Family Celebrates! San Jose Lesbian Couple Receives Green Card, UK Spouse Can Finally Visit Her Children Abroad
On July 15, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card to U.K. citizen, Karin Bogliolo, 72, based on her marriage to U.S. citizen Judy Rickard, 65, making Karin the third gay immigrant in U.S. history to become a lawful permanent resident on the basis of a same-sex marriage.
Karin and Judy attended their green card interview in September, 2012 with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, co-founder of The DOMA Project, who proceeded to persuade the USCIS office in San Jose to put their case on hold for another ten months so that it would be approved immediately after the Supreme Court ruling.
Shortly after being approved, Karin’s green card arrived in the mail – a final physical proof that Judy and Karin had won their fight to remain together as a family in the U.S. Karin Bogliolo can now live in the U.S. with her wife Judy Rickard without fear of separation, and can also travel to visit her children abroad. At last, Karin and Judy celebrate their victory, knowing that their marriage was treated equally under the law.
Lesbian Couple in San Jose, CA Receives The Third Marriage-Based Green Card After Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA
USCIS Issues Green Card to U.K. Spouse of Award-Winning Activist and U.S. Citizen
On July 15, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card to U.K. citizen, Karin Bogliolo, 72, based on her marriage to U.S. citizen Judy Rickard, 65, making Karin the third gay immigrant in U.S. history to become a lawful permanent resident on the basis of a same-sex marriage.
Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo
Statement by Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:
“The issuance of this green card to Karin Bogliolo is the culmination of a two-decade grassroots movement in which lesbian and gay Americans fought for the right to sponsor the person that they love for permanent resident status in the United States.
Lesbian and gay binational couples and their families celebrated the Fourth of July this year with the Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor fresh in their minds: having achieved freedom from a cruel law that has torn apart loving, committed couples, forced lesbian and gay Americans into exile to be with the person they love and has resulted in the unconscionable deportation of partners and spouses of lesbian and gay Americans. The long nightmare is over.
In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy held that, ‘[DOMA] tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage… And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.’
By issuing a green card to Karin on the basis of her marriage to Judy, the U.S. government is finally recognizing the inherent dignity of this family, and giving tangible meaning to Justice Kennedy’s ruling.”
Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their marriage in January 2012 to bring an end to their separation. Because the Federal Government previously refused to recognize their marriage, Judy was forced to take an early retirement and spend six months of each year outside the U.S. to be with Karin, due to the limitations of Karin’s tourist visa.
Judy and Karin met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the deal. On Valentine’s Day in 2007 they became domestic partners, and in April, 2011 they married in Vermont before a justice of the peace.
Judy and Karin celebrating their marriage with wedding cake in Vermont, April 6, 2011
Judy recalls their celebration in Vermont writing on The DOMA Project website:
“All we could think of then was to get married soon – after being told for years that getting married would cause problems for Karin every time she returned from the United Kingdom on a visitor visa… For me, what matters is Karin. I know she thinks I am what matters. It’s not even about our rings, the paper, the ceremony. We have lived it for years and we know it just by looking in each others’ eyes… Of course Karin and I have considered ourselves ‘married’ all the time we have been together, even before the ceremony and formal paperwork. We were married in our hearts when we had to be separated for months at a time while she dutifully obeyed the rules imposed on temporary visitors and returned to England after visiting me in California.”
Judy and Karin describe their experience as “love exiles.” They were not considered married in the eyes of U.S. government and were not permitted to live together as a family in the U.S.
“We didn’t have the kind of marriage that would satisfy Uncle Sam and so we had to follow those general guidelines for visitors. We were driven out of the U.S. for six months at a time, unable to return until we were sure Karin would be permitted to visit again. We could not live like this any more. In retirement, we yearn for tranquility and stability. We want to be left alone to enjoy our golden years together and take care of each other.”
Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo at the Torn Apart book launch party in Hollywood, May, 2011
The Vermont ceremony was a deciding moment for Judy and Karin, as they filed for a green card based on their marriage and stood up for every binational same-sex couple demanding equality under the law.
Judy is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law (Findhorn Press, 2011), a collection of stories about the experiences of binational same-sex couples under DOMA. Inspired by her work on the book and her own personal experience, she and Karin joined The DOMA Project. Through the extraordinary power of sharing personal stories of lesbian and gay couples and their families, Judy and Karin embodied the injustices of DOMA in our national dialogue on marriage equality and gave a voice to the need for social justice.
Challenging DOMA: Judy and Karin attended a green card interview in September 2012
For years, Judy and Karin told their story to anyone who would listen: from grocery store clerks and neighbors to their elected officials. This video of Judy and Karin is part of the series of short films called ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Brynn Gelbard and The DeVote Campaign in collaboration with The DOMA Project.
For her efforts as an immigration reformer, Judy Rickard was honored as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change by the White House in March this year on the same day that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Marriage Equality cases. Judy and Karin have fought tirelessly for the simple right to grow old together as a married couple. Karin says it best in the closing frames of the “Love Stories” video of them:
“I want to be with my partner: do the cooking, see friends, and I would love that for all the couples like us. All they want is just to live a life, a happy family life, people who have children, people who’ve been together maybe twenty-thirty years. We don’t want anything more, or special. Just, you know, what everybody else has.”
Judy and Karin attended a “green card” interview with USCIS on September 7, 2012. The interviewing officer put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, rather than issuing a denial. To their credit, USCIS San Jose Field Office conducted a full and thorough “green card” interview of Judy and Karin, and treated them like all other couples. Then, they held the file for ten months, defying specific guidance from the Obama administration that green card petitions filed by same-sex couples must be denied on the basis of DOMA in the normal order of business.
Karin Bogliolo and Judy Rickard featured in short film, “Love Stories”
Speaking from their home in San Jose, California, Judy and Karin reacted to the joyful news of their victory, as they learned that the green card they had long fought for was finally granted. Karin, speaking through happy tears, said:
“At last, after so many years of struggle, huge expense, fear, and separation I can at last believe I am home. I have a home. I can believe I have a home. I am no longer afraid of being separated from the person I love most. At last I feel we can grow old together.”
Next on her agenda? A visit with her wife to their family in Europe that they haven’t been able to visit for nearly three years.
“We feel vindicated!” Judy smiled.
“With DOMA defeated and this green card issued, we can celebrate that we are now, finally, being treated as equal under the law. As of today, I can proudly say that my government recognizes our marriage is as valid as any other marriage. Our love has triumphed over hatred and bigotry. It’s been a long, hard fight to be together and stay together legally and safely. This fight is for us and every LGBT family torn apart, pushed into exile or living in fear of separation. With DOMA gone, we need to get back to work with our allies in other communities to create a fair and humane immigration system that protects all families. Thanks to all who have helped us win our battle.”
Judy and Karin will remain active in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that policies are in place to protect all families.
Judy and Karin in front of the White House after Judy spoke on a panel and met with President Obama in the Oval Office as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change for Immigration Reform, March 26, 2013
Just last month, on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for all purposes including immigration benefits, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.
Judy and Karin follow in the footsteps of several DOMA Project couples, in Florida and Colorado, in Los Angeles and Toronto. Just two days after the Supreme Court decision that struck down DOMA, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another gay couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Five days after the Supreme Court decision, Cathy Davis was granted a green card, becoming the first immigrant to become a permanent resident through her same-sex marriage to Catriona Dowling of Colorado. A second “stand alone” green card petition was also approved for Tom Smeraldo, a gay American living in forced exile in Canada with his Venezuelan husband, Emilio Ojeda. They left the U.S. six years ago to avoid the deportation of Ojeda to Venezuela. Additionally, the second green card was granted on July 12 to Shaun Stent, based on his marriage to John Catuara, residing in Los Angeles.
Judy and Karin in front of the Supreme Court during the oral arguments in Windsor v. U.S., March 27, 2013
Since it was founded in 2010 by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, The DOMA Project has filed almost 100 green card petitions for same-sex couples affected by DOMA. USCIS has announced that it will soon issue guidance for all DOMA-impacted immigration cases. The DOMA Project is working closely with members of Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that all petitions and applications filed by lesbian and gay couples are processed as quickly as possible.
Judy & Karin: Lesbian Golden Girls Fight DOMA, Argue for LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform to Be Together
(cross posted from The Advocate)
Karin and Judy are two of approximately 35,000 binational same-sex couples living in America. They met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the seal. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, they became domestic partners, and in March 2011 they married in snowy Vermont before a justice of the peace and the staff of their bed-and-breakfast, who were so moved watching these gushing grannies tie the knot that they bought them flowers and champagne and treated them to dinner at the most romantic restaurant in town.
When Judy and Karin returned to Northern California, on cloud nine after their whirlwind wedding adventure, they were not content to sit idly by while the tide of acceptance and equality slowly gravitated in their favor. President Obama had only just announced that his administration would no longer defend DOMA in court because he determined it to be unconstitutional. With that being the case, gay and lesbian Americans should have become eligible to petition for green cards for their foreign-born spouses. The White House made no provisions to ensure that this was possible, however, and has continued to enforce DOMA. As retirees whose simple wish is to enjoy their golden years together without fear of being torn apart or having to expatriate, Judy and Karin began publicizing the real-life struggles of same-sex binational couples who are fighting for the right to be together in this country and who need the president to protect them now.
They also joined the DOMA Project and became one of the first legally married same-sex, binational couples to hold the president to his word by applying for a green card. Unlike many other gay and lesbian spouses, whose petitions are still often flat-out denied, Judy and Karin were granted a green card interview, where they presented evidence of their genuine, long-standing relationship, just as any opposite-sex binational couple gets the opportunity to do. The immigration officer was very supportive and complimentary of their more-than-ample proof. But without direct orders from the president, and with DOMA still in place, their green card petition could not be approved. Instead, their case was held for further review while the government considered their request not to decide their petition until the Supreme Court or Congress determines the fate of DOMA.
For as long as Judy’s application for Karin is on hold, Karin can legally remain in the United States, but she is a prisoner here, unable to leave the country without likely being barred from returning. And this is why it was impossible for them to attend Michael and Shirley’s Scottish wedding.
The bride and groom, of course, understood and are so proud of Mum 1 and Mom 2 for all the work they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made while fighting for equality. Still, they think it’s absurd that such an inhumane law remains on the books in America, of all places. They think it’s outrageous that because of DOMA, Karin was detained in an immigration cell after flying into San Francisco International Airport, where she was interrogated for hours without water or the ability to make a phone call while Judy waited, terrified, not knowing what was happening to her wife. And they think it’s unfair that Judy then had to take early retirement to ensure that she and Karin could be together wherever they were, especially after immigration officials warned Karin that she was visiting this country too often and that she would have to leave indefinitely.
So often, the marriage equality movement focuses on paving the way for loving spouses who have their whole lives ahead of them. On this Valentine’s Day, which is also the anniversary of Judy and Karin’s domestic partnership, we are reminded that couples of all backgrounds and ages as well as their extended families are directly affected by DOMA’s discriminatory and destructive consequences and will continue to be until this unjust law is overturned. And when it is, it will be fair to say that one of the true inspirations for its demise were a couple of rambunctious grannies — or, as Judy lovingly says, “Golden Girls” — who made use of retirement by relentlessly fighting for equality.
BRYNN GELBARD, a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker, started The DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. You can follow her on Twitter @BrynnGelbard.
LAVI SOLOWAY, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, launched The DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples, in 2010. Keep up with The DOMA Project on Facebook & Twitter @GayBinationals.
JUDY RICKARD is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, 2011, Findhorn Press.
Going to Our Green Card Interview: Married Lesbian Couple in San Jose, California Will Prove Their Marriage is “Real” and Fight for Legal “Recognition”
We should be thrilled! We are finally meeting with our local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in San Jose, California for our long-awaited, much anticipated, green card interview. This is a big moment for us, perhaps more so because, well let’s face it, green card interviews are, and should be, just a routine matter for a married couple like us. After all we’ve been through together since we committed to each other in 2006, we share everything in our lives, and we are as married as any couple. And, more than most, we have certainly fought for this marriage. More than 250,000 Americans sponsor their spouses for green cards and attend these interviews each year. It is our time.
While we should be excited, we are of very mixed emotions as we near the date of the interview. It isn’t much fun preparing to hear an immigration officer tell you that your marriage counts for nothing, that your marriage certificate is meaningless, that your love and commitment are irrelevant, and finally that your country doesn’t want your wife. We know that rejection here means that Karin loses her right to stay in the United States. We won’t go down without a fight!
When we received the official notice of the interview date (Friday, September 7, 2012), enclosed in the same envelope was a helpful list of suggested documents to bring to the interview. It’s a long list, and it’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like a number, not a person. Birth certificate, check. Passport, check. Marriage license, check. Domestic partner papers, check. Bank statements, check. Three years of taxes with W-2s, check, and more. Yuck! And that’s for me – Karin has her own list of things to bring. We are also putting together a photo album showing the life that we have built and shared together since we committed to each other in 2006. We have added in a few press clippings to remind the officer that we have been involved in a very public advocacy effort to fight for the right just to have this interview in the first place!
I try to remain optimistic, knowing that working together with The DOMA Project and with many other binational couples, we have brought ourselves just a little closer to being treated equally, like real, living and breathing human beings. After writing Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law (Findhorn Press, 2011), I became more convinced than ever of the extraordinary power that we all have to tell our stories and make our voices heard. Not only can change only come about when we confront and engage the system that is shutting us out, if we remain passive, if we simply wait for change to come, it never will. With this in mind, I am hopeful. And Karin and I so appreciate all those who have shared their stories and joined this fight.
However, I have to admit that I can’t help but feel dehumanized by the oxymoronic task of proving that we are spouses in a real bona fide marital relationship to a government official whose marching orders are not to “recognize” our marriage. Certainly, this officer will recognize it immediately for exactly what it is: a marriage of two loving people, who want to spend the rest of their lives together, just like all other marriages. So there’s the weird reality of not “recognizing” what the eye can so clearly see. The United States government has a way of making me feel icky and I don’t like it. I don’t look forward to being told that my life and my wife don’t measure up, that we are legal strangers to each other in spite of our marriage and that we don’t get 100% of the rights that we should have, even though I pay 100% of the taxes and have 100% of the responsibilities all other American spouses have. It’s not fair and I resent it. And yet, I am looking forward to being in that room and telling my side of the story. This is the first step toward completing a process we hope will eventually result in Karin receiving a green card; and it is what we have been fighting for all these years.
One thing that surprised me was how sweet it was to see the photos Karin was assembling for the meeting. We were told to bring a few photos to show that we knew each other, were involved with each other, that sort of thing. Oh, and that we are married. I am usually not demonstrative, sentimental, that way, but the pictures were a great reminder of what is really at stake here! I have to admit, I teared up seeing pictures of us getting married and celebrating, and also seeing family and friends who shared our joy and are no longer with us. Bittersweet for sure.
I remember how I felt when we decided to marry. It was heady! We had been closely following the efforts of The DOMA Project which started filing green card petitions for gay couples in the summer of 2010. In March 2011, after the President announced that he was no longer defending DOMA, there were a few days filled with media reports about what turned out to be a short-lived “abeyance” that local USCIS offices in Baltimore and Washington, DC had implemented for DOMA-related green card marriage petitions. We took that as a positive development and decided to take the step of getting married. We found a B & B, the town clerk and a justice of the peace in Vermont, then got plane tickets and a rental car. We chose Vermont because the wait from license to marriage was only one day, so we could save money over getting married in the other states with a three-day wait. How romantic, eh? Plus after waiting for so many years to finally push the envelope and fight for that green card, we knew that we wanted to be a part of this battle to the end. Around that time we were interviewed by Thomas Roberts on MSNBC and we told him on national television that we had just run off and got married in Vermont. It was important for us to get the message across that we were not going to simply wait for equality to happen, we were going to make it happen.
We laugh now to think of our exploit – rushing to Vermont, eloping, when it looked like things were loosening up for same-sex binational couples. All we could think of then was to get married soon – after being told for years that getting married would cause problems for Karin every time she returned from the United Kingdom on a visitor visa. That all came rushing back to me when I saw us with that slice of cake. When you think of marriage, you can get caught up in money, trappings, things that don’t matter. For me, what matters is Karin. I know she thinks I am what matters. It’s not even about our rings, the paper, the ceremony. We have lived it for years and we know it just by looking in each others’ eyes. Yet getting married in a state where we had never been, with four people there that we had never met, and a stale slice of cake was perfect for us. We knew we were married, and had been. This just made it one step more legal, and soon our collective persistence, demanding full recognition of our marriages will bring an end to DOMA and the catastrophic impact it has had for so many gay and lesbian couples whose families have been torn apart and whose marriages have been destroyed.
Of course Karin and I have considered ourselves “married” all the time we have been together, even before ceremony and formal paperwork. We were married in our hearts when we had to be separated for months at a time while she dutifully obeyed the rules imposed on temporary visitors and returned to England after visiting me in California. She lead her life there while I worked, until one day it just was too much for us. After a nine-month separation, I took early retirement so that Karin and I could be together both in and out of America. It was sad to have my two wonderful retirement parties without her; it was very difficult to do that without my wife. Soon after we reunited in Canada and spent weeks traveling there before we successfully re-entered the U.S. in North Dakota in the summer of 2009.
Later that year and the following years when we were forced to be out of the country together, living as “love exiles,” we were married in our hearts. We didn’t have the kind of marriage that would satisfy Uncle Sam and so we had to follow those general guidelines for visitors: spending six months (if we were lucky) together in America, and six months in exile somewhere in the world. Of course it’s wonderful and exciting and amazing to spend months in another country. We had wonderful family visits and fascinating explorations of Scotland, England, France, Spain and Andorra. But we want to be home together. Like any other couple, we wanted to plan our own trips, to travel and see the world, and to return home when we wanted, but instead we were being forced into an artificial timetable by my own government. We were driven out of the U.S. for six months at a time, unable to return until we were sure Karin would be permitted to visit again. We will not live like this any more. In retirement, we yearn for tranquility and stability. We want to be left alone to enjoy our golden years together and take care of each other.
Karin continues to work on our photo album for the green card interview. I smile and laugh when I see that goofy picture of us sharing a slice of cake from a diner in Vermont that we took to the justice of the peace as our wedding cake. Plastic forks and a paper plate! No napkin… I cringe, but then grin, when I see myself wearing a flower headpiece and cutting a multi-tiered wedding cake for our tea party celebration September 29, 2007 for our domestic partnership. So far the pictures of us smashing cake into each others’ faces from the February 14, 2007 domestic partnership event our local LGBT Center held have not surfaced. I think I’m glad for that.
So Karin and I are legally both domestic partners and married spouses, but still we have to cope with the problems caused by Defense of Marriage Act. I try to hold onto my faith in America but it is harder to see the good when so much bad happens to people like us. Husbands fear being torn apart, wives too – and the families with children. It breaks my heart, bruises my soul.
Our immigration lawyer, Lavi Soloway—the architect of this brilliant strategy to confront DOMA and hold government agencies accountable for the harm they cause LGBT families—will attend the green card interview with us. We are so grateful for his counsel and support, his insistence that we empower ourselves, assume our own equality, and, of course, for his innovative legal strategies.
Congressman Mike Honda has been a wonderful ally – going to bat for us this summer by requesting that USCIS hold our case in abeyance before the interview on the grounds that DOMA would be soon resolved by the Supreme Court (USCIS has so far refused to do so). We are thankful for his staff’s dedication to this issue as we again make formal requests for our green card case to be put on hold, with a United States Supreme Court decision expected nine months from now, perhaps sooner.
We are grateful for the support, hard work and creative strategies developed and implemented by Stop the Deportations, Separation and Exiles: The DOMA Project. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway created this campaign to focus like a laser on the impact of DOMA on same-sex binational couples, and our interview is evidence of the incremental success they have achieved. We are lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Brynn Gelbard of the DeVote Campaign whose passion and energy for telling the stories of same-sex binational couples is boundless. We are so thankful for the broad community of binational couples and the organizations that help keep a focus on this issue, including Out4Immigration, Immigration Equality, Love Exiles Foundation and United by Love Portrait Project. Finally, Karin and I will never forget the support and encouragement of Elizabeth Gilbert, a strong ally and the reason I wrote the book that needed writing.
Congressman Mike Honda Speaks Out in Support of DOMA Project Participants Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo
Congressman Mike Honda speaks out in support of DOMA Project participants Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo. Click on the video below to watch Congressman Mike Honda’s statement in support of Judy and Karin.
Click on video below to watch Congressman Mike Honda’s statement in support of Judy and Karin.
LISTEN: NPR Interview with Judy Rickard and Lavi Soloway on the Front Lines of the Fight Against DOMA
“We were at a point in the summer of 2010, I really felt that if couples started to tell their stories and didn’t take “no” for an answer but insisted on holding the Immigration Service accountable, requiring the Immigration Service to actually put in writing that it was going to discriminate against them solely because they were gay, that we could begin a dialogue with the government and offer solutions, offer ways to stop families from being torn apart. We were very successful in the deportation context, and there were several high profile cases involving lesbian and gay couples that would have been torn apart by deportation and the Obama administration stepped in and stopped that from happening. Now we are making the same arguments. You believe this law is unconstitutional. You believe also that you have to continue to enforce it so you cannot approve these cases at this time, but you have a third way: to treat each couple with dignity and respect to treat them like every other couple and to withhold a final decision on their case if it cannot be approved and put it in writing that the only reason it is not being approved is the Defense of Marriage Act, and prepare for a post-DOMA universe where we are all equal under the law.
We are chipping away [at DOMA] because we are forcing an immigration office in San Jose, or an immigration office in Albany, New York to sit down with a gay couple and look at them eye-to-eye and talk to them about their finances, their cohabitation, and their life together and make a record that this is a real marriage. Today those cases cannot be approved, but we never had those interviews before and we are starting to have them. We never had these conversations before and we are starting to have them. If we don’t step up, if we sit back and wait for something to happen, then I think we are making a mistake, we are treating our own civil rights like a spectator sport. I think you have to roll up your sleeves, and you have to get in there.” – Lavi Soloway
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.
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.
Join Us This Saturday May 14 at Noon In Hollywood for the “United By Love, Divided By Law” Portrait Project
For more information go to United By Love, Divided By Law.
Readers of this site may recall that earlier this year Judy Rickard, 63, and Karin Bogliolo, 70, tireless advocates for equality for lesbian and gay binational couples, recorded this video for the We Give a Damn Campaign. Last week they appeared with MSNBC host, Thomas Roberts, to talk about the book and to reveal for the first time, that they had recently gone to Vermont and married. As a married lesbian couple, Judy and Karin face discrimination caused by DOMA and exclusion from US immigration laws. Until DOMA is repealed or Uniting American Families Act becomes law, they will be forced to fight for every moment together. See also, “Same Sex Couples Still Awaiting Immigration Reform,” Feet in Two Worlds, January 7, 2011.
Now with Judy’s book, Torn Apart, officially launched, they have been doing many public events to educate audiences of the ways in which we can end discrimination that separates or forces in to exile so many binational couples. (Note all proceeds from the sale of Torn Apart benefit non-profit organizations fighting for immigration equality for lesbian and gay binational couples).