Saturday, October 30, 2010

Samantha and Alexandra: Living in Exile

Samantha and Alexandra on their wedding day, September 3, 2007.
Ours is just one story of thousands.

My name is Alexandra. I am a Dutch citizen. I live in Holland with my wife, Samantha. My wife is an American citizen who, because of DOMA, is forced to live in “exile” from her country as long as she is with me.

In September 1996, when the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act they carved discrimination against married lesbian and gay couples into law, years before any of those couples would be able to legally marry. More recently, in various countries and several American states, same-sex couples have been marrying, but the U.S. government refuses to recognize the reality of these legal marriages with devastating consequences.  We are just one out of thousands of bi-national couples forced by American lawmakers to live outside the United States for the mere fact that we are a same sex couple.

Our story goes back to the year 2000 when we met through a friend on Yahoo groups and we started talking through the group and emailing back and forth.  Soon we were spending hours each day “talking” to each other on line through Yahoo messenger. Through these conversations we got to know each other very well.  By the end of 2001 I had saved up enough money to visit Samantha in Connecticut for a month.

I realize that meeting someone online and then flying halfway across the world to meet her is risky. But in my heart I felt that she was genuine. I was falling in love with the person I had come to know online and I needed to meet her in person. During that visit we connected on a deep level. To my delight, she really was the person she had portrayed herself to be in all of our online conversations. During this visit we realized that we wanted to be together and we started figuring out a way for this to happen.

Of course, I had to go back home because I was in the States courtesy of the 90-day maximum “visa waiver” visitor program. I returned in 2002 and 2004. I was the one making all the trips because for Samantha it was financially impossible for her to afford the travel. After she paid for basic expenses her retail job at Costco at $10 an hour did not afford her enough income to do much else.

The longer we were apart the more we knew that we wanted to be together and so we tried to figure out a way for me to move to the United States. We found out very quickly that there was no way she would be able to sponsor me on the basis of our relationship since we were both women.

I considered attending an American university to further my education. This would at least give us a few years to decide our next move. Unfortunately, as a student I would have very little opportunity for lawful employment and extraordinarily high tuition costs. I was not eligible for loans so I would have to find $11,000 a year to support myself. Another dead end.

At the end of each trip, Samantha and I said goodbye to each other with tears and heavy hearts. It tore at us to have to part ways again and again with no path for a future together.

Between trips there were long and lonely periods punctuated by a routine of morning emails, a life line between Connecticut and Holland for two women in love.  Our evening phone calls were starting to become torturous because I could hear the hurt in her voice. I would cry every time I hung up the phone. It got so bad that I was crying myself to sleep at night. Going to bed alone after having talked to her became unbearable.

The distance took its toll on us. Finally, it was too much for me to cope with and I broke up with Samantha. That break up brought us closer together because, single once more, I realized that none of the women I was meeting in Holland compared to Samantha. We started talking again and I decided in 2004 that I would visit once more.  We spent the entire month of October together talking more and listening more intently to each other than we had before. On that trip our feelings for each other became more apparent and stronger than ever.

Still…I had to return home to Holland and I had to leave her behind again.  Finally we decided that we could not tolerate living apart. I started figuring out a way to get her to Holland.

Samantha’s financial circumstances were bleak. She was about to become homeless so time was running out fast. She applied for a passport and I scrounged up enough money for her plane ticket to Amsterdam.  In January 2005 she arrived in Amsterdam. Finally, she was home with me.

Eventually we settled down to life in Holland. With the few documents required we applied for a residency permit for Samantha based on our relationship. Six months later we were notified that she had been approved and she would have to go to our tax office and get a social security number so she could work.

Soon after I asked Samantha to marry me. We were married on September 3, 2007. It had been 7 years since we first met on line. It was the dream wedding. Samantha’s father, her brother and her brother’s girlfriend flew in to be there. Her father was the official witness. Even though it is not customary in Holland for the father of the bride to walk his daughter down the aisle, we wanted to incorporate that American tradition. We wanted Samantha’s father to be able to say that he walked his daughter down the aisle and gave her away.

So both my father and Samantha’s father walked us down the aisle. It was the happiest day of our lives. My extended family and our closest friends and some of my co-workers attended. It was absolutely beautiful.

We are now legally married with all of the same rights as my heterosexual sister, heterosexual relatives and heterosexual friends. Samantha has more rights here than she ever had in America and this saddens both of us to no end.

Samantha is still hurt by the fact that her own country does not recognize us as a couple.  Having Samantha move to Holland was the beginning of a whole new set of hardships.  Now we no longer have the distance between us which, believe me is wonderful. But we experience a sense of isolation from Samantha’s family, an isolation that was forced upon us because we had no choice by for Samantha to move to Holland.

We have not seen Samantha’s mother in four years. Samantha misses her mother terribly but we simply cannot afford the travel costs. Every time we experience an unexpected expense (e.g. our car needs to be repaired or replaced) a trip to the U.S. has to be put off for another year.

If you are reading this, you might be thinking to yourself: Samantha chose to live in Holland. But we do not see our life in Holland as a choice since Samantha’s country denied us the choice of building our lives together in Connecticut.  Samantha was forced by the U.S. government to move to Holland and it breaks my heart to see the pain caused to her by the separation from her family and her country. Samantha has worked hard since settling down in Holland. She managed to find a good job. For the first time she has adequate health insurance and opportunities she never had in America.  But, believe me when I say this, none of that matters to us. It’s not the point.

My wife enjoys more freedom here and has more rights than she ever had in America and this seems wrong to me.  Every time an American relative tells us they miss us and want us to move home, deep down inside we feel angry. But instead of lashing out, we educate them on why we aren’t moving back.

DOMA affects us deeply on a daily basis. DOMA also impacts Samantha’s mother, father, brother, grandmother, aunts and uncles even though they might not always realize how much it does affect them.

My wife can go back to America… but she would have to go back alone. For Samantha to return to America means breaking up our family.

And faced with that non-choice, my wife continues to live in exile.

Through all these years that we struggled, spending our savings and crying until we had no more tears, heterosexual binational couples in the same position simply filed papers with U.S. immigration and live together in peace. As it should be. Outrageous that what works for them is denied to us.

In the end, it comes down to this: DOMA needs to go.

1 comment:

  1. Hey both, u both looked wonderful on your special day. I can feel your pain as I am in exactly the same situ. I married my American husband also in 2007 and as a result of DOMA we are living in New Zealand which is lovely, but it is not our home, with our friends in our home environment.
    Lets hope the Land of the Free realizes the lack of equality offered to human beings and changes its way quickly. I think the domino wall has started to fall-lets hope it does so fast! hugs to u both.