, understand that years are precious for the gay seniors America?  You have spoken about “the fierce urgency of now.” I know you understand.  I need my President to take action. Your words are of tremendous inspiration, your decision not to defend DOMA in court is historical, but we need this administration’s direct intervention to prevent disaster from befalling our family.   The President has that power. I know my President believes this is wrong. He must act now to stop DOMA from destroying our families by directing the Immigration Service to stop denying our green card petitions.

Seven Years and Three Countries Later, Rob & Julian Are Forced Apart Because of DOMA

Florida, May 2005

I was 20 years old, working as a food server in South Florida, when I met the man who became my boyfriend, my best friend, my life partner, and finally my lawfully wedded spouse.

It was March 8, 2005. As members of a local LGBT support group arrived to be seated, it was my turn for a new table. While I was helping to set it up, I met this really nice guy, Julian. While the group ate, we spoke and got to know each other a bit.

A week later, he returned and worked up the courage to ask me to go on a date. We went out, and the rest became a whirlwind of laughter, kindness, and love. Within six months, we moved in with each other. After a year, we held a ceremony in Fort Lauderdale and vowed before our friends and family that we would love each other and promise to better each other for the rest of our lives. My family embraced Julian as another son and brother. We’ve now been together for almost seven years, through the best and worst of times. Looking back, not a day goes by when Julian doesn’t make my life richer or more fulfilling in countless ways.

There is, however, one major complication in this otherwise seamless romantic narrative: When we met, Julian was on a student visa in the United States. Born in Spain, he had been living continuously in the country since he was 11 years old, completing middle school, high school, and now, college in the US. He was always a bit fearful that his days could be numbered, but we believed love, logic, and common sense would triumph. We were naïve.

In 2008, we moved from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, my home. We had always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and, with jobs dissipating and the financial market looking bleak, we knew we wanted our own business. Julian transferred schools and we opened our own theatre company.
We worked tirelessly to get it all together for our opening night that August. Everything was set in motion, money had been paid out, the press had responded positively… things were on track.

At that moment the other shoe dropped. In mid-July, Julian received a letter from Homeland Security, ordering him to leave the US. We were confused and scared. Due to the onslaught of the recession, his father was no longer in a position to be able to pay his expensive tuition and as a result, he had fallen out of status on his student visa. We knew the souring economy was affecting him but did not know to what level. We quickly found that there is very little leniency with foreign students. You pay to stay, or you’re out.

At that point, we had no idea what to do. In those next few weeks, we realized that if we wanted to stay together, it would mean leaving our home, our friend, our family and our business and moving abroad. It looked like the best option would be in Spain, where Julian was a citizen. Luckily, Spain allowed gay couples to marry, and embraced us. By contrast, everything in the US quickly fell apart. Over those weeks, we were forced to rehome our pets, leave behind the majority of our possessions, give up a company which had yet to open, and finally, leave our home. Surely there had to be someone to call, someone to help. We learned the hard way: there’s no help available with the “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA intact. I had been born and raised with the belief that in the US, I was no different than any other person under the law. The truth was different. My own government treats me differently from other American citizens, solely because I’m gay. I could not access the family-based immigration system to sponsor Julian for a green card only because we are both men.

I was lost for a very long time, and it didn’t help that most of my friends and colleagues had no idea that this discrimination could happen to us. People suggested we move to Massachusetts. I explained that it was a federal issue and that being married gave us no protection or immigration rights as long as the federal government refused to recognize our marriage due to DOMA. We remained together. In a world that’s already very difficult to connect in, we had found each other. Law or no law, we were determined that this wouldn’t be the end of us.

We moved and lived in Spain for almost three years. Having been hit hard by the global recession, Spain’s unemployment rate ranks the worst in the EU, at 22%. For those under 26, the unemployment rate soars to near 48%. It’s not an exaggeration to say that work is nearly impossible to find there. We managed to scrape by on friends, family, and odd jobs. While we loved Spain, the economic crisis proved too hard to bear.

Spain, 2010

In December 2010, we made the decision to move to London. We gathered money and I applied for an EU family member visa. I sent photos of us through the years, our wedding DVD, and various documents that intertwined our lives. I was denied, on the basis of Julian having no job in England, and because the British authorities did not believe we had been together as a couple for a sufficient period of time, despite a five-year history together. Time was now running out. We had enough money to move and keep us afloat in London until we both found jobs, but not enough to keep living in Madrid. We knew that the only way Julian could establish work was by living there. I would appeal my decision in England and give them more photos and whatever I could muster to prove our union. I was now pleading with a second government for the simple request of living with the man I love. It was maddening, but we knew we had no choice but to continue trying. All the while, I never forgot that this was happening only because we had been forced out of the United States by DOMA.

As we arrived in the UK in late March, I was stopped and questioned by the British border patrol. I tried to explain our situation, but they wouldn’t allow me to enter the country. Despite all of the proof we had, they did not believe Julian and I were together as a couple. At that point, I was detained for over 15 hours, treated like a criminal, and flown back to Madrid, where I was met with armed guards. The Spanish guards listened, looked at the evidence, and apologized, refusing to believe this could happen in the modern world.

With Spain no longer an option due to its financial chaos, we made the choice for Julian to remain in the UK and begin a life there. I returned to the US, where I immediately began working, trying to figure out what our next move was. Six years after we met, we had endured a whirlwind of globetrotting to find a place where we could build a home together. It was hard to describe to our friends and family that after all that effort, we ended up separated by an ocean. Our bond, however, was never stronger. Julian and I knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. No law can diminish one iota the deep and enduring love we feel for each other.

And as happens for so many other couples, we progressed to the next stage in our relationship, deciding to marry. We were married in New York City on August 30, 2011, with Julian “visiting” the United States so we could share this life milestone with our friends and family, before he promptly left and disappeared again. Julian returned to England after we married. As it stands, we have no idea where the future will take us. We miss our lives together. We now see each other only when work and financials permit, with Julian visiting the US whenever we’re able. Before this past summer’s reunion and marriage, we had not seen each other since April 2010. How can anyone claiming to “defend” marriages want this result?

I write this so that people may know the hardships suffered due to DOMA. By contrast, my father married a woman from Costa Rica in 2009. She is now a permanent resident in the United States, working towards citizenship. Julian and I have demonstrated our love and our commitment for each other through many difficult challenges over the past six years that most couples will never be forced to endure, and yet we are treated as legal strangers and kept thousands of miles apart because of one law.

This administration has the power to immediately end this crisis of families torn apart. The White House website includes the following statement, confirming that the President agrees that what Julian and I are forced to endure should not be happening:

“President Obama believes that …. Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.”

These words are encouraging, and certainly to have the President’s statement on this issue is historic and encouraging. But words without deeds leave us nowhere. We need action now. The Obama administration could end our separation by allowing Julian to return to the United States under existing “humanitarian parole” provisions until DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress.

Thousands of binational couples are exiled or separated right now because of DOMA, and the President knows that this is the cruel result of an unconstitutional law. If he really believes that, he should end our suffering now with a short-term solution that will allow us to be together. Every member of my immediate family feels the pain of his absence and they all know it has been forced on us because of DOMA.

We will continue to be a part of this fight for full equality, and ask you to join us by supporting this effort by urging your elected officials and the administration to apply existing “humanitarian parole” provisions as a temporarily solution that would end the separation of lesbian and gay binational couples.

On Their 5th Anniversary as a Couple, Judy & Karin File for a Green Card Based on Their Marriage and Challenge DOMA

Our Life Is Not Our Own – A Binational Lesbian Couple in an American Marriage

Once upon a time, a few years ago, I met the woman of my dreams. You might think that is a lot to say – and it is – but I learned then that at an advanced age, 57, and online, a lesbian dating site, I could find the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Luckily, it turned out after a bit of time getting to know each other that she felt the same way too. What a relief for me that was since I had given up on dating and thought I would spend the rest of my life with my cats.

It isn’t easy to get together with someone when you are both Golden Girls. Karin was 65 at the time.  At this point in our lives, we came to the relationship with significant history: lives well lived, but still, on meandering and not by any means identical paths. We had lots of things we had done our own certain ways for decades, and with previous partners. With me, it was always women. But my wife had been married or partnered with men – and had children too, which I did not. No one would be too surprised to think our pasts and habits didn’t all match. The surprise really was that we could make a go of it, I guess.

I believed our future could take off if we were willing to compromise and stretch and share. I am stubborn and determined and I found out that Karin is too. And you could say that was something we had in common right from the start! In spite of that, we found that we enjoyed being together and we learned how to round the edges off our hard parts. We found that we really wanted to be together and we would work at it. That was of major importance, since life really threw us a big curve ball because of our binational situation.

I “dated” Karin mostly virtually at first. She had contacted me unknowingly on a lesbian dating site. When she clicked on my profile, she never realized I would know that she had. After a couple of days with no message, I wrote her and asked what she found interesting about me. She was surprised to hear from me and at first decided not to answer. But she later thought that would be rude, so she sent me a brief message.

She shared that I had written the profile she would have written – and I believed her. She said she liked my pictures, my smile. I was glad I had posted photographs. She was intrigued by what I shared I have done in life and the things that I still wanted to do. So one message lead to another, then another, then after a couple of weeks we talked on the phone. I guess we didn’t move fast, but it seemed fast at the time.

Karin invited me to a PFLAG dance as her date. She was visiting in Oregon and I live in California. I told her I didn’t dance. She said that was ok, she didn’t either. Her friends were concerned about her and made plans to protect her if I was a nut case. At home, my friends thought I was nuts for agreeing to fly to another state and go to a dance with someone I had met online. I probably would have told a friend the same thing, but something kept drawing me to Karin and vice versa.

So I went to the dance and we had a wonderful three-day weekend visit. We shuffled around the dance floor a bit, had fun visiting and went on the swings in the nearby park. I went home and the emails and phone calls continued. The message was clear – we missed each other. So Karin came to visit in California. She was glad to see me, but she didn’t feel comfortable in my house. She didn’t like the colors or the furniture. She met my friends and was okay, but on edge. It was a big deal and we had to be careful.

She went back to Oregon and we weren’t sure what would happen. Then the tide turned after she made arrangements to rent a house with a friend. She called me on the phone, distraught. She wanted to know why I had not invited her to stay with me in California. I was stunned, since she said she wanted to stay in Oregon. So, during winter snow with the main highway closed, she drove herself to me and we agreed to be together for a month to see how it went – regardless. That was our first commitment.

After the month, we agreed to be together three months. That went by. Then she had to leave. It was a blow to the heart. Because of her visa, she could only be in the United States to visit, and only if she is fortunate to be permitted a six month visit upon entry.

So she left. I waited. She came back and we agreed that we would continue to see if we could make it in relationship, but we still took it in stages. We decided to go on a trip, and went on a Hawaii cruise with Olivia, the lesbian travel group. On the trip, on the ship, in the dark, on the deck, with a volcano erupting in the background, we pledged commitment for a year – regardless. It was a huge step for both of us. We had inexpensive rings Karin had bought. We took them off and twisted them together and tossed them overboard. We took our orchid leis off and tossed them overboard, hugging and crying and agreeing that we would be a couple for a year.

At the time, we still didn’t really know what role the U.S. government was going to play in our relationship, but we moved forward together. We agreed on our mantra, Better Together, and spent the rest of the cruise in a happy glow.

After we got back to California, we felt that we had already had our honeymoon. When the local LGBT center had a domestic partnership event on Valentine’s Day, we joined in and celebrated a public commitment to each other in front of family and friends. We felt married, though we couldn’t be married in California at the time. And, we had been cautioned by those in the know that getting married would make it harder for Karin to visit me. The border folks would think she was going to overstay her visit. We really started feeling the harsh reality of a same-sex binational couple’s life. That reality never went away and as the months and years went by it only got harder for Karin to leave and for me to stay behind and work.

If you’re (still) wondering why we face this kind of a life, it’s because we are both women, lesbians, and not both U.S. citizens. Born in Germany in 1940, Karin is a UK national and has been for decades. She has also lived in Spain and France – and for a few years in Florida. I never imagined when I fell in love with her and committed to a life together that I would not be able to welcome her to my country and live happily ever after, as the fairy tale goes. I am an American citizen, born in 1948, and have lived in California for all but the first few weeks of my life.

Apr 23, 2011: Judy & Karin get married in Vermont and bring the fight for Immigration Equality to MSNBC. Click the image above to watch the interview.

To the government, we are legal strangers. In reality, we are domestic partners in California as of February 14, 2007 and legally married in Vermont, as of April 6, 2011. We decided to marry when things looked promising for same-sex binational couples based on news reports in March 2011 that seemed to hold out hope for access to the “green card” process; but things changed within two days.  The federal government clarified that it would be enforcing DOMA, despite the President’s welcome announcement that DOMA was unconstitutional and would no longer be defended by the administration in federal court challenges.   We went forward with our plans anyway.   By the time we got to Vermont and tied the knot, we had lost the hope of any immediate federal recognition of our marriage.  And the fight continues.

Seven years after meeting online, and five years after registering our domestic partnership on Valentine’s Day, our lives and fate are still determined by discriminatory U.S. immigration and one very strange federal “marriage non-recognition” law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines “marriage” for all federal purposes as only marriages between one man and one woman.  Although signed in 1996 before any lesbian or gay couples were allowed to marry, it strikes me as silly. How can you not “recognize” the loving, committed relationships of two married adults just because they happen to be gay or lesbian couples?

I love Karin. Karin loves me. But we can’t be together all the time. My own government refuses to give me the same right as all other Americans have, to sponsor my wife for a “green card.”  The Immigration and Nationalization Act lets an American citizen sponsor a spouse, parent or child for immigration. But not me. DOMA negates our status as spouses. Until DOMA is gone or an expansion of family-based immigration is passed into law that provides for partners of lesbian and gay Americans to be treated like spouses, we are trapped.  I have worked hard to raise awareness of DOMA’s impact on the lives of same-sex binational couples. I have encouraged everyone I know to help us support the pending legislation that would go a long way to help fix this problem (e.g. Uniting American Families Act, Reuniting Families Act or Respect for Marriage Act). But until Congress acts to repeal DOMA or pass LGBT-inclusive immigration reform, or the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, we remain legal strangers to each other. How would that make you feel?

We are legally married, but the country will not recognize that. Not fair. Not right. I don’t want the U.S. government in charge of my life, but it’s been that way since we committed to being together in America.

I have had to be separated from Karin for months at a time while I worked and she became a “love exile” time and time again. We hated that, so I finally took early retirement. Now we have less money to live on and our expenses are higher.  When she has to leave the country, now I am free to go with her. People think it’s great that we live in Europe for months at a time and see places they dream about, but that is not a way to live on an ongoing basis.

And being torn apart from family when there is serious illness has already been one of our big challenges. We were “love exiles” in Europe for months in 2009/2010 and then came back to California to face a serious family crisis. Karin’s visa expired in October 2010, and she was forced to leave once again. I stayed behind to help as I could with my dying brother-in-law and to help my sister. Karin was a “love exile” again while we all grieved a huge loss.  DOMA tore our family apart when we needed to be together most.  For all these reasons, Karin and I decided that we will not allow ourselves to be torn apart. I filed a green card petition for Karin and I will challenge my government to treat me equally.

 

 

Though individual stories differ, an estimated 36,000 families are dealing with this discrimination. I learned that after it became my issue. I learned more about how it plays out when I decided to write a book to educate and advocate and raise money for the groups who work on our issue. Since I was retired, I had time. I sure had the need and I had more than enough interest. By finding other couples and families with children to interview for Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, I quickly learned how desperate others have it and how much a resource like my book could help.

The book shares the terrible reality people face when they want to be together and can’t because of U.S. immigration and federal marriage law. I was devastated as I recorded details and crafted stories to share. I was moved to tears by the photos and by the hope and thanks that came my way from grateful men and women who needed a lifeline and bared their heartache to help create a solution for us all.

I keep hoping that those who read my book and the blog and web site that keep it updated will keep the momentum going so that we can get a permanent solution to this terrible situation. This book, a comprehensive look at the subject of same-sex couples, immigration reform, where it has been and seems to be going, as well as resources, web sites and other pertinent information, can make a difference. Reading and sharing my story and those of the other families helps us all.

A new project really puts a face on this issue – literally. David W. Ross has taken portraits of LGBT binational families and a site shares those images and resources about this issue. Brave people have shared their images and details to keep moving the issue toward solution. I am there with Karin. We believe that visibility is a key part of winning over the hearts and minds of so many people who are not aware of the crisis we face as LGBT binational couples.

It’s scary to risk for my wife and my life with her. But I can’t hide from the fight. I have taken a huge step, filing for a marriage-based “green card” so Karin and I can be together permanently and safely in the United States. So we can travel when we want and where we want and why we want. So we can see our family in all countries as we want, as long as we want. Just like everyone else. That’s all I want. That’s all we expect. Nothing special, but to be treated like everyone else.

We don’t want to be yo-yo people any more. And we don’t want to be “love exiles.” If we leave America, we want it to be OUR choice.

Brian & Anton Attend Green Card Interview in Philadelphia Today, Exactly One Year After Stopping a Valentine’s Day Deportation to Indonesia

Anton and Brian outside the USCIS Philadelphia District Office this morning.

It is truly amazing what can happen in one year. One year ago my Anton and I were fighting for a chance just to remain together in this country. We were deeply in love, and we knew we wanted to build a future together. We weren’t married at the time, but had already been talking about taking that step. Yet just a short year ago, the prospect of us even remaining together, let alone one day getting married seemed so remote, so impossible.

Two weeks before Valentine’s Day 2011, after work one night, I went to Anton’s place to have dinner together, as we were accustomed to doing most nights. After we ate, he said, in a serious tone of voice, that he needed to “talk to me.” We all know that’s never a good way to start a conversation! This was the first night I learned of extent of the challenge posed by Anton’s immigration status. It was the first time since we had begun dating that I gave any serious thought as to what it meant to our future. “Our future,” something we again had talked about, but I don’t think either of us really knew what that meant. This was still fairly early in our relationship, and this I can say, was the night that defined us as a couple.

Anton poured his heart out to me, explaining everything about his journey to get to the US – how he got here, where he lived, the people he met, how he had applied for and was repeatedly denied asylum due to extremely poor preparation and lack of representation. As he told me all of this, he was becoming teary-eyed, but obviously trying not to cry. I have to admit (and you won’t hear this often) that I was in the same boat, fighting back tears. Anton described years of appeals that kept hitting brick walls. He was truly afraid to return to Indonesia as a gay man and as a Chinese Christian. I could see that fear in his eyes. As Anton’s narrative came to a close he told me that there was one last Motion to Reopen still pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals, but that the Immigration & Customs Enforcement Office in Philadelphia had decided that it could wait no longer: Anton was required to board a plane on the evening of February 14, 2011 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. That plane would take him to Jakarta, and away from me. He would be barred from returning to the United States for 10 years. He did nothing wrong. He came to this country in flight from persecution and he had spent nine years fighting for asylum with few resources. He was brave, determined but by most standards, relatively naive about the legal process. He just didn’t know how to prepare such a case and relied on others including paralegals and lawyers to advise him properly.

Anton and Brian at their "green card" interview today

As I sat their listening to him finish describing the situation, a sadness overwhelmed me. The same thought kept repeating in my mind: “I can’t lose this guy, this can’t be happening, what can we do to stop this from happening.” My mind was racing, but Anton’s conclusion was simple and direct: “Brian, I want to stay here to be with you.” This was also the first time we said “I love you” to each other. That was the moment we both decided, together, to fight every way we knew how – to do everything we could to stay together.

Immediately we jumped online to the always trustworthy Google. We started sending emails to every immigration and LGBT organization we could find. We received a few responses the next day, and one of those would serve as our guiding light. A wonderful grass roots organization called Out4Immigration referred us to Lavi Soloway, a long-time LGBT and immigration rights lawyer and activist, who, along with his law partner, had started a pro bono campaign the year before, called Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project. Lavi immediately came to our aid and the next two weeks were a whirlwind advocacy effort to DHS, Senator Casey and our local Congressman. For two weeks we relentlessly wrote letters, circulated petitions, spoke to the media, and gave numerous interviews. It was a cliffhanger. With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, CNN came to interview us on a Sunday afternoon. We barely ate or slept during those two weeks, fighting for something we both wanted to hold on to dearly and committed ourselves to making happen against all odds.

The fateful day arrived. As couples all around us received flowers from their significant others and looked forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, we watched the hours tick by. Anton’s flight to Jakarta would depart at 7:30 p.m. if nothing intervened to stop it. Around 4:30 we received a call from Lavi Soloway. ICE had faxed him a letter detailing their decision to allow Anton to stay in the United States, at least until the Board of Immigration Appeals decided his pending Motion to Reopen the original asylum case. We were elated beyond belief that we had more time. The immediate crisis would pass. We would celebrate Valentine’s Day with more gratitude, perhaps, than any other couple in Philadephia that day. For weeks, we had not expected to be together by the end of the day on February 14. We knew that this was only a temporary reprieve, but we believed it was a good sign. Our attorney fought to stop the deportation on the basis of our relationship, and argued that if it were not for the Defense of Marriage Act that we could marry and our marriage would be recognized for immigration purposes. Even though we weren’t married at the time, it was a strong argument. We received positive feedback when I urged my elected officials to advocate to the Department of Homeland Security to stop the deportation that would tear apart our relationship.

After Valentine’s Day, Anton was given another appointment to meet with ICE in Philadelphia where was placed under an Order of Supervision, which meant that every 30 to 90 days, he would need to make a scheduled visit with ICE to “check in,” to give them all his personal information and verify he had not committed any crimes.

The next few months we experienced the cliché “emotional roller coaster.” Just 9 days after the Valentine’s Day deportation was stopped, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder announced that they had determined that “DOMA” was unconstitutional and they would no longer defend it in federal court. We were shocked and elated! This was what we had been saying for two weeks to everyone who would listen. The law that prevents the government from simply treating us like all other couples, preventing me from sponsoring Anton for a green card and re-opening his case on that basis, was cruel, unjust and, yes, unconstitutional. And now my President had announced to the world that this was his opinion, too. We were very hopeful.

Between check-ins at ICE, we were able to live our day to day lives, enjoying each other’s company and planning for the future, as uncertain as that future may be. As winter turned to spring, we moved in together and continued to talk about getting married. In late May or early June 2011, we received news that Anton’s Motion to Reopen proceedings had been denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and this news placed him back in the crosshairs of immediate deportation. This was a very scary time for both of us, and the notion that we might be separated soon brought us back to the conversation of getting married. We knew that it was what we wanted to do, that our relationship had evolved to that point. We felt the pressure of time, which in the worst circumstances would be limited.

Trying to plan something big and extravagant was out of the question for a lot of reasons. So we opted instead to take a trip to Washington, DC with a few of our closest friends to take this momentous step together. At this point, we didn’t know how much time we had left together, but we wanted to make the most out of it.

We had a small ceremony in Lafayette Park across from the White House. It was small, intimate, and it was one of the happiest moments in both our lives. To our surprise, three other binational couples in similar situations to our own showed up to support us. They were people we hadn’t ever met before, but felt so compelled to join in our celebration and to support our continued effort to stay together. Neither of us could believe the outpouring of support.

Due to various constraints, financial and otherwise, we decided to put off a larger celebration until we could plan one on a larger scale where all of our friends and family could attend. Our main focus was to be able to have this celebration while we were still able to be together. Once we were married, we would continue our advocacy, fighting for my right to have Anton stay permanently in the United States as my spouse.

The next business day, I filed an I-130 to sponsor Anton for a “green card” based on our marriage, understanding that because of DOMA it could not yet be approved. That summer was another one of those “whirlwind” times. The Obama Administration had given us more hope in this short time than we ever expected by coming out and essentially putting forth guidelines that seemed to be tailor written for our situation to prevent deportations of people like Anton who had strong ties to the community, family relationships, and good moral character.

I began attending all of Anton’s scheduled check-ins with ICE as we felt now we had legal grounds to do so. The ICE officers were well-aquainted with our advocacy work by now and they were welcoming and sympathetic, though still charged with the awful responsibility to execute outstanding removal orders. While each appointment was still a nerve-wracking experience, we were able to give each other strength to get through them. At the end of the summer, we submitted a formal request for “deferred action.” We were hopeful and optimistic that even this temporary form of relief would be afforded to us. After all, Anton’s case seemed to meet every criteria established under the ICE prosecutorial discretion memos, which by August 18 had been clarified to include LGBT families like ours. Despite putting together a persuasive 75-page submission with the help of our attorney, Lavi Soloway, we were denied “deferred action.” Needless to say, we were extremely disappointed. Our attorney filed a new Motion to Reopen proceedings with the Board of Immigration Appeals, and we waited.

The scheduled “supervision” check–ins continued. Coincidentally, the day before our last check in, we received a letter from USCIS notifying us that we had been scheduled for a “green card” interview on the basis of our marriage on February 13, 2012. The date jumped off the page at us. The day before Valentine’s Day? Really? We were amazed that a whole year after the cliffhanger of Anton’s deportation, we were still together and we had not given up hope. As a result the active execution of Anton’s “final order of removal” had been put on pause with repeated “supervision” appointments taking their place. But more importantly, we were still here to go to our marriage interview, to be treated like all other couples in the same situation. We looked forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day having accomplished this amazing milestone: meeting with USCIS to prove that our marriage was real. We prepared all the documentation necessary to prove that we lived together and had integrated our finances and our lives together as a married couple. We brought a stack of photos and letters from friends and family members.

And all this , almost one year exactly to the date from our biggest nightmare. We can’t help but look back over the last year with just a little bit of pride knowing how far we’d come. Yet this “victory” is yet another bittersweet one. We know going into this interview that because of DOMA my “alien relative” petition for Anton’s green card cannot be approved. Yet, we are hopeful something positive will come of it, and we are grateful for the fact that it was even granted.

One year ago today, we didn’t know if we would awake the next morning in two different countries. We consider ourselves lucky to have the opportunity to have been together this long and not had to endure the pain separation and/or exile that many like us have had to bear. One year later, we’ve come full circle, but we continue to fight for every month, every week and every day we have together. Our futures are still uncertain. We have talked about starting a family; however, that family will need both Anton and me at its core. We have agreed that until we can secure our future by achieving permanent resident status in the US for Anton, that we must put that on hold. We feel it would unfair to bring children into such an unstable environment. As much as we would love to have children, we both know that first we must lay a solid foundation. This is our commitment to one another, and one day we intend to see it fulfilled.

After Ten Years, Lesbian Couple in Delaware is Forced Apart, and Two Sons Are Separated from One of Their Mothers

On January 4, 2012, Jacky and Melody became the first couple in Kent County to enter into a Civil Union and were featured in the local press. Three days later, Jacky was forced to leave the US. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Until recently, I lived with my partner Melody together at our Delaware home. However, were are now forced to live apart after being together for ten years, because we are a bi-national same-sex couple living in a world that seems incapable of accomodating us and treating us equally. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, Melody is 3,500 miles away from me and there isn’t anything I can do about it – until DOMA is struck down or repealed – unless the U.S. government implements some policy changes to keep our family together.

Melody and I met back in 2002 on line and we hit it off right from the start. We decided to meet in person and proceeded to do a lot of back-and-forth traveling for a while. But as our relationship was developing, we ultimately decided that it would be easier for me to go to the United States to live with Melody. That is where my story begins. I gave up everything I had in the U.K. for Melody. I sold my house, my car, and anything else that I couldn’t bring on the plane. I remember telling myself that it would all be worth it, and of course, it was. I arrived on a student visa, which would allow me to stay with Melody for quite a while, so you could only imagine my excitement.

After arriving in the U.S. our relationship together was blossoming, and we became very close with one another. I knew I was blessed to be able to be living with Melody, and we were even more blessed to be parents. Melody and I are parents to our two young boys: our oldest is 13, and our youngest is 10. At that point things were going wonderfully, and after a few years of living happily as a family, we decided to have a commitment ceremony in August of 2005.

M & J

Unfortunately, a little while after, my sister in the U.K. became extremely ill and suddenly passed away while I was in the United States. That’s when I was needed to come home to attend to my family in the U.K. However, when I made the difficult decision to leave the U.S., Melody and I knew that we were putting everything at risk, that I may not be able to get back.  But, still, I had no choice — I had to leave. Luckily, I was able to come back under the visa waiver program. I tried to renew my student visa, but the cost of further education, after already completing three degrees, was just too much. Due to the poor state of the economy, and the recession, full-time employment in order for me to get a work visa was another no-go. So I was forced to leave after just nine months — I had no other options to stay.

Upon returning to the U.K, I was quickly faced with the reality that I had almost nothing left to return to. I was forced to start from scratch, to find a place to live, to find a job, and all the while my family in Delaware struggled on without me.

I was only able to stay with her for nine wonderful years before I was forced to leave knowing that I might not ever be able to come back. Unfortunately, although we wanted to, we didn’t marry out of fear that it would interfere with my visa status. But now, I regret not marrying Melody during all those years, because it makes it that much harder for either of us to sponsor each other for citizenship in either country should the opportunity arise.

As we try to mend our situation we’ve made some long term plans. We decided that Melody and the boys will come live in the U.K. with me. Melody, an American citizen, will be forced to leave her family and all the things that she knows all because of DOMA. Sadly, we have no idea how much time that will take and until we can be together, Melody has to do everything for our family. Melody is forced to support our family alone, and take on all the roles that I used to do to keep our family functioning and well. On top of all that, she has to sell our house, our belongings, and everything we have worked so hard to build together.

On my last night at our Delaware home I tucked our boys in bed and attempted to say goodnight to them. Our youngest kept telling me that he was tired, but didn’t want to go to sleep because he didn’t want the next day to come — the day I would board the plane to leave him. He kept asking me again and again why I had to leave and it broke my heart to try to explain. All my son could say was that he just couldn’t understand why the government would do this to us, and neither could I.

My two children have been heavily impacted by me leaving. Mel tells me that our youngest son cries at night, begging to be able to see me, and cries when Mel is forced to sell my belongings. Our eldest son can only see a future living in England, and it is all he talks about. Even at their ages, they recognize the unfairness of the situation that we are forced to be in, but we have no choice. There are no other options for us to be reunited as a family, and quite frankly, we never thought it would come to this.

One of our sons had an eye injury in 2009, and sees an optician regularly because of it. A day after his optician’s appointment a few weeks ago he went blind in his left eye. I had to learn of this over the phone: that our son could not see out of his injured eye. I’m 3,500 miles away and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t hug Melody or my son and reassure everyone that it was going to be okay. I could not be there for them. Luckily, his eye healed and his vision returned. But could you imagine how I felt? I had a son that went blind overnight and I couldn’t be there for him.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I haven’t thought and cried about Melody’s situation back at home and our separation. I am homesick. I feel so helpless, and powerless, and that I should have been able to do something, but my reality revolves around DOMA, the discriminatory law that makes my family separated by 3,500 miles of land and sea and the law that squashed all our hopeful chances to get married in the past. But we aren’t afraid any more. Despite everything that’s happened already, I found myself looking forward to returning for a visit at Christmas. Melody and I planned to enter into a civil union in Delaware after the state’s new law went into effect on January 1. When we arrived at the clerk’s office for the ceremony last Thursday, we were greeted by the media: we didn’t realize that we would be the first same-sex couple to enter into a civil union in Kent County, Delaware!

But what remains so painful for us, as I now board the flight back to the U.K. leaving Melody and my sons behind, is that our relationship is not recognized by the U.S. government. I can be legally married to my spouse, but she cannot petition for me to be her legal spouse in the eyes of the federal government because DOMA. If it weren’t for DOMA, I wouldn’t be living in exiled separation from my partner and children. If it weren’t for DOMA, the tears of my children would not be shed, and if it weren’t for DOMA, I would be in Melody’s arms, and we would be whole family once again.

We urge everyone reading this to join this fight for equality to protect our families. Share your story, show policy makers, friends, family, neighbors and co-workers that we have the same concerns and the same aspirations as all other couples. This is especially true for those of us raising children. We must not let others define us, and we must fight back against laws that destroy our families.

 

 

 

With Two Days Left in Denver Pilot Program, Married Lesbian Couple Facing Deportation Waits Anxiously. Will Their Case Be Administratively Closed?

Sujey and Violeta Pando

A lesbian couple is sitting on the edge of their seats at home in Denver waiting for the telephone to ring. Right now, a call from federal immigration attorneys could bring to an end the nightmare Sujey and Violeta Pando have been living ever since Immigration and Customs Enforcement came into their lives in 2008. There are only two days left in the government’s ambitious plan to review all pending cases in the Denver Immigration Court for possible closure. Denver was chosen to be a Pilot Program city for the application of new humanitarian guidelines for closure of low-priority deportation cases. It is believed that the review of all pending cases is all but complete. And still this couple waits, hoping for good news.

Sujey, a citizen of Mexico, has been in a committed relationship with her U.S. citizen wife, Violeta, for more than six years. They married in 2010 in Iowa. Violeta cannot sponsor Sujey for a green card because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents recognition of their valid marriage for any federal purpose.

Sujey and Violeta Pando made headlines last August when they won a temporary reprieve from deportation. Denver Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov postponed Sujey’s deportation hearing to January 2012. In November, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Denver would be one of two cities chose for a pilot program in which the DHS would review all pending deportation cases to close all low-priority cases and conserve agency resources by focusing on deporting those individuals who are a threat to public safety or have extensive criminal records.  When the pilot program was announced Sujey Pando’s case was temporary rescheduled to a date in 2014, pending review by the DHS-DOJ working group and local ICE attorneys.

For the last month, Sujey and Violeta have anxiously awaited word from ICE that their case had been reviewed. By the beginning of January they were getting very nervous. They are very aware that pilot program is due to end its review on January 13. “The date is marked on our calendar. It is a day that we dread, because we are afraid that if we do not hear from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors by then, it means that they have decided to deport Sujey. We pray that they are just taking great care to read Sujey’s entire file and make the right decision, but we are losing sleep over it and our whole family asks every day whether there has been news.”

Determined to take a more proactive approach, the Pandos worked closely with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, who compiled a large submission of evidence and made a formal request for “prosecutorial discretion” to the Office of Chief Counsel in Denver on January 7. The 76-page submission details why Ms. Pando, who has lived in the United States since she was forced to flee Mexico as a teenager 17 years ago, should be granted humanitarian relief and have her deportation case closed under new guidelines issued by the Obama administration that are meant to protect all families, including lesbian and gay couples, who are under threat of being torn apart by deportation.  The Pandos and their attorney have also reached out to elected officials in Colorado to bring the case to the attention of the working group’s LGBT liaison in Washington, DC.

Under the June 17, 2011 memorandum from ICE Director John Morton, individuals in deportation proceedings would have their cases reviewed and closed if they were deemed to be “low priority” to permit the federal government to focus resource on immigrants that pose national security risks and public safety threats. Sujey Pando clearly meets many of the criteria set forth in those guidelines:

  • Length of Presence in the United States – Sujey has lived in the U.S. over 17 years, almost all that time in the Denver metropolitan area.
  • Circumstance of her Arrival – Sujey was brought to the U.S. as a minor to escape a lifetime of abuse in Mexico. Her flight from danger and young age both clearly weigh in her favor for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
  • Marriage to a U.S. Citizen – Sujey & Violeta have been in a loving relationship for over 6 years, and made a life-long commitment to one another when they married in 2010 in Iowa. (Since June when this memorandum was issued, the Obama Administration has clarified that prosecutorial discretion will take into account gay and lesbian binational couples, even if they federal government cannot legally recognize their marriages, due to the Defense of Marriage Act.)
  • Caretaker of an Individual with Serious Disabilities – Since 2005, Sujey has helped care for her long-time friend, who currently lives with Sujey and her wife. This friend was seriously injured in a workplace accident, and requires help in her day to day life. The care, support, assistance that Sujey provides to this U.S. citizen is a basis for the government recognizing that this case is a low priority and that Sujey should be permitted to remain in the U.S.
  • Ties to the Community – In addition to her wife and her friend Diane, Sujey has strong ties to her home of the last 17 years. Her in-laws, neighbors, friends and her landlord submitted affidavits attesting to her good moral character and the importance of having her in their lives. In addition, Sujey has volunteered and contributed to charities in her area. These facts all go to show that her true home is here with her wife, not anywhere else.
  • Participation in Civil Rights Advocacy: Additionally, Sujey’s participation in LGBT civil rights advocacy also weighs in her favor for cause to close her removal proceedings according to related departmental policy against deporting those involved in the fight for civil rights and civil liberties. It is not in the interest of justice for the United States to deport individuals who are involved in changing unjust and unconstitutional laws, especially for couples like Sujey & Violeta who would otherwise be permitted to pursue a marriage-based green card petition.

The Obama administration announced with great fan fare that it would implement a kinder, gentler deportation policy that would aim to keep families together, including LGBT families. The Department of Homeland Security noted that an LGBT liaison, Executive Secretary Philip A. McNamara, was made a member of the DHS-DOJ prosecutorial discretion working group to ensure that guidelines are applied in an inclusive and consistent manner. Sujey Pando’s case is a test of this administration’s promise to protect all families from being torn apart by deportation.

 

Showdown with DOMA: Mark & Fred Meet With USCIS and Fight for Their Family at Green Card Interview in Philadelphia

After 22 Years Together, Married Gay Couple With Four Adopted
Children Fights For Their Marriage And Their Family

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mark Himes & Frédéric Deloizy
Are on the Front Lines of The Fight Against DOMA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Inquiries to attorney, Lavi Soloway , Masliah & Soloway, PC
Founder, Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project
Phone 323-599-6915
[email protected] or
[email protected]

January 10, 2012 – NEW YORK, NEW YORK

When she wakes up on Wednesday, January 11, Claire, 8, will have a lot more to consider than the earrings she is wearing for school. Her ears were pierced as a Christmas present: a gift, she told her dad, that she had been waiting for her whole life. The Christmas tree is still up in her home, but the presents under it have all been unwrapped, and emptied, naturally. Her three brothers, John, Jacob, and Joshua, ages six through eleven, received a small arsenal of toys that have been played with and are already causing mayhem, posing tripping hazards in the hallway until Papa will offer to buy the toys back and tuck them away for safe-keeping or risk further neglect. On the surface, everything is as it should be. But John, Claire, Jacob, and Joshua are ordinary kids under extraordinary circumstances.


On January 11th, Daddy and Papa will appear before a Philadelphia Immigration Officer for a “Green Card” interview to put forward evidence of their 22-year relationship and their marriage. The goal? To be allowed to stay together with their children in this country. For a married gay couple in which one spouse is foriegn, the process of applying for permanent resident status is not straightforward. Frederick Deloizy is a French national, and, as a foreigner who has seen both his work visa and his student visa expire, the time he has left to share with his family may now be limited.

Frédéric Deloizy and Mark Himes, a US citizen were wed in California in 2008, 18 years after they first met. They represent a growing number of same-sex couples with a partner of foreign nationality at risk of separation because immigration officials are barred from recognizing their marriage under the federal Defense of Marriage Act. By contrast, any bi-national opposite-sex couple in their position would never face a future as uncertain. Despite the hurdles they face, Fred and Mark decided that they must fight for the green card based on their marriage. To do less, would be to accept the discrimination that has put their family in such a precarious position.

But theirs is a story not only about the federal government’s lack of recognition of same-sex marriage, but the legal limbo that it creates for same-sex bi-national couples with children. In two decades together, they have adopted four beautiful children, now ranging in age from six to eleven. A patchwork of incoherent legislation means that while they are recognized legally as same-sex adoptive parents in Pennsylvania, the federal govenrment refuses to recognize their marriage. They welcomed their two oldest children, John and Claire, just days after their respective birthdays in 2000 and 2003. On their 19th anniversary in April 2009, Fred and Mark welcomed Jacob and Joshua, both four years old at the time. All four of the kids would have remained wards of the state, dependent on government coffers, shuffled from one foster home to the next, if Mark and Fred had not provided a loving, stable home. Instead, they now have a Daddy and a Papa, and siblings, toys they may take for granted, and a loving home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that may soon be torn apart.


Their interview comes just one week after the Iowa caucuses and the day after the New Hampshire primary in the backdrop of an election season where candidates jostling for position to become the Republican presidential nominee have fallen over each other to convince audiences that they are the most opposed to marriages of same-sex couples. And they are fully aware that Pennsylvania’s former Senator, Rick Santorum, is the most vitriolic. Last week, he promised that if elected he would annul all same-sex marriages. In this weekend’s candiate debates, Santorum and his fellow Republican candidates made clear that they are equally opposed to adoption by same-sex couples. Mark and Fred see this as an attack on their family. It is hard to ignore the hypocrisy of this rhetoric, as it comes from individuals who are supposedly espousing the primacy of family values. Children deserve to have a loving home and loving parents. The four children in this loving home may yet see their family ripped apart, one of their parents exiled abroad because of the Defense of Marriage Act. The law is poorly named, because it defends no one’s marriage, but threatens to destroy this one.  Laws in both the U.S. and France create significant challenges to this couple of nearly 22 years. While France recognizes same-sex relationships as civil unions and may allow Mark to immigrate there, France does not recognize same-sex adoption and consequently, does not acknowledge that they are both legal parents of their children for immigration (or any other) purpose.

Mark and Fred have put their efforts over the past few years into staying in the United States, building their home, and putting down their roots. As they await a decision on whether 2012 will be the year their family is torn apart they have decided to take the fight to their elected officials and to the President, himself a son of a binational couple.  At best, the administrative agency could choose to do what Mark and Fred consider “the right thing” and place their case into abeyance until litigation concerning the constitutionality of DOMA makes its way to the Supreme Court. At worst, Fred may be placed into deportation proceedings, their nightmare scenario. Meanwhile, the family is in a state of limbo, and it pains them as parents when they can’t answer their children with certainty about the future. They can only preparing themselves, mentally and emotionally, to fight for full equality under the law.

See full post here.

STOP THE DEPORTATIONS, SEPARATIONS AND EXILE – THE DOMA PROJECT, a campaign co-founded by attorney, Lavi Soloway in July 2010 along with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, has contributed to the trend of recent victories for lesbian and gay couples who are faced with deportation, separation or exile because of the Defense of Marriage Act. For nearly two decades, Soloway has been the most prominent attorney and advocate on LGBT immigration law and policy in the United States. He has worked exclusively in this field since co-founding the non-profit organization, Immigration Equality, in 1993.

22 Years After They First Met, Gay Dads and Their Four Children Fight DOMA To Keep Their Family Together

We are Mark and Frédéric.

After more than 20 years, four children, and three houses, we are still unsure of our future.

Like any other parents in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where we live, we spend our days taking care of our family, making sure that our children are loved, happy, healthy and are learning the skills and values that will give them the most opportunities for a successful and fulfilling life.

And yet, as much as we have devoted our lives to our family and to each other, we do not enjoy what most families in America take for granted. Despite being legally married, and having become the parents of four wonderful children, our family can be torn apart at any time by my own government because of the Defense of Marriage Act and because of outdated immigration laws.

We are Mark, Frédéric, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua.

Fred and I met in April of 1990 at a birthday party for a mutual friend. As I learned later, neither one of us wanted to attend the part on that particular night, but, somehow, we both were talked into it. I arrived with my friend Rebecca at the same time that Fred arrived with his friend, Steve. As we approached the entrance, Fred said hello to me in his thick French accent. I often joke saying that “he had me at allo.” He held the door open for me that night.

After that, we spent most of the rest of the evening on the floor in the hallway simply talking about our lives. I found out that he had been in the country for the past year teaching at a university a couple hours away. By midnight, his crew was heading out. As we were saying goodbye, I leaned in and gently kissed him. I don’t know what possessed me to do that. He looked shocked. After he left, I asked the host if Fred was gay, since almost everyone at the party was straight. The host responded “yes” and told me that Fred was planning on going into the priesthood. That didn’t stop me from reaching out to him. I tracked him down at his university and sent him a card. We were able to meet again a few times before he went back to France two months later. And so began unbearable seven years of flying back and forth across the ocean as often as we could.

In 1997, Frédéric was hired at a local high school to teach French. We were finally together in the same country again, and we were both elated. In 1999, we stumbled across a house in Harrisburg that was condemned and boarded up. I fell in love with it. I had to convince Fred to buy it. We paid $1.00 for it and spent the next several months bringing it back to life. It was a labor of love. We literally built a home for ourselves. Ten years after we first met we were settling down and ready to start a family.

In April of 2000, we submitted our application to an adoption agency. They called us six days later to let us know that a boy was just born and asked if we would be interested. Nervously, we said yes. Our son, John, was born on April 20th, 2000. In July 2003, we were blessed again by the birth of our daughter, Claire.

In 2004, with Fred’s work visa due to expire after he reached the limit of six years, he and his employer reached out to an immigration lawyer only to learn that they had acted too late to be eligible for any extension. We began to face the prospect, that we would be forced to leave the United States and move to France. It was very difficult for me to think of leaving my parents and my sister with severe MS, but we could not allow our children to be separated from one of their parents. Our highest priority was keeping our family together. So thinking that we were moving to France, we advertised the house for sale. We had a buyer within a couple of days. With only a few months to go, Fred was able to obtain a student visa to attend our local college. But it was too late to save the house. We moved into a rental. During this time, we experienced what so many gay binational couples come to feel: a growing sense of frustration with the blatant discrimination that prevents gay American citizens from sponsoring their partners, even when they are legally married. We were featured in the documentary, Through Thick and Thin, which profiled the experiences of a diverse group of binational couples. We felt then, as we do now, that we must stand up for our rights. We could not live on this roller coaster, without any way to plan a secure future for our family, and just sit on our hands and do nothing.

Also during that time, we found another condemned house and started renovations on that. We completed the renovations and moved into that in 2005. By 2007, with two kids in private school and Fred unable to work because of his status as a foreign student, money was running low. We decided that, once again, we had no choice but to sell the house into which we literally had poured our blood, sweat and tears. It was heartbreaking to lose our home. We sold the house quickly and purchased a much smaller house in a less expensive neighborhood so that we could keep going for as long as possible on one salary.

In 2008, we married in San Francisco, 18 years after we had first met. A French film crew came with us, and we became part of a film on gay life in America: This is Family.

On April 7, 2009, our 19th anniversary, we met our youngest sons, Jacob and Joshua who were four at that time. They easily blended into our family and overnight, we went from two children to four. We were a growing family, full of love and optimism about our future in every respect but one. A ticking clock grew ever louder, as we knew that Fred’s student visa would eventually come to an end.

In the spring and summer of 2011, we were forced again to weigh our options. Now the proud (and sometimes exhausted) parents of four children, we were forced to look for a way to remain together in this country or else leave. We started to seriously consider moving to France. However, we quickly learned, that despite some advances in French law over the years, we were trapped. We could not stay in the United States (my country) and we could not move to France (Fred’s country). We are unwanted by both. Although we are both the legal parents of four American children, and both the state and federal government recognizes our status as parents, it will not recognize our marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act. According to the U.S. government, I am the father of our four children, and Fred is the father of the same four children, but we are legal strangers to each other. Our marriage, our nearly 22 years together, all of that amounts to nothing. Fred has no right to stay in the United States beyond the expiration date of his visa. And that day was rapidly approaching. At the same time, while France would recognize our relationship under its less-than-optimal Civil Solidarity Pact (“PACS”), and it may even permit me to reside in France legally as an immigrant on the basis of our relationship (but not our marriage), the French government refuses to recognize the adoption of our children, because under French law same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting children. We are trapped by U.S. law that refuses to see our marriage, and French law that refuses to see our children. We cannot continue to live this way, and we cannot be torn apart. .. so we decided to fight back.

Over the past years, we have built our entire lives in the U.S. All of our family and friends are here. Our children should not be put through the trauma of seeing one of their parents forced out of the country, nor should we be uprooted and turned into refugees searching for a third country that will take us in. It is an outrage that my own government has created this situation and allows it to persist, when it has the power to solve the problem both in the short-term with interim policy changes, and in the long-run by defeating DOMA. We are thankful that this administration is fighting DOMA in court alongside lesbian and gay couples. Those cases will hopefully bring an end one day to that law and its cruel, unnecessary impact. But we need the administration to help all LGBT families like ours today by putting in place policies that protect us.

This past summer we decided to join The DOMA Project and fight for full equality for our family. After many discussions with our lawyer, we decided that I would file a “green card” petition on behalf of Fred, as my spouse. We have done this because we cannot continue to exist from one visa to another, we cannot put our children through the stress, and we cannot allow the status quo, in which our future is so unstable, to continue. We believe that we must set an example for our children by living our lives in a way that assumes we are all equal.

On Wednesday, January 11, 2012, Fred and I will go to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Philadelphia to be interviewed in connection with the marriage-based immigration petition I filed last summer. We will go into that interview expecting to be treated equally. A USCIS officer will ask us about our marriage, review our evidence of cohabitation and commingled finances, and proof that that we have a marital relationship. We have dutifully compiled a pile of documents and photographs for review. We welcome the opportunity to be treated just like everyone else: to prove that our marriage is real. While we look forward to the interview, we have no illusions of what we are up against. We will prove that we are, in every way, qualified for Fred to receive a green card, but he will still be denied. And that is where the next stage of our fight will begin.

We have notified our elected officials and we will continue to fight for our case to be approved or, at the very least, held in abeyance, and not denied. We are painfully aware of the Obama administration’s position that DOMA, despite being unconstitutional, must be enforced. We know that President Obama believes that DOMA prevents the Immigration Service from “recognizing” our marriage. Even so, there is no reason that our marriage cannot be respected and our family protected. We need bold leadership to create remedies that keep all families together. Our four children, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua, deserve no less.

Mark, Frédéric, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2010

Mark Himes blogs about his family at Our Simple Lives…A Daddy, a Papa and their four children.

Greg and Guillermo: A Romance, A Separation, A Wedding. And the Fight Against DOMA.

Sakurai, Japan

2011 – Where We Are Now.

By the time New York got around to legalizing same-sex marriage last summer, Guillermo and I already had something to celebrate. We’d just been reunited after nine months apart—a time spent scrambling to fix the unexpected complications of his visa. His return felt like a miracle, like all our prayers, our families’ prayers, had been heard. The passing of the Marriage Equality Act coincided with the start of Pride weekend, an occasion I hadn’t felt the need to celebrate until then. We stood together in our neighborhood bodega in Brooklyn that Saturday morning, and stared at the headline on the cover of the New York Daily News: “HISTORY!”

Sag Harbor, New York

I thought about how many of those people staring back from the front page were now engaged, because now they really could be. I thought of friends who would now be asking when we were getting engaged, and how we’d go about proposing, because now we were allowed to. And I thought about how we would tell them we proposed to each other years ago and just never told them.

2010 – Validation and Separation.

A year before the first official gay wedding took place in New York, I was at a straight wedding in New Jersey. I never had a wedding date before. My father is the youngest of six, which had ensured me an adolescence spent watching all my older cousins get married, while I drank underage with my sister and slow-danced awkwardly with girls my age from whatever other family we were marrying into that day.But after my cousin James had announced his engagement to his girlfriend, I received my first wedding invitation that read “and Guest” next to my name—the Guest being Guillermo, who had been gradually introduced into this side of my family over the past two years. The ceremony was perfect, to befit a cousin who seemed to always do everything right. We sat between my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, while my sister cantered at the front of the church. At the reception, Guillermo and I found a placard with our names on it, which said we’d be at Table 5, with all the other coupled cousins. “We were wondering who the last couple would be!” one of them said, which made me feel validated in a way I really hadn’t yet.

Stockholm, Sweden

I needed that kind of validation from my family, but soon after I needed it from my country even more. By the end of that summer, Guillermo and I had to say goodbye to each other in Sweden, where we’d gone for the last step in the process of getting his new visa. Guillermo is actually Colombian, but we were told the embassies in Western Europe would be easier to navigate than the one in Bogotá. We saved up for the trip, and made a vacation out of it. After arriving in Stockholm, we went straight to the U.S. Embassy for his interview. It didn’t go well. They toyed with him over the course of our trip, with sporadic emails and unnecessary interrogation, creating a dark cloud that hung over us wherever we went in this beautiful country we’d never been to before. On the last day, our dread was fully realized when Guillermo was denied the visa. I had to fly back home to New York without him. And for the next nine months, I’d wake up in our bed to realize I was still alone. It was like a daily reminder that someone had ripped my arm off, and I couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Bogota, Colombia

2008 – Japan and Long Distance.

Our relationship had survived long-distance before. We’d only been dating for a few months when I got a call from an ESL exchange program I applied to sometime during my senior year of college and forgot about. I had twenty-four hours to accept a teaching job in Japan on a one-year contract. Having just graduated, I wasn’t about to turn any job down or pass up such an opportunity. Guillermo wouldn’t let me pass it up. And so began the first of many airport goodbyes to come. Being a gay binational couple almost guarantees you will be crying in airports. A lot. You also learn to find the right spot to kiss in private, or learn not to care who sees you.

Guillermo came to Japan to visit me two days before Christmas. It was the first time we would spend Christmas without our families, but also the first we would spend as a new family all our own. After the New Year came, and January neared its end, so did Guillermo’s visit. There was just one last stop to make before we said goodbye again, but getting to Mount Fuji was no easy feat. We missed our overnight bus to Tokyo, having misread the time printed on our tickets, and had to take an early morning train to Kyoto for another bus. It was early evening by the time we reached Tokyo, so we looked for a place to eat and a hotel to spend the night. The only cheap accommodation in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood are “love hotels,” where couples rent a room by the hour, and overnight rates are offered after ten o’clock. The first love hotel we entered looked more or less unassuming, but upon walking up to the front desk we found a light board with depictions of various sexual scenarios on hand—the way you might see chicken rings and sliders lit up at White Castle. We stood there with our mouths agape, unaware we were actually being asked to leave. The man behind the window pointed to me, pointed to Guillermo, and made an X with his forearms. There was a shocking assortment of perversity on hand here, but two men in love was simply crossing the line. It was a similar story at the next two hotels. In one lobby, we could only see the hands of the person behind the counter. That didn’t stop whoever it was from waving their finger in our faces. Much later, we finally found a hotel that would take us. The man at the counter chuckled to himself, but passed a key into our weary hands anyway.

Mount Fuji, Japan

The crows shrieking outside our window woke us up early, giving us plenty of time to check out and make our way through the empty streets to catch our bus to Mount Fuji. We had many false alarms during the bus ride, but one thing I now know about the great Fuji-san is that there is no mistaking it when you do finally see it for the first time. We were the only ones dropped off in a tiny resort town at the fifth station of the mountain, which is the furthest you can go while the mountain is closed to visitors through winter. We stood alone in the mouth of a great forest, at the foot of the mountain. And we proposed to each other there. I knew I had found someone I never wanted to let go of, and would fight to make sure I never had to. Looking into each other’s eyes, we agreed that when it could happen, when history would be made, we would be ready for it. And our own history we’d get to write ourselves.

Guillermo and Gregory were married on November 7, 2011.

Zipaquira, Colombia

The Other Half of the Orange is a multimedia project platform created and self-published by Guillermo Riveros and Gregory Wazowicz, a bi-national gay couple based in New York, dealing with the personal and professional ramifications of immigration in the age of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which prevents the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages. The title is a literal translation of a Spanish idiom (media naranja), meaning one’s “half-orange,” one’s sweetheart, one’s beautifully perfect other half. This platform is meant to chronicle the challenges—and triumphs—of holding onto that other half once it’s been found, as well as curate the many creative pursuits to come out of this struggle to stay and work together. See more about this project at The Other Half of the Orange.

Chicago Congressman Speaks Out Against DOMA, Submits Testimony of Binational Couples into the Congressional Record

On Wednesday December 7, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), citing testimony received from prominent speakers and community organizations during a field hearing held in Chicago. Among the organizations that submitted testimony were three binational couples who have been working with The DOMA Project this year. Rep. Quigley asked “that the Clerk enter all of their testimony into the record, to formally document this collection of unfairness and inequity, burdens that are imposed on normal Americans just trying to live a normal life. It is incomprehensible that today we are still dealing with such injustice. Congress created this injustice and Congress should correct it.”

Rep. Quigley’s speech can be seen here. Read “Testimony from the Congressional Field Forum on the Defense of Marriage Act” here.  Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project worked closely with three binational couples whose testimony appears at pages 34 – 38.  Thank you to Sveta, Brad and Ryan for their hard work.

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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.