Even as a confessed hopeless romantic, I never really imagined falling in love while visiting another country. In May of 2008, I traveled to Brazil to study urban planning in several southern cities, including Saõ Paulo, Curitiba and Florianopolis. I was still smarting from a breakup and sorry if this sounds cliché, but I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.
During my second week in Brazil, I was on a bus tour when one of our student guides, struck up a conversation with me. Getting to know me a little better, she suggested introducing me to her friend, Alex. Naturally, I was skeptical of the idea of a “blind” date, especially while traveling in a foreign country, but one group dinner later and I was enamored. Alex and I talked all night. His English was infinitely better than my Portuguese. He patiently corrected my pronunciation, smiling the entire time. We spent the rest of the weekend together, dancing at a concert, hiking to a beach and celebrating a fellow student's birthday over sushi. Alex was my beautiful and sweet tour guide and it was unexpected, but wonderful.
Over the next few weeks, Alex and I stayed in close contact, chatting on the phone and online. He took a bus trip six hours south to visit me in Curitiba and, before the end of my trip, I traveled back to Florianopolis so we could spend my final days in Brazil together.
A few months later, after many long conversations on line and by phone, Alex secured a tourist visa and arrived in the United States in time to visit me and my family for Thanksgiving. Of course, we were both a bit nervous; six months had passed since we first met and we weren't sure whether we’d still have the same chemistry we had when we saw each other the previous spring. Thankfully, we need not have worried. Our relationship was natural and easy; Alex stayed with me and it gave us a chance to find out that living together was more than comfortable. My friends and family embraced him immediately and loved him almost as much as I did.
Alex applied for school, hoping to return to the United States in the future as a student. As an engineering student at one of Brazil’s top universities, Alex was receiving a free education, but he was interested in trying to get into an engineering program in the U.S. so we could spend more time together. Ironically, because of the extremely rigorous nature of his academic program, Alex’s grades were strong but not strong enough to get accepted to a top engineering program in the U.S. to which he had applied. Giving up on that option, Alex returned to Brazil after having spent six months visiting me. Needless to say, our separation was extremely difficult.
In July of 2009 I traveled to Brazil to spend my 30th birthday with Alex. We spent a few days in Rio de Janeiro, then took a bus and boat trip to a small island called Ilha Grande, a few hours from Rio. It was another amazing trip, but bittersweet; ten days was not nearly enough time together. The following November, Alex returned for another visit. The time together was wonderful as always. Alex continued to become more a part of my family. We enjoyed each other’s company even when we were dealing with life’s more mundane tasks like grocery shopping or enjoying a quiet evening watching a movie. We went on double dates with gay and straight couples so that Alex could meet my friends. We had dinner with my parents on a regular basis and attended charity fundraising events together. At the end of a four month visit Alex’s visa was due to expire and he had to return to Brazil. We always tried to make the most of our time together even though we knew that all we could have at this point was brief (always too brief!) visits.
We came to realize that we wanted to live together, and that the simplest remedy would be to get married so that I could sponsor Alex as any other couple would. Putting our lives on hold, going back and forth at great expense and loss of time together... that was not supposed to be the way the process worked. You meet, you fall in love, you build a life together.
But the reality for us, as for thousands of other binational couples was not that simple. As a married couple we would not be recognized by U.S. immigration law. The law that is designed to keep families together tears our apart.
We are a committed, loving couple doing everything possible to be together, despite the system's seeming insistence that we remain apart. We would like to get married and we would like to have that marriage be treated the same as all other marriages. It is very difficult not to get angry about the extreme unfairness of this inequality. Despite our strong desire to live together, we are not able to celebrate the momentous occasions of our lives together. Instead we struggle to accept short yearly visits.
This summer, at Immigration Equality’s Safe Haven Awards in New York City, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love was honored. As readers of that book probably know, Ms. Gilbert had sponsored her Brazilian husband for a green card. She learned through that process of the plight of same-sex binational couples. In her remarks, Ms. Gilbert eloquently noted, “in addition to being unjust, and cruel and unconscionable, these laws are stupid. Because they are taking away some of the best and brightest minds and prospects out of the country.”
It is sad that like many other binational couples, we are considering the only option left to us: living outside of the United States. Although we strongly prefer to stay in the United States, the unconstitutional, discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act perpetuates inequality and is effectively forcing us to move to Brazil.
Perhaps readers would be surprised to know that Brazil offers us more rights as a gay couple than does the United States, because it offers me the opportunity to immigrate there on the basis of my relationship with Alex. We want to decide where to live based on what is best for us. We want a real freedom of choice. We want to be able to spend our lives together, surrounded by supportive family and friends.
I write and call my legislators regularly, but with the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform uncertain and no legislative solution in sight, Alex and I wait in limbo, separated by the discriminatory policies of the United States. When the Defense of Marriage Act is defeated we will finally be able to enjoy the same rights as all loving couples.