Rick & Gonzalo: Same-Day Green Card Approval for Married Gay Couple in San Francisco, Just Hours After Interview
In 2012, after years of fighting DOMA as a binational couple from Argentina and San Francisco, Gonzalo proposed to Rick with two dozen beautiful red roses, along with chocolate, a large red heart, and a card that said, “You are the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. Will you marry me?!” Rick cried tears of joy. Yes, he said.
Rick and Gonzalo were married in 2013: they called the New York Blizzard of 2013 the icing on their wedding cake. It was then that Rick and Gonzalo joined the other binational couples with The DOMA Project and put their faith in The DOMA Project’s ground-breaking strategy to fight the Defense of Marriage Act by filing for their green card even when their case was not yet approvable.
In March 2013, Rick filed a green card petition for Gonzalo, just like any other American citizen would do for his foreign-born spouse.
Today, as Rick and Gonzalo attended their marriage-based green card interview, their attorney Lavi Soloway‘s eyes welled up with “happy tears” as they presented the evidence of their relationship: the interview was the first one that he had attended with a married gay couple since the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, a historic milestone in a twenty-year career as an immigration lawyer working with LGBT families.
The USCIS officer, as expected, treated Rick and Gonzalo exactly as she would have treated any other married couple. She noted the historical nature of the event, but proceeded to review the evidence of their relationship and their marriage thoroughly.
Just five hours after the interview, Rick and Gonzalo learned that their green card case was granted in record time. USCIS notified their attorney by e-mail and he called to relay the unexpectedly fast decision.
Today Rick and Gonzalo were treated as though DOMA never existed. After more than five years spent traveling between Buenos Aires and San Francisco and often separated for long periods by U.S. immigration law, they finally have the green light to build a future together here.
This is what equality looks like!
(VIDEO) Married Gay Couple Scheduled For Green Card Interview in New York, One Day Before Supreme Court Rules on DOMA
In 1996, Andres received the highest rank that a Mormon missionary could achieve because he was an expert on promoting the Proclamation of the Family, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Now, he is on another mission — to educate people on the different types of families, rooted in love and all deserving of equality, including the right for his husband, Enzo, to sponsor him for a green card, like any other binational couple in the United States.
(Enzo/U.S./Argentina — Andres/Uruguay) — Brooklyn, NY.
On Tuesday June 25, Enzo and Andres were scheduled to attend their green card interview in New York, one day before the Supreme Court will rule on DOMA. The USCIS decided to postpone the interview until after the Court rules.
The video is part of the collaborative series, ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Lavi Soloway and Brynn Gelbard for The DOMA Project and the DeVote Campaign.
Christina & Eve: U.S. Navy Veteran Defies DOMA, Petitions for Green Card to Keep her Family Together
My name is Christina. I’m a veteran, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife. My wife’s name is Eve and I worry about our future every day. This is our story.
During the summer of 2006, I was a newly out of the U.S. Navy after nearly 12 years of service. I was also happily single. I was just taking off my sea legs and finding my way in the civilian world when I met Eve on my birthday at a neighborhood bar called The Cubbyhole in New York City. Our first conversation was intriguing and I was immediately drawn to her. I tried my best pickup lines, but they didn’t work. So, I followed her on the subway heading uptown at the end of the night. After asking her to dinner what seemed like a hundred times, she repeated “no” but she suggested we exchange phone numbers. She blew me a kiss and got off the train, disappearing into the night. When I got home that night, I thought, “well that’s that.”
But it wasn’t. Turns out I met my future wife that night.
Eve sent me a random text message a few weeks after we first met and we started seeing each other shortly thereafter. Old-fashioned dates turned into sleepovers and soon I found myself spending every free moment I had with her. We fell in love. It was a love I had never experienced with anyone else.
We moved in together about a year into our relationship and made our house a home. My family warmed up to her quickly and I warmed up to her friends in the U.K. on one of our visits. We integrated our lives together into one big family.
Eve, who came here from the U.K. was busy getting into different projects and building a name for herself in the film industry. She’s a really excellent sound designer by specialty, but also an amazing photographer and cinematographer. She can shoot, edit, and compose beautiful music – basically she can do everything associated with making a film. Eve’s ambition to become an acclaimed filmmaker.
As for me, I went back to college full time in order to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. I ended up returning to my biggest passion – journalism. After my graduation, I went to work as a field producer for the 24-hour news station NY1. I’ve worked in the field ever since.
Now, we also work together on documentaries, combining Eve’s artistry and my skills at storytelling.
When New York state signed same-sex marriage into law in 2011, it was very joyous news for us, but we didn’t get married right away. Eve was concerned that marriage would possibly compromise her immigration status non-immigrant visa holder. I wanted to marry her ever since our first anniversary of being together. I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but I also didn’t want to make things difficult for her.
However, this year, after seeking legal guidance, we decided that our love could not wait any longer. On January 10th, 2013 we decided to say I do. That day at the City Clerk’s office in lower Manhattan was one of the happiest days of my life. Just looking into Eve’s beautiful eyes as we exchanged vows was so amazing. This woman that I’ve loved all these years is now my wife.
But the honeymoon was over quickly as we realized that there were more hurdles ahead. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a bill signed into law in the wee hours of the morning on September 21, 1996, prevents the U.S. federal government from granting gay and lesbian married couples over 1,000 federal marriage-based benefits. One of those benefits is the ability to sponsor a foreign spouse for permanent residency.
Now, seven years since we first met, we Eve and I continue to grow as a couple. We both have jobs here in New York City. Like most families, our biggest concern should be raising our X-year-old son, Alexander. We want to provide a stable and happy future for Alexander. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) makes that difficult as our continued presence in New York depends on Eve’s ability to maintain her current non-immigrant visa – something that is never certain. This is hardly an adequate solution for a family like ours. That is why we have chosen to fight for a marriage-based green card that offers us a permanent means of living together as a family in the U.S.
DOMA is the only thing standing in the way for lesbian and gay binational couples like Eve and me. Yes, we had a marriage certificate, but basically that’s all we have. Unlike heterosexual binational couples, I cannot successfully sponsor Eve for permanent residency on the basis of our marriage. We will not give up easily. We are prepared to fight DOMA every step of the way.
Earlier last month, Senate Democrats abandoned two amendments that would have included lesbian and gay families in U.S. immigration law. Advocates of the two LGBT provisions acquiesced in order not to risk losing the bigger battle of passing overall immigration reform. They say they are taking historic steps to finally give people a practical legal pathway to citizenship.
That brings little comfort to my wife and me. Eve came here legally in 2005 and has struggled to find a permanent solution ever since. We want to be free to live together as a married couple and build our lives together in America. This seems like a win-win situation and we refuse to believe that anyone would truly wish exile or separation for our family – though this is the message our elected officials sent us when they failed to include us in comprehensive immigration reform. This is why we are sharing our story today. We want everyone to know that if DOMA is not eliminated, tens of thousands of lesbian and gay binational families like ours will be forced to consider long-distance separation or exile as our only remaining options.
I know that our country is moving in the direction of fairness and equality. As a veteran, I celebrated the day that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was finally repealed. Eve and I now look forward to the day in which DOMA will be history too. Until that day comes, we will continue sharing our story and the stories of other couples who have contributed to The DOMA Project. Please join us in the fight for our future by sharing our story today.
There’s No Place Like Home: An Ocean Apart and Married, Lindsey and Katie Fight DOMA to Live Together in Kansas
My name is Lindsey, and for the past four years, my partner and I have maintained a relationship and a marriage across an ocean. Despite being legally married, we are unable to share a home in the United States. The Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, makes our marriage invisible in the eyes of the U.S. government.
Katie and I met in the summer of 2008. We worked together at a summer camp in my home state of Kansas. The camp is just 30 minutes from my hometown, but for Katie the job took her 4,000 miles from home. An British citizen, Katie was planning to spend four months in Kansas on a summer work visa. Neither of us expected our summer relationship to last past August. On November 4th, 2008, the same day that President Obama was elected into office, we stood in front of an airport departure gate and agreed to see what our future had in store.
The next couple of years were full of the most extreme highs and lows that a couple can imagine. While most new couples might worry about going on double dates and learning how to share the covers, we were waking up early for Skype dates and saving for flights. There were days when it seemed like it was just too much, but by 2010 we had our first big shot at hope. In March 2010 Katie began an 18-month internship with the very same camp at which we met. In August of 2011, near the end of her internship, Katie and I were married in a private commitment ceremony on a beach in Texas. Our officiate told us if same-sex marriage were ever to became legal in Texas, she would marry us again for free! Staff at a nearby hotel saw us out the window and cheered after it was over. Just two months later, Katie’s internship ended and without a job to sponsor her again she was forced to return to England. Because of this situation, we have spent just 4 months of our first year and only half of our marriage together in the same country.
It’s not for lack of effort that we are apart. Katie has sought work in the United States and Canada throughout our time apart. She was even offered a job in the U.S., but after a drawn-out application process the visa was denied. Katie has also sought full-time work in the U.K., but has yet to meet the requirements to sponsor my immigration to England (we face legal barriers there due to our temporarily low income). During our separation, Katie has returned to Kansas as a visitor several times, and just one day after our first year anniversary we legally married in Iowa. Our lawful marriage in Iowa still did not afford us federal recognition, but it felt right to us. Since our commitment ceremony in Texas, we have always considered ourselves a married couple.
Holidays are especially hard. They serve as a reminder of how long we have been apart. In spite of having known one another for 5 years, we have spent only one Thanksgiving together. In that same time, we have spent two Christmas mornings as a couple, and two more apart. This year we will spend our third Christmas together in England. We’ve also had a New Years Eve kiss two years in a row, one in each country. I can count every Halloween, every birthday, and every Valentine’s we have spent together, and how many more of each we have spent apart.
We never have and never will separate by choice. Our relationship has been ruled by the departure stamps in our passports. Despite the times we are apart – months at a time – I would not give up my Katie or our marriage for anything. The times we are together are the happiest moments of my life. I feel like the rest of my life is simply on hold while we are apart. When she is gone, every day is about waiting for her to come home. I would take a day every year with her over a “normal” life without her in it. Regardless of our future, we are committed to each other. That’s what marriage means to us – a commitment to remain by each other’s side, even if there are six time zones and an ocean between us.
For our lives to change, federal law needs to change. DOMA denies couples like us the federal marriage-based benefits that we need to be together. Because of DOMA, I cannot sponsor my legal wife for her immigration to the United States. We are just one of thousands of couples with similar stories. And while we have obeyed the law for five long years, it has continued to keep us apart day after day. As our stories increasingly gain media coverage, we are certain that the world will wake up to what DOMA really is – legislated bigotry. We know that eventually DOMA will fall and justice will prevail. By sharing our story, we’re doing our part to build public sentiment against DOMA and hold the U.S. government accountable to gay and lesbian binational couples once DOMA is gone for good. We have waited far too long for DOMA’s end to sit on the sidelines now. Please join us by sharing our story with everyone you know.
Our DOMA Story - There But Not Back Again
I was so busy watching Stacey’s face that I hardly heard a word Mom and Dad said. The five of us were having breakfast at a restaurant next door to their hotel when Mike and I announced that we had just bought a house.
We were in Vancouver at the time. My partner, Mike, flies long haul for Air New Zealand as a flight attendant and had been scheduled for one of those rare trips with a five day layover. So I grabbed a stand-by ticket and called home as fast as I could, insisting that everyone book a flight from Houston to join us.
Returning to the restaurant scene: Mom and Dad were busy oohing, ahhing, and asking for details, but Stacey wasn’t saying a word. She knew what it really meant.
Later, back in our hotel room, Mike admitted that he was hurt by Stacey’s response, or lack of it, but I knew better than anyone what she was going through when we made the announcement, and it broke my heart. That’s why I watched her face so closely.
I’m American. But I’m also a self-proclaimed momma’s boy who has a very special connection with his younger sister. That trumps everything, as you’ll soon find out. Unfortunately, I live about as far away from my family as possible—in New Zealand—with Mike, who is the love of my life. I simply call him “Pooh.”
While I share in the struggle with all gay Americans living in binational relationships who must choose between love and their country, I would rather tell you about my sister.
We’re a team, Stacey and I. We always have been. Our minds essentially overlap. In that common space, we know each other’s thoughts—like twins, only Stacey is five years younger than me.
Our relationship was treated as an unremarkable fact of life within our family bubble, and, from a very early age, I was appointed as her interpreter.
“Scott! Come in here and tell me what your sister wants!”
I heard that all the time, and would drag myself away from Gilligan’s Island or whatever else I was watching to patter into the kitchen where mom would be standing, invariably, in front of Stacey’s high chair, begging for me to explain what was making my little sis throw such a hissy fit.
I’d listen for a second, and say something like, “She just wants ice cream, Mom,” before heading back to the den and my show.
Mom would simply shake her head, and reach for the item, never asking how I knew.
Saturdays were our days. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, tip-toe down to Stacey’s room, and wake her. We’d grab blankets and head to the den where we’d wrap ourselves up and watch the ant races on the TV screen turn into the first cartoon of the morning. We’d watch all of them, for hours, starting with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour, while every one else—Mom, Dad, and my older brother Steve—slept in.
I watched over Stacey, and when she grew up more quickly than I, the tables turned and she watched over me.
We were roommates in college for a year before I received my MBA and went back to Houston to find work. It was, quite possibly, the richest experience of my life. We came out to each other that year, and it only made us closer. It’s a beautiful thing, being able to share your most intimate fears with someone you love so dearly and know they won’t judge you. We talked about everything, and we were inseparable.
So, it should come as no surprise that when Stacey was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis eight years ago—the doctor had called with the bad news on Christmas Eve—I wrapped my arms around her and told her we would be going on this journey together.
Then I met Mike, and we fell in love. When I tried to bring him home to be part of my family, we learned just how unfairly our relationship is treated under the law because of DOMA.
I realized that if Mike was willing to sacrifice everything he’d built to be with me, I’d have to show the same level of commitment to him. I called my family together and told them I would be moving to New Zealand, and looked Stacey in the eye as I said, “but it will only be temporary—six months, maybe a year—until we get this immigration issue worked out.”
So when we sat there in the restaurant, two years later, and announced that we’d bought a house, Stacey knew what it really meant.
I wouldn’t be coming home.
In order to keep my promise to Mike, I’d have to break my promise to her.
I’m now coming onto my fourth year in New Zealand, a journey that began in the lobby outside baggage claim at Auckland International Airport. I’ll never forget that moment. Mike was standing there, holding a bunch of sunflowers—he knew they were my favorite. His mouth formed a perfect “O” of shock as I walked though the doors and we locked eyes on one another. Suddenly bashful, he put the flowers in my hand and tried to say, “I wasn’t really sure you’d come,” but I kissed him before he could finish the sentence.
We’ve built an incredible life together, Mike and I. In an odd way, my stay in New Zealand has brought me an unexpected blessing, bringing me to a deeper understanding of how precious the family is I left behind. Between that day I kissed Mike in the airport and today, I’ve spent Christmases on Skype barely holding it together as my family unwrapped their presents in front of the camera. My dad has had two serious surgeries where all I could do was stay close to the computer for updates. My sister has gone through break ups, and patch ups, and serious relapses with MS that have taken their toll physically and emotionally. I’ve also watched from a distance as my precious momma has become more frail.
I hope that, by sharing our story, more people will start to realize gay and lesbian binational couples like us sacrifice more than our homes, friends, and livelihoods. The intimate and intangible relationships that define us are ripped away. And even though we may not be able to find proper words to describe their loss, we feel each and every one. Until DOMA is eliminated more families like mine will be needlessly torn apart by separation and exile. This must stop. We must raise our voice and share our stories to ensure that my fellow Americans have no doubts about the harm that DOMA perpetuates on all of our families.
(VIDEO) Love Makes a Family: For Cathy, Catriona and Their Three Children in Boulder, Colorado Everything is at Stake in the Imminent Supreme Court Ruling
Cathy and Catriona may be the first married, same-sex couple in the United States to receive a green card, after they completed their interview at the Denver, Colorado USCIS office and cleared all eligibility hurdles except for DOMA. Their case has not been denied, and The DOMA Project co-founder, their attorney, Lavi Soloway, says they may be the first couple to have their green card case approved the day the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA.
‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Lavi Soloway and Brynn Gelbard for The DOMA Project and The DeVote Campaign is a series of short films. The series feature LGBT families from across America who are asserting their equality by petitioning for green cards based on their marriages and demanding that the U.S. government treat them no differently than opposite sex couples under federal law. They are opening up about their personal struggles under the Defense of Marriage Act to shine a spotlight on this prejudicial law and end it, all the while ensuring their experiences are properly archived as history that should be learned from and never repeated.
I met Renato on January 16, 2008 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We had an instant mutual attraction and connection, and I knew within minutes that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We spent the next amazing two weeks getting to know each other and enjoying the beauty of Rio. We also started to make plans for our life together. Getting on the flight back to the U.S. after those two weeks together was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Five years later, we are still having those gut-wrenching “airport moments” when we have to part.
After our first meeting, we spent the next few months chatting online every day, exchanging email messages, texting, etc. After a short time, we began to make plans for Renato to come to the United States for a short visit to see where I lived and to meet my friends and family. At the time I did not realize how difficult this would be. We thought he would be able to come for just a couple weeks with his passport. I have friends from all over the world who come to the U.S. whenever they desire. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Renato. As a Brazilian, he needed to apply for a visa, even to come for just a short visit. We later learned that for many people in South America, obtaining a visitor visa is next to impossible.
Since Renato is a fashion accessory designer, and he was interested in furthering his education, we started to research the possibility of him coming to study at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. It’s one of the best fashion design schools in the U.S. This way, he could come and stay on a student visa for up to 4 years, and he would have more advanced skills and experience when he returned to Brazil to continue his career. After the long and grueling visa application process, his application was denied on October 26, 2008 at the U.S. Embassy in Recife, Brazil. We were devastated, but not defeated. We kept hoping there would be a way for us to be together in the United States at least for a temporary period while he visited or went to school; that did not work out, but we did not lose hope. Our online chats continued every day.
I traveled to Brazil again in January 2009. We met again in Rio de Janeiro, and this time we traveled to Buzios, a small beach resort town about 2 hours from Rio. We spent 2 amazing weeks on the beach, dining out, visiting local attractions, and living our lives together as a couple. It was wonderful! Sadly, during the whole visit my dreaded flight back to the United States was hanging in the back of our minds. I knew I would have to leave the man I loved. I couldn’t even sleep the night before my departure.
In November 2009, I traveled to Brazil again. This time we visited Renato’s hometown, Fortaleza, Ceara, in the Northeast part of Brazil. This was an exciting trip, as I met Renato’ s friends and family for the first time and saw the place where he grew up. It was fantastic! We enjoyed the beaches, one of my favorite things in Brazil, and went to his best friend’s birthday party. I also really enjoyed meeting Renato’s parents and sisters. At the end of this trip, we decided that perhaps Renato should make a second attempt to apply for a student visa to study in the U.S. Being apart was becoming unbearable as our love for one another continued to grow. Plus, Renato still dreamed of getting that degree in the U.S. Ultimately, Renato’s second student visa application was unsuccessful.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government does not recognize the committed relationships between gay and lesbian binational couples for immigration or any other purpose. Thus, from that time on, we have had to live apart, making costly trips between continents just to be with one another. In the following year (2010) I traveled to Brazil two times; we met once in Rio de Janeiro, and I traveled again to Renato’s hometown Fortaleza. We also took a side trip to Canoa Quebrada, a small beach resort about 2 hours from Fortaleza.
In May 2011, we decided to meet in the Netherlands, as Renato and I both have friends who live in Amsterdam. Renato even lived in Amsterdam for a while before we met. This was our first trip together outside of Brazil. I was very excited that one of my best friends would finally get to meet Renato. But I couldn’t help but think how horrible it was that I had to go to a third country (and continent) just to introduce the man I loved to my friend.
After another November trip to Fortaleza, Renato and I decided to meet again in Amsterdam in May 2012, for the birthday party of my best friend and his partner. (Their birthdays are just a week apart.) Renato and I rented our own apartment in the center of Amsterdam, and we hosted our friends for dinner parties. Renato even cooked homemade Brazilian food that everyone enjoyed. His chicken stroganoff is delicioso! Our friends Dennis and Jeroen decided they would meet us in Rio de Janeiro in November.
So, in November 2012, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro for a holiday with Renato and our friends from Amsterdam. We rented a villa by the beach in Ipanema. We celebrated my 45th birthday with a night out at one of Rio’s biggest clubs. We spent our days at the beach and showing our friends the “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Marvelous City) and attractions like the Cristo statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, and much more. We also went to the Madonna concert at the arena where Rio will host the Olympics in 2016.
Renato and I have had an amazing five years together as a couple. Despite the fact that it required so much international travel for us to be together, our love for each other has only grown stronger. We are now prepared to take the next step together and make a lifelong commitment. I am applying for a fiancé visa so that Renato can come to the United States and marry me. Our plan would be to have a wedding in New York within the first
90 days after his arrival, as required by law. He would then file an application for a green card on the basis of our marriage.
By filing our fiancé visa petition earlier this month and sharing our story now, we are taking our future into our own hands and holding our government accountable. We will not simply wait for the Supreme Court to rule on DOMA. After all, little good has ever come out of sitting around and waiting. We are proud to be acting today in the pursuit of full equality. We hope you’ll join us and The DOMA Project by sharing our stories with family, friends, the media, and elected officials. There has never been a better time to show the world the harms that are caused by DOMA. We cannot allow this injustice to continue one day longer.
Engaged! In Maryland, Saman and Kim Fight For a Future Without DOMA, Anticipating Supreme Court Ruling
Our story begins with two journeys converging onto one path.
Kim and I came to the United States of America for different reasons. I came here in 2007 as a refugee from my home country of Iran. Being a gay man in the Middle East was very difficult. Homosexuality is not tolerated by the government. I endured years of loneliness; I never opened up to my family about my sexuality out of the fear of rejection. When I came to this country, I was on my own. My partner, Kim, left the Philippines for America to finish his nursing degree in 2011, reuniting with his family living in the U.S. upon his arrival. For the first few months, his life revolved around school and family. He went to school, then came back home. That was his routine. Looking back at how different our backgrounds were, it seems miraculous that our lives ever crossed paths.
We met each other in March, 2012 through a dating website. I recall sending Kim that first email. I was so anxious to see if he would reply. Fortunately, he responded, and our conversation just took off. We slowly began to get to know each other. We exchanged numbers and found each other on Facebook the same night we met. That was a Monday or a Tuesday. Two days later, I knew that I had to meet Kim in person. We scheduled our first meeting for that Friday, after his last class of the day.
The first time we saw each other face to face was in a parking lot. As cheesy as it might sound, it was love at first sight. We spent the evening discussing our personal hopes and dreams. He told me that he’d left the Philippines just one year before graduation so that he could earn his Bachelor’s degree in nursing and start afresh here in America. We talked for hours, until we finally realized that it was nearly 9:00 p.m. Kim had to return to Baltimore. I gave him a ride back, and we spent the trip holding each other’s hands. I still remember the tingling sensation on my arm. Days after that first meeting, we were both already talking about blossoming into a serious relationship. Neither of us was looking for a short-term fling; we both wanted a long-term commitment. We even discussed the prospect of marriage. Maybe we were moving too fast, but we both felt very sure of what we were feeling. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
For the first two months, we managed to keep our relationship a secret. But we figured that our families had to know about us sooner or later. We decided to reveal our relationship to Kim’s mom. However, she didn’t take it very well. She thought that Kim would abandon his goal of nursing, despite the fact that Kim had proven himself to be a stellar student both in his home country and at his college in Maryland. We were disappointed, but we continued to build our relationship. After all, we knew in our hearts that our love was real, and would only make us stronger, not distract us from long-term goals.
In November 2012, we found ourselves captivated by the elections, particularly the Question 6 Referendum in Maryland. Question 6 was about The Marriage Equality Act. At stake in the referendum was whether gay and lesbian couples would have the right to marry like everyone else. Kim and I eagerly anticipated the results along with our fellow Marylanders. When the referendum succeeded, we were ecstatic to know that we resided in a state that supports marriage equality.
However, one last hurdle remains in our bid to be together, and that is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Kim and I want to get married after marriage equality passed in Maryland, but we have decided to put it off until our marriage will be recognized on a federal level. That dream will only become a reality if DOMA is struck down. We understand what so many binational LGBT couples here in America are going through. The U.S. Constitution states that everyone is to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, so why is that equality not applicable if you are gay or lesbian? What makes us different from any other human being? We fall in love like everyone else, and we desire to make lifelong commitments with our partners. Kim and I, along with our fellow gay and lesbian binational couples, look forward to a positive ruling on DOMA. We have decided to share our story through The DOMA Project to ensure that 2013 will be the year when all of us are finally treated as equals. We will continue telling our story and sharing it with the world until the federal government must recognize our future marriage. Even now, every story shared makes a difference. Please join us.
LOVE TRIUMPHS: Together for 26 Years in Five Countries, Eleanor and Fumiko Fight DOMA as Exiles in Canada
Fumiko and I met in New York City in the fall of 1986. I was 46 years old and working as a computer programmer. I had three children in their early twenties. Fumiko, a Japanese woman of 37, had been living in Mexico for some years, studying weaving. She was living in New York at the time with a friend and was planning to go from there to Guatemala, where she wanted to learn their indigenous weaving techniques.
Because she was looking for an opportunity to practice English and I was looking to learn Japanese, our friend Martita introduced us. Immediately, I was fascinated by Fumiko’s strong personality and deep voice, though it wasn’t clear at the beginning whether Fumiko was a lesbian. Little by little we got acquainted, with our Japanese-English dictionary never far from hand, and eventually we became lovers. For six weeks, we spent a lot of time together, but when January came, Fumiko had to leave. That month was a flurry of activity as I quit my job, subletted my apartment, and departed to join Fumiko in Antigua, Guatemala.
What a strange and exotic place! And what a wonderful reunion! We rented a small house in Antigua and bought a few furnishings. Life there was simple albeit a little boring, with the exception of our new love affair. Both being on tourist visas, we had to exit the country every three months, so there were a couple of interesting trips over the border to Mexico. By the third exit, we decided to leave Guatemala and go to live in Mexico City, where Fumiko had lived before. Taking many bolsas of accumulated household goods, we found a nice apartment in the center of town, right behind the American Embassy. Fumiko introduced me to her many friends there, but I grew increasingly restless, caught between Spanish and Japanese and having no real business in Mexico, aside from being with Fumiko. Eventually, I decided to leave and “do something else”. It had been a year since I had left New York.
“Something else” turned out to be a journey to Japan! Fumiko wrote to her various relatives and issued orders that this “Eleanor” was to be treated like a queen. They took me to local festivals, treated me to endless dinners, and even included me in a weekend trip to a hot-spring resort. After a few weeks, I found a job teaching English and got an apartment and a working visa. I was lonely, but Japan was fascinating and I discovered many things about the country on my own, being forced to do things myself that I might have relied on Fumiko to handle had she been there. I studied the Japanese language, kimono-wearing, abacus-calculating and even won a speech contest in Japanese! After about seven months, Fumiko left Mexico and returned to Japan to join me. We lived together for the remaining five months of my stay. In May of 1989, we returned to New York together.
We lived together in New York for a total of five years. Fumiko studied English, and studied English, and studied English. After six months, her tourist visa expired, and she applied for an extension. She was turned down. A postcard arrived from INS (the precursor to USCIS) saying that she would be deported if she didn’t leave immediately. Then nothing. She was suddenly undocumented. Fumiko couldn’t work, but I was making good money as a computer programmer while studying linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center part time. We started getting to know other immigrants, with and without valid documentation, and realized that even undocumented immigrants have a life, and in New York City not such a bad one. Someone told us that “undocumented aliens” could attend one of the universities in New York, and even get the resident tuition rate. That was very exciting to Fumiko, who had never been to college, so she spent the next year studying English even harder and taking the TOEFL several times. Finally, in September of 1992, she entered LaGuardia Community College.
For Fumiko, LaGuardia was a wonderful experience. She read books, wrote papers, visited museums and libraries, and discovered great satisfaction in learning, thinking, and discussing a whole range of subjects. Her interest was especially kindled by cultural anthropology: the customs, beliefs, art, and mythology of various societies. She found the American system of education very stimulating, with emphasis placed on the value of each person’s contribution, each culture’s differences. Also, around this time I started attending meetings of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force (later known as Immigration Equality) an organization which had been formed in 1993 by Lavi Soloway, who is also co-founder of The DOMA Project. Through this involvement, I started to participate in advocacy as a member of a community of lesbian and gay binational couples.
In January of 1994 Fumiko graduated from LaGuardia with an Associate of Arts degree and entered Hunter College as a junior, but she was increasingly anxious about money. Without valid documented status, she couldn’t work in the United States, and I was now a full-time student living off a small inheritance, so there wasn’t much money to go around. At 46, Fumiko worried more and more about getting sick, having no insurance or savings to fall back on, and no pension for her old age. Perhaps also the discomfort of being totally dependent on me added to the stress of living in a foreign country, in a foreign language.
Fumiko returned to Japan in July 1994. She got a job in Tokyo that she was pleased with, and began to rebuild her life there. I visited Tokyo for two weeks over New Year (the big holiday in Japan). I was now a doctoral candidate in linguistics at CUNY and, at 54, I felt that if I didn’t finish soon, it was unlikely that I ever would. Fortunately, I managed to get a graduate student fellowship in Japan for the summer of 1995, so Fumiko and I were able to be together for most of three months. After returning to New York and my dissertation research; long distance phone calls continued once a week, with e-mails in between.
In July of 1996, after a 10-month separation, I packed up my computer and 70 lbs. of Xeroxed references and went to Tokyo to work on my dissertation there. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I was able to do my writing and research abroad! I spent six months in Japan in two 3-month stays (the length of a tourist visa), and returned to New York in February 1997 to complete my degree.
After I graduated with a Ph.D. in October, 1997, I went to Japan and got a job teaching English, and eventually a post-doctoral fellowship for two years. We both enjoyed those years in Japan (1995-2001, more or less), though we knew it wasn’t a permanent situation. During that time, Fumiko spent a couple of years completing the college work that she had started in New York, and eventually qualified for a student visa to the U.S. So, in 2001, we both returned to New York.
For three years, we tried various arrangements. I did some adjunct teaching and eventually found an IT job, where I worked until my retirement in 2007. Fumiko studied web design, and did an apprenticeship in real estate. Eventually, however, the visa that Fumiko held had to be renewed and she could not show the proper documents. Faced with an inflexible immigration system that had no room for her, in 2004 she decided to return to Japan once more.
At this point, it seemed there was no way for us to be together. It is is notoriously difficult to get permanent residency in Japan, especially for a person over 60, nearing retirement. So Fumiko got a job in Japan (one that she enjoyed very much) and reconnected with her friends there, building a new life. I was forlorn. Fortunately, I happened to hear a talk by a Canadian immigration lawyer, and learned that it was possible for both of us to emigrate to Canada. Previously unthinkable, it suddenly seemed like a desirable solution for a couple out of options. We began preparing our applications in early 2005.
In the summer of 2007, just after my retirement, we found out that our applications were approved by the Canadian consulate. By that time, Fumiko had created a new career for herself in Japan, working with developmentally disabled young adults. Being in Japan also meant being available to assist her older sister, who has debilitating osteoporosis. It was difficult for her to leave but, for both of us, being together turned out to be more important than any other consideration, and we are grateful to Canada for making that possible. Neither Japan nor the United States offered us this hospitality.
Fumiko began to wind down her life in Japan, arriving in New York once again in the fall of 2008. Meanwhile, I was overseeing the care of my mother, Vicki, who also lived in New York and had Alzheimer’s. We ultimately decided that my mother would be moved to a nursing home in Boston, near my sister. It was a hard decision; I was very conflicted and felt as though I was abandoning her. After emptying my mother’s apartment, Fumiko and I prepared for our own move to Toronto, which happened early in January 2008.
We quickly settled into our life in Toronto, finding a permanent apartment and involving ourselves in the community. Fumiko was not able to find a job in line with her previous work of caring for the developmentally disabled, so she went into food preparation, working as an assistant sushi chef. In 2012, Fumiko started a three-year full-time art program run by the Toronto School Board. Fortunately, it is very inexpensive and quite thorough, including painting and drawing, print-making, photography, sculpture, and ceramics. She’s totally energized by the work and the community, and she’s well on her way to becoming an artist! For the first time, she feels fortunate to be in Toronto.
For me, I am retired, and I find a lot to amuse me–Toronto is not so different from New York, just smaller and gentler. We live in a small neighborhood in West Toronto where I am an officer of the local residents association and also organize a seniors social group. I lead a women’s reading group, maintain a website for an older women’s advocacy group, keep active in the gay community, and follow local politics and theatre. Toronto has a lot to offer us.
Having lived in Toronto now for five years, we are happy here as permanent residents, notwithstanding the separation from both of our families. On my regular visits to the U.S., I enjoy being a hands-on grandmother. My grandson really is terminally cute and cuddly. In the same month I first visited my grandson, my mother died at age 97, peacefully in her sleep. We held a memorial service for her in New York during my time there. I continue to travel to the U.S. to visit my dentist and find affordable vitamins. So, between a growing family, an old dentist, and cheap vitamins, I may have to keep coming back to the Big Apple from time to time.
Last August, we got married in Massachusetts. As my son notes, we took a very pragmatic attitude about celebrating our marriage. After all, we’ve been together for over 25 years! We simply wanted the added ease and security that a marriage certificate offers. Nonetheless, we were both thrilled to be celebrating our love for one another with family and friends.
Fumiko and I have endured many separations in the 26 years of our relationship. Our connection is very strong, despite differences of language and culture, and even of age. Our lives before meeting one another had taken quite different paths, and we may seem to be an unlikely couple. But we both feel that we are alike in many important ways, and that we really appreciate our differences as well as our similarities. We support and encourage one another through good times and bad. Sometimes there is frustration and anger, but usually there is love and laughter–especially now that we have the security of knowing that we will not have to separate again.
We’re well aware that there are many couples out there who have not yet found their safe haven. Our story is just one example of the unacceptable choices that binational couples like us have been forced to make since DOMA’s introduction in 1996. Couples like us, who have committed no crime but to fall in love with a foreigner, are asked to choose between the person we love and the country we call home. For this reason,we have been involved in the gay and lesbian binational community’s struggle for fair and equal treatment in immigration law since the beginning. It is long past time to end this discrimination against our families. We will not stop telling our story until DOMA is finished and families like ours will no longer be torn apart. Please consider sharing our story and contributing to The DOMA Project. Our fight is not yet over.
We met through a friend in a large East coast city in 2003 and we immediately realized we had a lot in common including wanting eventually to raise children. When we met, my husband, who is from South America, was in the United States on an unexpired visa. We started dating and we did not give much thought to the immigration issues; we assumed that once this visa was no longer valid, he would extend his stay or find another visa, and eventually, somehow, a green card. We did not realize quite what we were up against. We were in love, and that was about as much as needed to know.
As these things go, the story gets more complicated. Two years into our relationship his visa expired and could not be renewed. If we had been able to marry then, we would have done so. But in those days marriage equality was still in its embryonic stages. We registered for a domestic partnership in the city in which we lived. Finally, in 2006 we were married in Massachusetts under state law, and in 2007 in front of all our family and friends, we had a religious wedding at our synagogue.
With these life milestone events behind us, we were as committed as ever about starting a family.
Immediately after the wedding we began to explore options for adoption; we had some concern that my husband’s immigration status could present a barrier or a complication, but we were determined not to be forced to wait to move our lives forward. We always felt that of the many different ways to adopt, we wanted to adopt slightly older children who were in the foster care system. We knew there were so many who needed homes and that these children tended to have a tougher time finding adoptive parents and in many instances were bounced from foster home to foster home never finding adoptive parents. To our surprise, even though we were now living in a state that did not recognize our marriage or domestic partnership, the agency we found was willing to work with gay couples even though only one of us would be able to legally adopt the children under that state’s laws. We count ourselves very fortunate that two wonderful children were placed with us very quickly and we are now two years into the bliss and hard work that is parenthood.
Even though the state considers them as only having one legal parent, as far as they are concerned they have two dads who love them. Two years later we adopted again, this time two more beautiful children. We could not be happier and more excited about our growing family. Love is in abundance in our home and we are devoted to giving our children the security and guidance to ensure that they achieve their potential in life.
Have moved away from the East coast years ago, we now live in a quiet, friendly suburban town in a somewhat red state. We were initially a little worried that we might not be accepted into the circle of other families with young kids where we live. To our pleasant surprise, we have found that except for being two dads, we have much in common with all the other families, and we feel very integrated into our small community. At a distance we may seem like a lot of the other families and in a lot of ways we are. But, unlike the parents of our children’s playmates, we live in fear that, at anytime, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might discover that my husband is here on an expired visa and initiate proceedings to remove him from the United States. The reality we live with every day is that my husband, who is staying at home now full-time to care for the kids while I work, could be deported. In the eyes of federal law he is a single, childless foreigner who is without lawful status. Sure, we would fight and hopefully stop a deportation on the basis of new rules that are meant to protect LGBT families, but those are discretionary guidelines, and we know that such a fight would put us and our children through torture.
So, if you look at our family a little more carefully you will notice a few differences. We are cautious, perhaps to a fault, because we are so afraid of my husband being discovered, even if just by accident. So we never go to any airport, believing airports even for domestic flights to be risky places. My husband has not left this country or seen his family back home for 15 years. My husband drives five miles below the speed limit, always mindful that our survival as a family depends on his avoiding being stopped by the police. And if anyone ever asks us about his immigration status (which so many people do in a good-natured way) you will hear our canned, evasive answer followed by an immediate shift in the topic of conversation. Sure some of these precautions may strike you as over-the-top. We don’t feel like we can let down our guard until there is full legal recognition for our family by the federal government. Our four beautiful children need their two loving dads, and should never have to experience a high-stakes fight to keep our family intact. They deserve a peaceful and stable childhood, not one interrupted and shaken by the discrimination caused by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That is why, after 10 years, we decided to end our perpetual fear of the unknown and chart a different path, characterized by a more assertive approach. We have joined The DOMA Project by telling our story and filing for a green card. Enough is enough. We cannot sit back and wait for change to happen. We must make it happen.
In so many ways, we are like all other families, but because of DOMA our family is not recognized by federal law, and so we must live with the anxiety that our family could be torn apart at any time, and our children could lose their dad. Ironically, my sister who is straight, also married a foreigner. They are a wonderful couple. They have also long since decided not to have any children together. They met in the same month of the same year that my husband and I met. However, once they married, she was immediately able to arrange for his green card and, two years ago, he became a proud American citizen. I wish them all the best and love them, but sometimes can’t help feeling a little envious of what my sister was able to do for her husband that I cannot do for mine.
Help us keep up the momentum toward positive change as Congress weighs whether to include LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform. Consider our family, and think about the importance of ending this nightmare immediately. No couple should ever be torn apart, and no parent should ever have to say goodbye to his or her children.