“I’m So Proud of My Two Sons,” A California Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA

Brandon with his mother, Gailya

When my son, Brandon, told me he was gay, I thought it was just a phase! He was about to begin his final semester of college and had been through some brief relationships with some (in my opinion) unsuitable girlfriends. I believed that when he got better about choosing girlfriends, he’d happily settle into his true, straight self.

But an odd thing happened. As Brandon became more comfortable with the idea of being gay, he became more comfortable in his own skin. He was happy – even exuberant, sometimes. He became more open with people, more reflective, more confident, and more spiritual. He developed a circle of friends who were unconditional in their support and he found that almost all of his old friends accepted and loved him, as well.

To see my son happy, truly happy in his new life was all I had ever wanted for him. That, and a happy, fulfilling relationship.

I remember the day he told me about Luke. He was almost giddy, describing their close friendship and how that friendship had blossomed into love. I had never seen him like this. Such joy. Such hope for the future.

I met Luke a few months after they started dating and liked him instantly. His personality has a brightness that complements my son’s intensity. He laughs easily and has a dry sense of humor that matches Brandon’s. They are easy with one another, and kind. They share a zest for life, a love of Manhattan and an artistic sensibility. Brandon had found a good match. Luke was soon like a son to me.

Luke is from South Africa. It soon began to dawn on me what that would mean for their future as the harsh reality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act became bitterly clear. Luke’s immigration status in America was in jeopardy. And, even if he and Brandon were to marry, because of DOMA, there would be no legal protections afforded to him that would be available to Brandon’s sister and her husband, if they had been in a similar situation.   That parallel kept coming back to mind. Why should my children be treated differently by our government?

A little over a year ago, Brandon called me to tell me that he and Luke had decided to get married. My mind instantly went to “What will I wear?” But there was no time to linger on that thought because Brandon said they planned to marry that Saturday. It would be just the two of them – and their dog, Andrew. They wanted to save the big wedding with family and friends for a time when they could afford to do it in the style they both dreamed of. I would fly to New York from California. His sister would fly up from Georgia and his father from Texas and they would surround themselves with family and friends.

But they didn’t want to wait that long to get married. They went to Connecticut, one of the few states that recognizes gay marriage, for their wedding. It was clear to me that Brandon and Luke were deliriously happy, with one exception: they had this immigration thing hanging over their heads. Luke is even afraid to travel domestically, so Brandon splits his holidays – trying to make it to Georgia for a family Christmas a few days late or early so he can be with Luke on the actual holiday. If Brandon comes to California to see me, Luke stays back home in New York. I visit New York when I can. As a result, it has not been possible to all be together like a family, to fully integrate Luke into our lives as we would like to do. It is hard to understand why our government would continue to tear away at the fabric of American families like this. After all, this is not only about Brandon and Luke but about all of us who are treated like our families don’t count.

Luke has become very involved in raising awareness and fighting for equal rights for binational gay and lesbian couples. This has empowered Luke in such a way that he and Brandon have decided to go public with their story. Brandon has filed a green card petition for Luke on the basis of their marriage. Just taking this action has lifted their spirits. He and Brandon are hopeful that the time is right for this nation to face the cruel discrimination of DOMA and make it possible for any loving couple that chooses to marry to receive equal treatment under the law. I am so proud of my two sons.

I fully support Brandon and Luke in this fight, but I worry that they will be separated, or that, in order to stay together, Brandon will be forced to leave this country to be with his husband. That would break my heart because it would tear them away from us.

There is such ignorance and fear driving this terrible prejudice. In this difficult world, we find ourselves torn apart by small differences instead of embracing the common bonds we all share. Love is the supreme bond. We need it for our spiritual survival. We crave it for our happiness and fulfillment. And when any adult couple is lucky enough to find love together and they are willing to make a lifelong commitment, I believe that courageous act should be encouraged. They should not be treated as second-class citizens or ostracized because they happen to be of the same sex.

So, my dream for my son and his husband is that the discrimination of DOMA will end soon. My dream for them is that they will be free to build the kind of life together that is every couple’s dream. There will always be people who do not understand them. But lack of understanding is not justification for taking away basic human rights. I believe the law often has to step in before human understanding can be accomplished. The Civil Rights movement proved that. We are in a new era of civil rights struggles. It is my dream that equal marriage rights are just around the corner for Brandon and Luke. I will do what I can to help them achieve that dream by making sure that those who represent us and work for us in government know how American families are impacted every day by DOMA. They will all hear from me. I hope you will join us in this effort.

See Brandon’s post: “Can The U.S. Government Recognize True Love?” November 28, 2011.

Victory for Monica & Cristina! Government Closes Deportation Case Against Married Lesbian Couple in New York

Immigration & Customs Enforcement Closes Deportation Case Against Argentinean Lesbian, Monica Alcota, Based on Ties to Community Including Marriage to her Spouse, Cristina Ojeda

First Case of a Married Gay Couple Closed Since New DHS’ November 17 Announcement That “Working Group” Would Begin to Implement Prosecutorial Guidelines Nationwide

For the first time since the Department of Homeland Security’s  (DHS) November 17 announcement that a national “working group” had begun reviewing all cases currently pending in immigration courts, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has closed a deportation case involving a married same-sex couple.

Although the latest DHS “prosecutorial discretion” guidance still did not explicitly include LGBT families, advocates at Stop the Deportations say that the decision by ICE demonstrates that existing criteria can be properly applied to keep married gay and lesbian couples safe from deportation.

Immigration Judge Terry Bain granted a Joint Motion to Administratively Close Removal Proceedings against Argentinean born lesbian, Monica Alcota, because “good cause has been established.”  Judge Bain’s decision was dated November 30, and was received yesterday, just one day before Monica Alcota was due back in court for a final deportation hearing.  Monica Alcota’s lawyer, Lavi Soloway, submitted the request for Administrative Closure to ICE Chief Counsel in Manhattan on November 14.  The request was based on her marriage to her U.S. citizen spouse, Cristina Ojeda; her deep roots in the community in which she lives and works; her activism against DOMA; and the absence of any adverse factors, i.e. that Monica Alcota is a hard-working, law-abiding person who is not a danger to the public safety or national security.

For most lesbian and gay Americans with foreign-born spouses the only obstacle to a “green card” is the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” (DOMA) the law that prevents the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of lesbian and gay couples.

The “DOMA deportation” that threatened to tear apart Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda, a married lesbian binational couple who live in Queens, New York was stopped after ICE attorneys agreed to Alcota’s request and submitted a Joint Motion for Administrative Closure to the presiding Immigration Judge on November 29.

This is the first time the government has asked an immigation court to close removal proceedings against the gay or lesbian spouse of an American citizen since the formation of an inter-agency prosecutorial discretion working group began its work on November 17 with the goal of finding and closing all “low-priority” deportation cases.

Statement from attorney Lavi Soloway, Founder, Stop The Deportations:

“We are thankful to Immigration & Customs Enforcement and to Immigration Judge Terry Bain for closing this case and stopping the deportation of Monica Alcota. Although the Department of Homeland Security has declined numerous requests in recent months for specific, LGBT-inclusive guidance on deportation cases, this action demonstrates that existing guidelines that weigh “family relationships” and “ties to the community” can be properly applied to protect married lesbian and gay binational couples.  After a courageous battle, Monica and Cristina have arrived at the end of a long journey that began when Monica was pulled off a Greyhound bus in July 2009 and held in an ICE detention facility for three months while we fought for her release. That nightmare ends today.  Monica and Cristina can now turn to the business of building a future together without living in constant fear of deportation.

Importantly, this shows married lesbian and gay binational couples can be protected from deportation when ICE fairly applies its own guidelines. By halting this deportation, ICE prevents a marriage from being torn part by DOMA, a law that the President and the Attorney General have determined to be unconstitutional and have refused to defend in Federal Court.”

Statement from Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda:

“We are grateful that the government lawyers and the judge saw the humanity of our situation and respected our marriage.  We have learned through this process how important it is to stand up for ourselves and how much we can all achieve when we demand to be treated equally.  This battle is not over. Our green card case is on appeal, and of course we will not have full equality until DOMA is gone. We must all continue to work to make sure no lesbian or gay couples are separated by deportation. We thank all those who have supported the Stop The Deportations campaign and all those who have given us encouragement and strength to keep up the fight.”


Cristina and Monica have fought a high-profile battle against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and deportation proceedings since joining the Stop The Deportations campaign last summer.

In March, New York Immigration Judge Terry Bain, acting with the agreement of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement prosecuting attorney, temporarily postponed Monica’s deportation hearing on the basis that Cristina had filed a marriage-based “green card” petition for her Argentinean wife. At the time, Monica and Cristina were the first married same-sex couple to have their deportation case postponed on the basis of their marriage. The couple was scheduled to return to court on December 6, 2011 for a deportation hearing to review the status of that petition.

In April, USCIS denied Cristina Ojeda’s “green card” petition for Monica, citing DOMA and also relying on a 1982 decision known as Adams v. Howerton from California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Ojeda appealed the denial of her petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The lawyers for the couple, Stop The Deportations co-founders, Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, filed a brief arguing that the BIA should not affirm the denial considering that the Department of Justice, of which the BIA is a part, has itself determined that DOMA is unconstitutional.  The brief argued that the BIA should hold the case in abeyance, given the rapidly evolving legal context, specifically the DOJ’s filing of a 31-page brief against DOMA and in support of the plaintiff in the Golinski case on July 1; the DOJ’s decision to allow married same-sex couples to be recognized as married in U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceedings on July 7; and the Attorney General’s historic intervention in a BIA decision on May 5 that suggested the DOJ was considering whether “partners” in civil unions could be recognized as spouses for immigration law purposes.

In the memo requesting ICE attorneys join the motion to close proceedings, Soloway argued that Monica Alcota met numerous prosecutorial discretion criteria laid out in the June 17th Morton Memo  (original memo text italicized):

  • Whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.
    Soloway argued that Monica has a U.S. citizen spouse, Cristina, and they were lawfully married in Connecticut in 2010.
  • The person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.
    Soloway argued that Monica has formed strong community ties in the 11 years she has lived in the US: she has a successful antique furniture business, is a well-respected member of her community, and received a number of very heartfelt letters from long-time friends and associates detailing her connection to her community.
  • Particular attention should be paid to plaintiffs in non-frivolous lawsuits involving civil rights.
    Soloway argued that Monica and Cristina were part of an advocacy campaign, namely, Stop the Deportations, that had filed I-130 marriage-based “green card” petitions in order to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act in pursuit of (equal) civil rights.
  • The person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest warrants.
    Soloway noted that Monica has no criminal history, no arrests, convictions, outstanding arrests or charges.
  • The person’s ties to the home country and conditions in the country.
    Soloway argued that Monica has no ties to her home country of Argentina and has not lived there for 11 years. Additionally, Monica had no intention of ever returning to live in Argentina and feared for her safety as an openly gay woman were she forced to live there.

In response, ICE agreed to close the case and submitted a Joint Motion to Administratively Close proceedings directly to Immigration Judge Terry Bain on November 29.

For Monica and Cristina, the move by the government means that they will no longer have a cloud hanging over their future. They will continue to fight for full equality, including a “green card” for Monica based on her legal marriage to a U.S. citizen, but without worrying that the government will destroy their marriage, or tear apart the life they have built over the past three and a half years.

STOP THE DEPORTATIONS – 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.

Press Inquiries to attorney, Lavi Soloway, or
Project Associate, Derek Tripp, at Stop The Deportations-The DOMA Project
Phone 323-599-6915
Email [email protected]

A Look Back At Monica & Cristina In the News

Uniting American Love: Binational Couples Press For End to Deportations,” Gay City News, October 30, 2010

Monica and Cristina: Binational Lesbian Couple in Queens Fights DOMA and Deportation,” Stop The Deportations, October 26, 2010

Hope for Queens Couples’ Immigration Rights After Obama’s Abandoning of Defense of Marriage Act,” NY Daily News, February 26, 2011

DOMA Offers Slim Hope For Same-Sex Bi-National Couples,” UpTown Radio, March 11, 2011

Advocates Urge Delays In Same-Sex Binational Deportation Cases Based On DOMA’s Uncertain Future,” Equality Matters, March 21, 2011

Bi-National Lesbian Couple Can Press US Marriage Claim: In unprecedented move, Immigration Judge adjourns deportation proceeding amidst DOMA litigation,” Gay City News, March 22, 2011

New York Couple Fighting to Stay Together,” Freedom To Marry, March 22, 2011

Monica & Cristina Will Ask Immigration Judge Tuesday to Terminate Deportation Proceedings,” Stop The Deportations, March 21, 2011

Immigration judge suspends deportation of foreign-born gay spouse,” GayAmericaBlog, March 22, 2011

Queens Woman Won’t Be Deported, Judge Says, Until Legal Status Of Same-Sex Marriage Is Clear, Huffington Post, March 23, 2011

Gay woman gets stay of deportation in the midst of DOMA upheaval,” Nerve.com, March 23, 2011

Lesbian U.S. Citizen First to File for her Spouse’s Green Card,” Journal.Us, March 24, 2011

Hope for Binational Lesbian and Gay Couples,” SheWired.com, March 28, 2011

DOMA And Immigration: What’s Next?” WNYC, April 4, 2011

Gay woman in same-sex Queens marriage won’t be deported, judge says ruling depends on pending law,” Daily News, March 23, 2011

Lesbian Couple Fight Deportation Effort,” Passport Magazine, March 24, 2011

US lesbian couple have deportation suspended: A lesbian couple in the US the first couple to successfully halt pending deportation proceedings based upon their marital status,” Pink Paper, March 24, 2011

NY Court Considers Marriage Of Argentine Gay Woman For Citizenship,” On Top Magazine, March 28, 2011

Love May Conquer All in DOMA Challenge Case: In October 2010, A Group of Married, Binational LGBT Couples Came Together to Form Stop the Deportation,” GO MAGAZINE, April 7, 2011

Obama’s Future Win Will Come Too Late,” VIDEO, Pam’s House Blend/FireDogLake, June 9, 2011

Lambda Legal to Immigration: Stop using DOMA to discriminate against married same-sex couples,” The Windy City Times, July 13, 2011

For Queens Lesbian Couple, A New Curve Ball,” Gay City News, July 22, 2011

Queens Gay Couple Fear New Law Will Not Stop Deportation,” Queenslyfe, July 23, 2011

Young Love, Determined to Fight for the Right to Build A Future Together, Despite DOMA

It will be two years this December since I first met my husband.

I am a 22 year-old American citizen. My husband came to this country from Mexico in search of a better, safer life. For the last year and a half we have been living together as a couple with my grandparents, who are in their eighties. During this time we became very close and decided that we wanted to spend our lives together. A few weeks ago we got married in New York, making my husband now legally a part of my family.

My husband came to the United States alone from a small town in Mexico when he was only 16. He was ridiculed and threatened all his life for being effeminate. Even his own family chided him to act more like a man, like his brothers. He felt tremendous pain and confusion because everywhere he turned he was always treated like there was something wrong with him, something that he couldn’t even control. He felt desperate and had no one to turn to for support. He had no way to survive in Mexico. He was rejected by his family and had no choice but to flee. He could see no future. These were extremely dark days for him.

In December 2009 we met at a restaurant where he was working. We hit it off immediately and began seeing each other every few days. We soon became very close and were spending all our free time together. After just a few weeks though, his brother and cousin, with whom he was living, got suspicious. They asked him why he was spending so much time with another man. He tried to pass me off as nothing more than a friend. They didn’t believe it. He woke up one morning to find all of his clothes and belongings thrown in a heap on the living room floor. It was at that time that he was forced to come out to them. That night he was kicked out of his house, put on the street, and disowned by his entire family. His parents told him never to return to Mexico for he was no longer wanted there. They told him that he was the shame of the family and that he should never expect anything from them again.

After hearing of what had happened, my grandparents took him into our home to live with us. We have been living with them ever since. He has become a member of our family. My grandparents love him and treat him like another grandchild. With us he finally knows what it means to feel loved and to be a part of a family. With us he finally gets the love and tenderness he deserves.

And yet, despite the blessings we have and the love we share, I live with the constant fear that one day he could be taken into custody for being an undocumented immigrant. I am filled with disgust and horror when I imagine my husband thrown into a jail or detention center like an animal with nobody there to care for him, nobody there to give him love, nobody there to cook for him and protect him.

We pray that our being legally married will help to protect us and keep us from being separated based on ICE’s new prosecutorial discretion guidelines. He, like so many other immigrants, is a loving human being, contributes to his community, works hard, and poses no risk to public safety. However, we know that there are no guarantees. We put great hope in the administration’s view that all marriages should be treated equally under the law. We hope that in that context, the government will leave us alone and allow us to live our lives in peace until the day comes when the laws have changed and I can sponsor my husband for a green card. There is no home for him in Mexico. There is no life for him there. His life is here. Those who love him are here. With the support of my wonderful grandparents and our extended network of friends and family we will continue to do fight for what is right to make sure that we are not torn apart. Together we can achieve the protection that we deserve.

What You Can Do To Help: One Binational Couple Speaks Out

The DOMA Project’s Stop The Deportations, Separations and Exile campaign needs your help!

If you are in a same sex bi-national relationship, are living in exile, separated, or are in deportation proceedings or living with the risk of deportation due to an expired or expiring visa, we need your story.

For many, we understand that this may seem a lot to ask due to the fear of being identified. However, you do not have to use your full names or provide pictures; your stories will be just as valid without these. Many couples have shared their stories here anonymously.

In order to achieve full equality for all bi-national couples we need a collective voice. The stories already shared on this site are real, powerful and have gained much support but we need to keep up the momentum. Education is needed to raise awareness with the public and the media to show the sheer volume of couples and families living in heartbreaking circumstances. Please consider sharing your story with us.

To couples who have already contributed, please stay in touch, send updates on your situation and, where applicable, any links to stories in the media in which you have been involved that increases awareness of this issue. For many of us, updates will show little to no change in our circumstances, but this in itself is a powerful statement that needs to be made.

Please remember we are not a large organization. We are a small team of volunteers headed by LGBT immigration lawyers who rely on your participation to create awareness and change. Without real stories, building support for our plight and bringing an end to the impact of DOMA on our lives will continue to be a difficult challenge. Together, united, we can bring about positive change.

Eight Years After First Meeting, Sean and Steven Marry and File Green Card Petition, Joining Fight Against DOMA

I am no stranger to injustice. I am black, gay, I came of age at a time when de-segregation had been fought for, and though not complete, had started changing society. Living through this upheaval and becoming well-adjusted as a double minority is not the sum total of my experience.  Coming to terms with being black and gay, I found myself in my fifth decade of life contending with a new identity as half of a binational gay couple.

This story about the newest realization and hurdle that life has thrown at me, and how my husband and I have chosen to fight back.  After a lifetime of learned self-acceptance and personal growth, I have come to find that my smooth coasting through middle age has hit a bump that has got me more than scratching my head.

My name is Sean Brooks. I am 44-years old and I live in New York with my wonderful husband, Steven. I am a musician and a DJ.  While I’m an American citizen, Steven came to the United States in the 1990s when his whole family moved here from Colombia. Our romance has been a whirlwind. I was never one to be in long-term relationships – much less married – but meeting Steven changed all that.

We met online in 2003, becoming friends at first, and started dating some months later.  By 2004 we were serious – were supportive of one another, it was all exciting, I was in love.  We moved in together in 2006, two years into our relationship, something that would have struck me as crazy (too soon!) before it actually happened. But being with Steven has been the most fulfilling and enriching experience of my life.  Every day we continue to live and grow into something more and more wonderful.  We knew we wanted to spend our lives together, though it was a gradual process of understanding how we would do that given the circumstances.

We were married at City Hall shortly after New York legalized same-sex marriage – about twenty of our friends and family were in attendance. Steven was so afraid of being open about our relationship (of being openly gay at all really) that when we started dating he wouldn’t even hold hands with me at a gay bar.  It was amazing to me that we were able to declare our love to one another with his twin brother at our wedding.  He had only come out to his brother and his mother a few months before our wedding. I am now a happily, legally married, gay man in the state of New York.

And this is where the problems start: Now that I am legally married by the state of New York, I started to wonder – for the first time – what does it mean, legally, for us to be married. I had never thought about the “benefits” of being married as relating to me, since I always knew that same-sex marriage was not an option until recently.  As I looked over a list of state vs. federal benefits, something stuck me as funny. Not funny – haha.  But funny in that – bad taste in your mouth – kind of way.  From what I gathered, as long as we lived (and died) in New York, he (or I) could have divorce rights, inheritance rights, and make medical decisions.

But none of that is as important to me as the right of my spouse to immigrate; and as of this writing our marriage means nothing on the federal level.  This got me thinking.  I cannot petition for Steven to have a green card like any other American can do in my situation, so what good is it to know that we are protected by state laws regarding medical decisions and inheritance rights? It makes a mockery of the victory of marriage equality to know that the most powerful government in this country, the federal government in Washington D.C., refuses to recognize our marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act. They would just as soon deport Steven even though we have been together as a couple for seven years and we are legally married.

It seems to me that I have spent my whole life trying to not be a second-class citizen, but that effort has been quietly and insidiously trumped by becoming an “other-class citizen.”  While I haven’t felt “second-class” for decades (thanks Europe for opening my eyes that the world is big), but I have come to the unfortunate realization, once again, that I am still not a first-class citizen. I am not equal to all other Americans for the simple reason that I am gay. If I were, I wouldn’t have to type this. My legal husband would be applying for a green card just as if he were a she. Instead, I get to be reduced to the other-class: he could be taken from me and from our home by my own government. We are legally married, but he’s not able to immigrate. We live in a legal limbo. And why? No one can justify the way DOMA has created this insanely cruel reality for couples like us.

As a black, gay American married to man who is a citizen of Colombia I feel we have no choice but to fight for our rights. We live in historic times that present an important opportunity to raise awareness of this issue. Our President has rejected discrimination against gay couples, and refuses to defend DOMA.  He is also a black man whose parents were not only an inter-racial couple, but also a binational couple, something that is not always noticed.  If there was ever a time to persuade Americans how important it is to protect all LGBT families, including married gay binational couples, surely this is the time.

I have filed a green card petition for Steven and I will fight for my right as an American citizen to have it approved.

Married Lesbian Couple Separated by DOMA and an Ocean

Ana and I “met” in 2008 while we were both participating in an on-line book club.  Although Ana is Portuguese, she currently resides in the United Kingdom. We quickly became friends in the book club and in November of that year, I was fortunate enough to have a business meeting scheduled in London.  It was during that trip that Ana and I met face to face for the first time. Although we considered ourselves to be “just friends” for approximately a year after we met in London, we never went more than 2-3 days without corresponding with each other.  At first it was only by email, but we were soon spending hours on the phone together learning more and more about each other.  We quickly realized that our “friendship” was taking a turn and knew we had to meet again. This time it was in New York, where I live. It was clear to both of us that we were falling in love.  In early 2010, Ana flew over and we spent 4 beautiful days together. It was then that we just knew we were meant to be together forever.

For the last two years one of us has made the long flight from New York to London at least once a month.  Although it has been a tremendous financial burden for both of us, we know that we would suffer, being apart any more than we are already.  Two years after we first met in the book club, on May 6, 2011, Ana and I celebrated our love for each other in front of more than 100 friends and family with a formal commitment ceremony on Long Island, New York.  Then last July, we entered into a legal civil partnership in the United Kingdom, celebrating with Ana’s family, who had flown in from Portugal to be with us on that special day. When New York’s legislators passed the marriage equality bill in June we knew we wanted very much to be married. In August we exchanged wedding vows and became legally married.  Finally, just this past November, I went to the Portuguese consulate in NYC to have our marriage officially recognized in Portugal.  In some sense you might say we have now ‘married’ each other four times.  Our relationship is now recognized on two continents and we have the love and support of our friends and family.

However, we are still apart. We are still viewed as nothing more than legal strangers by my own government.  This is cruel and heartbreaking because it forces us to live a life crossing the Atlantic Ocean never knowing when an immigration officer on one side or the other might stop us from visiting.

We are sharing our story because we believe that we must stand up and tell others about the reality that we are living. I am a New Yorker and I am an American. I expect to be treated the same as all other Americans. I have fallen madly in love with the most wonderful woman, and I do not want to spend precious time apart from her.  We should not have to exhaust ourselves or deplete our savings to spend a few days together each month. We should not have to construct a life of “visiting” each other. No other married couple would ever be expected to do what we are forced to do.  It is overwhelmingly obvious to everyone in our extended community of family and friends whether in the US or abroad that this is cruel.  We find ourselves explaining that although we are married, the US treats us as nothing more than strangers to each other. We see the puzzling looks stare back at us when we explain that we have a recognized civil partnership in the United Kingdom that gives us the same rights as opposite-sex couples when it comes to immigration.  But we want to live in the United States, for many reasons it is not possible for me to relocate to the United Kingdom.

We know that one law, the most horribly named “Defense of Marriage Act”, is the only thing standing between us and our future together in the United States. No one who even says those words “Defense of Marriage” believes any marriage is defended or protected by forbidding the American government from recognizing our marriage and giving us the right to be together. DOMA makes a mockery of love and marriages by keeping us apart. I cannot make this more clear: I do not want to be forced to leave my country, but we cannot build a future together separated by 3,600 miles.  My love for Ana cannot wait. Equality for all lesbian and gay couples cannot wait. We must end the tyranny of DOMA now and allow all LGBT families to live in peace.

I hope those reading our story will see how wrong it is that this government continues to enforce DOMA to keep apart two women in love.  We cannot bring an end to DOMA simply by standing on the sidelines and waiting for it to happen. We must call on our leaders to stop enforcing DOMA, and to allow all lesbian and gay Americans to bring their spouses here now.

Can the U.S. Government Recognize True Love? Married New Yorkers, Brandon and Luke, Join Fight Against DOMA

More Than Just Friends

Luke and I had been best friends for a couple of years when we faced a decision that many gay friends confront: Whether to take our relationship to a romantic level. We soon learned that as a binational couple, we would face even greater challenges.

Luke was the first person I met when I moved to New York from Los Angeles in January 2007. He is South African, and I’m a sucker for a good accent. We clicked instantly. Rarely did I hang out with someone one-on-one and feel comfortable; if there was any lull in the conversation, I felt like it was my fault and my duty to fill it. But hanging out with Luke was effortless. Other friends drifted in and out of my life, but Luke was always there and I could always talk to him. Our lives merged more and more over the first year and a half, despite my moves to that distant region called Brooklyn and our neighbor to the north, Harlem. His friends became my friends and my friends became his. We went to movies and dinner in groups, but more often than not we were meeting in coffee shops and enjoying each other’s company. It was so simple and so… easy.

We grew closer as we talked about everything, called each other out on our ridiculousness, shared our lives and revealed our imperfections with each other. When I came out of the closet, I had no clue how to form friendships with other gay men without making it seem like I was asking them on a date. Half of the time I wasn’t sure myself.  I’ve rarely been sure where I stand with people. And I’ve rarely known what I’ve been looking for. Despite this, my friendship with Luke never seemed to get bogged down with such self-doubt. Even when we seemed to run out of things to say it was oddly comfortable.  Our friendship became extremely valuable to me.

Luke would make a comment and hold my hand. In doing so, I noticed Luke had a way of holding my hand that seemed so loving and nurturing. I started looking at him differently but I was afraid of our friendship changing, or worse, ending.

The tension built when I was away on a work trip in Atlanta.  I was texting back-and-forth with Luke, when our byte-sized conversation hit a lull. That dreadful lull. Then his text came. You know the one.

“Brandon, have you ever thought of us as more than friends?”

I shot back, “Really Luke?? Over text?? While I’m out of town???”

“LOL,” he replied.

I was simply too afraid of our friendship changing, and I told him we would be better off if we did not put it at risk. I made it sound like a very logical and reasonable solution, but still, I was filled with fear. What if we made great friends, but we weren’t compatible as boyfriends? Our friendship would be forever altered. And finally, what if it was true love? What then?

When I returned back to New York, things were different. Everything I was afraid of happening was happening. He would skip out on going to dinner with our group of friends or he would leave early with other friends. He seemed distant. I had never experienced the kind of feelings that overwhelmed me when I sensed him slipping away. I felt a void in my life. I told my therapist and one of my closest friends about our text conversation and how afraid I was of things changing. My therapist said, “When’s the last time you made a good decision based on fear?” I had no response. It was one of the most logical things I’d ever heard. I texted Luke a few days later.

“Have you ever thought of us as more than friends?”

We both LOL’d.

Our first kiss was on my 29th birthday. It was ridiculous how cinematic it was: the two of us desperately trying to get a moment away from our friends the night of my party, finally ducking around a corner as it started to rain. We pulled each other against the side of a building across the street from Sheridan Square and started to kiss. That was more than three years ago.

Our friendship had changed. And nothing collapsed. The ground didn’t open up and swallow us whole. My fear subsided. It turned into a hope that I had never felt before, that sense when you meet someone you can imagine waking up next to and craving a day of doing everything or nothing as long as he is with you.

We already knew so much about each other. We’d seen all of our different moods, unfiltered. He moved in within 6 months. We got a dog, a Dachshund named Andrew. We moved from Harlem to a great apartment in Greenwich Village. We were a family. We started talking about marriage less than a year into our relationship.

We wanted to wait until we could have a big wedding; neither Luke nor I is a man of half-measures. We soon realized it would be years before we would be able to afford the kind of wedding we wanted, but we didn’t want that to stop us.

The day we got our rings, we sat at our dining room table, smiling, alternating glances between them and each other. Andrew was looking up at us, waiting patiently to be fed or played with. There was kind of a healthy blend of shock, fear and excitement between us that was palpable. These days two men marrying can be considered political activism as much as an expression of love and commitment. Neither of us thought that at this point in our lives we would have met the man we wanted to be with for the rest of our lives. For me, there was no question: My best friend made the perfect partner.

I got down on one knee, slipped the ring on Luke’s finger and said “Luke, will you marry me?”

Almost immediately I felt a knot in my stomach. Not because of the question or Luke’s answer (he said yes). I felt like it wasn’t real because it wouldn’t truly be official for all the world to know. It didn’t feel equal. I felt like an imposter in a straight world’s tradition and privilege. I shared these feelings with Luke, who assured me our marriage was just as valid as any other marriage. This was going to be our marriage and our ceremony, he said. We were going to start our own traditions. We understood from the beginning that this decision would cement our commitment to each other. That was the easy part. I was dating my best friend.

For a gay child of divorced parents, a committed marriage can seem like a triumph of will as much as fate. If anyone could make it, I knew we could.

When the economy collapsed, I got laid off. Within a few months, I was able to find a new job but Luke’s business slowed down. So we were tight on money. Our dreams of having a big, gorgeous wedding seemed to be slipping further away. So we opted for the cheapest, er, most affordable wedding in history. With our $20 rings from the glamorous Canal Street, we caught a train up to Milford, CT ($50), obtained marriage licenses ($40), and caught a cab to our friend’s house for the weekend ($10).  During the ceremony, we smiled from ear to ear and didn’t break eye contact while the Mayor of Milford read the gender-neutral wedding vows and Andrew sniffed around City Hall.

We spent the weekend at our friend’s house and watched the movie “Milk” in honor of our wedding, which also happened to be gay pride weekend.

Our first year as a newly married couple has been phenomenal, though not always easy. We’re moving through the same growing pains as every other healthy marriage. Communication, compassion and humility have gotten us through our difficult times, and will continue to do so as we grow together. We have replaced our Canal Street wedding rings with something more appropriate. But our first rings will always have the most sentimental value.

On our first anniversary, New York joined five other states and the District of Columbia ending discrimination against lesbian and gay couples in marriage. We celebrated with thousands of other New Yorkers, knowing that other couples would no longer be forced to travel like refugees to Connecticut or other states to do what all other Americans take for granted. But winning marriage equality in New York, and watching the euphoria on Sunday July 24 as thousands of lesbian and gay couples married across New York state, is a celebration of a job not yet completed. Marriage Equality can never simply mean winning the right to marry in each state, as long as the federal government denies recognition to those marriages.  Each of us, married and celebrating our love and this historic advance, remains unequal. Marriage InEquality will continue until the ruinous and hateful era of DOMA is ended.

And that is how Luke and I decided to embark on a new chapter of our lives together. I will fight for my right to sponsor my husband for a “green card,” a privilege heterosexual Americans take for granted. With President Obama’s recent decision not to defend DOMA and signals from the Department of Homeland Security about protecting LGBT families from being torn apart by deportation, we believe that this is the time to challenge our exclusion from the family-based immigration system that otherwise works reasonably well to keep opposite-sex binational couples together.

We start here today by arguing our case in the court of public opinion. Recently, we joined Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project, and I filed a petition for Luke as my spouse. We know that puts us in a potentially perilous position: unlike an opposite-sex couple my petition will face the insurmountable hurdle of DOMA and unlike all other spouses in our situation, Luke could face deportation if we are not ultimately successful.  We do not want to be forced into exile and we cannot imagine life apart. This means we might have no option but to fight this in the courts and in Congress like so many thousands of gay binational couples who have raised the profile of this inhumane and cruel discrimination.  Whatever the short-term challenges, we will not allow ourselves to be torn apart by my government.

For now, I’m determined not to let fears about our uncertain future dominate my thoughts. I am not worrying about being forced to leave our home and lives we’ve built in New York. I’m not thinking about saying goodbye to friends and family, or how we’d ever re-build new lives for ourselves half-way across the world in South Africa. I cannot allow myself to think of what would happen if Luke was deported. Instead, I’m trying to channel the uncertainty into the sort of optimism I felt when President Obama was elected: That this is a country in which we judge others by the content of their character. We should not hold anyone back because of who they are or who they love.  And, most importantly for us, in the end, we must take on this battle.  We will not bring about change by standing on the sidelines.

Can a nation’s immigration laws recognize something as simple as true love? We think so. If change comes, Luke will truly be able to live his life to its fullest potential with his husband and best friend. Which will make it all the more possible to take that honeymoon we have been dreaming of.

GLAAD Launches Call To Action: Tell President Obama to Stop The DOMA Deportations, Enforce His Promised LGBT-Inclusive Guidelines and Keep Brian & Anton Together

Sign the petition to President Obama today. Time is running out for Brian & Anton. Share this link with your friends. We must stop this deportation!

DHS Admits The Administration Needs to Provide “Additional Training” To Ensure New Guidelines Are Properly Applied. Will It Come In Time For Brian & Anton?

See “Officials Deny Deportation Reprieve for Gay Binational Couple,” The Advocate, Friday October 6, 2011.

ICE Denies Brian & Anton’s Request for Deferred Action, Refuses to Stop the Deportation – Obama Administration New LGBT-Inclusive Policy Fails to Stop DOMA Deportation

Philadelphia Deportation Officers Deny Request By Gay Binational Couple For “Deferred Action”

ICE Refuses to Apply New Obama Administration Deportation Guidelines to Stop “DOMA Deportation” of Gay Indonesian Married to U.S. Citizen

In a First Test of New Deportation Policy Meant to Set Aside Low Priority Cases, Including for LGBT Families, the Obama Administration Fails to Deliver

PHILADELPHIA, OCTOBER 7, 2011 – The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Philadelphia has refused to stop the deportation that would separate Anton Tanumihardja, an Indonesian citizen, from his American husband, Brian Andersen, despite new guidelines issued by the Obama administration that are intended to set aside all low-priority deportation cases and keep all families together – including gay and lesbian couples.

Specifically, ICE rejected their request for “deferred action,” a remedy that allows individuals meeting specific criteria to stay in the country indefinitely, even though they are technically deportable. At a meeting today with a Philadelphia deportation officer, Anton was told that unless there was some intervention in his case that reversed this decision, he would face deportation by January.

Brian and Anton at home in Philadelphia earlier this year

Brian and Anton at home in Philadelphia earlier this year

In its decision, ICE said only that they denied the request because there was nothing “extraordinary” about their case. The Field Office Director did not explain how he arrived at this decision or why he would only grant deferred action to “extraordinary cases.” ICE did not explain why they were not applying the guidelines set forth on June 19 by ICE Director John Morton.  ICE made no mention of the August 18 letter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announcing the administration’s intent to conduct a system-wide review to ensure that all low-priority deportation cases were set aside, and made no mention of the DHS clarification on that day that LGBT families are included in the guidelines.

Statement from Lavi Soloway, lawyer for Anton Tanumihardja & Brian Andersen, and founder of Stop The Deportations:

“We are shocked and disappointed that ICE has failed to implement the guidelines set forth by this administration.  The Obama administration made a commitment to stop deportations that would tear apart families, including gay and lesbian couples, and yet in its decision the ICE office in Philadelphia is failing to make good on that commitment. The administration must take immediate action to ensure that the new deportation policy is being implemented fairly and consistently by ICE deportation officers in local offices, or this policy announcement is meaningless.”

Anton Tanumihardja satisfies numerous criteria set forth by the administration in its prosecutorial discretion guidelines: (1) he has strong ties to Philadelphia which has been his home for the past 9 years; (2) he is a hard working and respected member of his community; (3) ever since fleeing Indonesia, he has pursued a legal immigration process that was ultimately unsuccessful; (4) he is married to his U.S. citizen spouse, Brian Anderson, and has strong family relationships to his spouse and his spouse’s family; (5) he has no ties to Indonesia, a country he fled because of persecution due to his identity as a gay man, Christian and an ethnic Chinese person. The guidelines set forth by DHS also require ICE to consider conditions in the country to which one (i.e., Anton) would be deported.  Anton cannot return to Indonesia and live safely; furthermore, there is no way that his husband, Brian, could move there, nor any way they could safely or legally live there as a legally married gay couple.  All these conditions are laid out in the administration’s prosecutorial discretion guidelines. Despite meeting these conditions, and despite the administration’s recent confirmation that those guidelines would be applied to gay and lesbian couples, Anton now faces the reality of deportation by January.

Brian and Anton’s case is the first test of the administration’s commitment to stop deportations involving same-sex binational couples since the August 18 announcement by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.  It is the first time that the spouse of a gay American, with a final removal order, has requested prosecutorial discretion under the new guidelines.

“The Obama administration’s new policy has failed to protect Anton and Brian from deportation.  ICE’s determination to deport Anton regardless of the new guidelines demonstrates that the administration has not instructed ICE deportation officers on the implementation of the LGBT-inclusive prosecutorial discretion guidelines for an individual with a final order of removal,” said Lavi Soloway. “Today’s decision is a devastating setback for this couple, and should be of great concern to everyone, including the Obama administration, as they work to ensure that we have a fair and humane deportation policy.”

For more information on the campaign to help couples like Brian & Anton, please see www.StopTheDeportations.com.

Press Contacts: Lavi Soloway, Lawyer/Founder, Stop the Deportations
(323) 599-6915
[email protected]

Justin Ward
Media Field Strategist
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
(917) 727-4585
[email protected]

Background of this Case

Anton and Brian on the wedding day in June

Anton had previously exhausted all his appeals and recently received a final denial of his last appeal. Because Anton has a “final order of removal,” ICE has the power to put him on a plane and deport him at any time.  The request for deferred action was his final hope for a halt to deportation.

Earlier this year, Brian and Anton faced the cruel coincidence of a deportation scheduled for Valentine’s Day. Anton, with his bags packed and his one-way plane ticket in hand, was prepared to follow ICE’s instructions: board a plane voluntarily on February 14 or be taken into custody and forcibly deported, even though he knew that by boarding that plane he would be separated from Brian for at least ten years. Stop The Deportations, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and other LGBT groups mounted an emergency advocacy with the support of U.S. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) and Philadelphia Congressman Robert Brady (D-PA) to raise the profile of the case and persuade ICE to reconsider the case.

Just three hours before Anton’s flight to Jakarta was scheduled to take off, ICE finally agreed to postpone the deportation. Anton was put under an Order of Supervision and was not held in ICE custody. Officially, ICE allowed Anton to stay until a final decision was made by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) on a Motion to Reopen that had been filed in 2010. That Motion was denied on May 31, 2011. A request this summer that DHS join a second Motion to Reopen the case failed when DHS declined to do so. The BIA can still re-open the case on its own decision, but it rarely does so.

On June 12, Brian and Anton married in Washington, D.C., in a ceremony across the street from the White House. Brian filed a green card petition for Anton and will continue to advocate tirelessly for his right to sponsor Anton to stay with him in this country as his spouse.

STOP THE DEPORTATIONS – 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 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.


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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.