Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Carrie & Claire: Family Separated for Five Years

Carrie and Claire at their September 2007 wedding in Vancouver, Canada
Carrie Tucker is a 55-year old native Californian, a veteran of the United States Air Force and a former State of California employee.  Carrie is also disabled, having had to take disability retirement after working and paying taxes her whole life.  Carrie’s wife, Claire Pollard, is a 49-year-old British citizen who has worked her entire life.  Claire resides in the United Kingdom.
Carrie and Claire met in early 2005 on an internet social site.  They quickly became friends and began emailing and instant messaging on a daily basis.  Neither Carrie or Claire was looking for love, but by early 2006, after countless chats, emails and phone calls, they both felt a strong desire to meet in person.  Claire traveled to California in April 2006 for a two week holiday.  Everything they felt for one another was confirmed—Carrie and Claire were deeply in love.  Carrie’s 14-year-old daughter, Ariana, also enjoyed meeting Claire and let it be known that she approved of Claire for her mom.
After Claire returned to the UK, the emails, phone calls and internet became their daily lifeline.  By July 2006, they knew they needed to share their lives together as life partners, spouses.  On September 7, 2006, Claire was back in California for another brief holiday and the two had a commitment ceremony, officiated by a United Church of Christ minister.  In attendance were Ariana, who wrote a loving message she gave during the ceremony, and Carrie’s sister, Christine, who took photos, gave her blessing as well.
Carrie, Claire and Ariana at their 2006 commitment ceremony
From the start, Carrie and Claire agreed that Claire would move to California, where Carrie’s family lives.  Because of her physical disabilities, a move to the United Kingdom was not possible for Carrie. Together, the couple pursued every possibility offered by the immigration law to find a way for Claire to legally live in the U.S.  They looked into H-1B visas and student visas.  The couple contacted Immigration Equality and confirmed they had looked into the only ways to proceed.  They were one couple of the thousands of binational couples whose love knew no borders,  and whose commitment to each other was boundless, but they were face-to-face with the reality that the Defense Of Marriage Act  legally keeps them apart.
Claire was fortunate to work for an employer that allowed her to take 2-3 weeks holiday a few times a year and the women filled their time together trying to live as if they never had to part.  For years, these few visits each year became their routine, the rhythm of their relationship.
On one of these visits, Carrie and Claire decided to marry. They took the 2 hour plane trip to Vancouver and were married on September 15, 2007,  a year after their commitment ceremony in Sacramento.  During their stay in Vancouver, they discovered they liked the city and the climate would be mild enough for Carrie’s health.  They started to consider a plan to move to Canada, with Claire going first and Carrie following after her daughter turned 18 and graduated high school.  They contacted highly reputable Canadian immigration attorneys, who determined the women could qualify to immigrate under the Skilled Worker program with Claire as the lead applicant.  It seemed a future together was in reach. Even though it meant moving to a third country, it meant they could be together. Finally.
And then, just as it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel,  the global economy crashed and went into recession.  Canada retroactively eliminated Claire’s skill set from the Skilled Worker category.  This was an expensive and devastating blow to the pair.  They learned that if Claire could get a sponsor employer she might still get a work permit and work toward permanent residency.  In May 2008, Claire took an unpaid, one-month leave from her work and the couple rented a condominium in Vancouver while Claire did a job search.  Sadly, this effort came to naught.
Carrie and Claire are legally married. Their marriage is recognized under California state law. Ariana sees Claire as her stepmother. Carrie’s family has welcomed Claire with open arms. And still, the federal government sees Carrie, an Air Force veteran, and the love of her life, her wife, Claire, as nothing but strangers to each other.  Denying this loving, committed, married couple equal recognition of their marriage has devastating consequences, not only for Claire and Carrie, but also for Ariana who is now 18, and has been deprived of having stepmom Claire in her life for more than five years.
In the summer of 2010, Claire’s job was made redundant and she came to California for the longest time the couple had ever shared together—a whopping 85 days—for the first time they were together long enough to actually calculate carefully as to be sure not to run astray of the visa waiver limit of 90 days.  Claire is currently job hunting in the UK and they have no immediate plans for a future together in one country; just a fervent prayer that the discriminatory laws of the US will change and allow Carrie to sponsor her wife for residency in the US.
Beyond being denied the ability to live together (which, in and of itself, is excruciatingly painful) is the fact that the laws have denied Carrie’s daughter the loving presence of Claire during her teen years.  Ariana and Claire are virtual strangers, Carrie feels fragmented by the split.  The years lost to this loving family can never be recaptured.  The Tucker-Pollards only want what other married couples have—the ability to live with their family, together.
The impact of the Defense of Marriage Act on Ariana cannot be ignored. When lawmakers passed DOMA they failed to consider its impact on the children of binational couples. The fight to repeal DOMA is a fight to preserve marriages and families.

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