On that magical night in January 2001, I met Max in a nightclub. When he told me that he was visiting from Argentina and that it was his first day in New York I offered him a tour of “my city.” We felt very comfortable with each other, very quickly, and I wanted to share everything (stories, favorite places, and friends). During those initial weeks he met my neighbors, friends and even my parents. I’ll never forget how he gave them such a warm embrace upon meeting them. They immediately loved his open spirit and warmth. It’s a Latin thing.
Shortly after, Max returned home to Argentina leaving me with an invitation to visit him there. As soon as I could I made the trip. I traveled to Buenos Aires for the first time and Max and I were reunited. This time he showed me his country, his life and introduced me to his family and friends. We realized that our relationship was getting more serious, and fast. We spent the next 12+ months traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Argentina and between those visits we kept in touch by endless phone calls and e-mails. During this time I met and got to know Max’s parents, Marta and Carlos, and his brothers Pablo, Matias and Sebastian, as well as many of his close friends. His family welcomed me with open hearts. We were young and falling in love. To have both families across the world from each other embrace us as a couple was wonderful.
During this time, I joined a binational couples group at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center in Greenwich Village. I had never been so head-over-heels in love; at the same time, I realized that we had a practical challenge: the person I was falling for was from another country. I knew there would be a lot to learn (and laws to navigate) in order for Max and I to live together in New York. I remember being astonished to discover just how difficult it was for other gay binational couples to make a life together. Max and I were enjoying those early “honeymoon” days of a relatively new relationship and I was already confronted with numerous stories of couples whose relationships had ended. This was because they could not find a solution around the discriminatory laws that prevented them from living together in the U.S. I was determined that we would meet this challenge head on and that we would not be broken up because of the arbitrary reality of borders or citizenship.
In February 2002, Max obtained a 3-year work visa in the U.S. and we were finally able to live together under one roof; no more long e-mails and late night phone calls. We lived in Greenwich Village, the same neighborhood that witnessed our first kiss. As happy as we were, we were constantly aware that being together depended on Max’s job and his work visa. Without a job his visa would be terminated and he would have to leave. This reality became an enormously stressful experience. We were grateful to have worked out a temporary solution, but a dark cloud lurked as we wondered how we could make this more stable.
During these years we grew as individuals and as a couple. We had many memorable times together in New York. Of course, it was not a completely smooth road. Aside from the up and downs every couple goes through we had the tremendous stress of Max’s unstable immigration status. Max’s reliance on a job and a visa meant that he did not share the same privileges that I did as a U.S. citizen. That created some tension, which we tried to acknowledge and work through as much as possible. But the reality was still there: Max had to sacrifice his career and accept any job that would sponsor him, incurring a small fortune in legal bills, and never knowing whether his stay in the U.S. would come to a crashing end at any moment. This stress almost overwhelmed us, but we managed to keep it from destroying the love we shared.
|Jesse and Max with their dog Duncan and Jesse's parents at Gay Pride in New York in June 2003|
After 4 years of living with this constant instability and imbalance in our lives, we were forced to make a very difficult decision. With no route to a green card ahead and only a precarious temporary work visa, we realized that for us to continue our lives together we would have to find a new home outside the United States. We simply could not remain in a country that threw so many obstacles in our path. Our relationship was too valuable to us. We were both offered jobs in Budapest, Hungary. We informed our families and packed our possessions. We knew we were lucky. Despite being forced into this Hungarian exile, far from everyone who was dear to us, we also knew that many other gay binational couples find no way to be together at all and end up breaking up as a result.
Leaving our supportive friends and family behind was one of the hardest challenges we ever endured together. We left New York with some bags and our beloved dog, Duncan, with sadness but also hope that things will get better in another country. Leaving my family behind was much more heartbreaking than I allowed myself to realize, even though they knew that our move to Hungary was out of necessity not choice.
In 2007 Max and I celebrated six years together and prepared to move again. This time I was offered a job in London. It was a great opportunity and we were fortunate that the U.K. recognized Max as my partner and gave him a visa to live there as well. Soon Max found work as well and we settled down to new lives in London.
Max and I have never stopped yearning to return to New York. We cannot come back to the U.S. and live as unequal, unrecognized and marginalized human beings. We do want to come back but we want to live in New York legally recognized as a couple. We now live in a country, the U.K., that grants gay and lesbian couples legal status, but this is not our home. As the current law stands, the United States cannot be our home either.
This point always hits me the hardest when we arrive in the U.S. for a visit and we face the dreaded customs and immigration clearance. At that point we must separate and enter the United States through two different lines: citizens and non-citizens. I wait for Max to re-appear on the other side, never forgetting that he does not have the same right as I do to enter the United States. A small part of me fears that for some reason he may be held back and not permitted to enter. It is in these moments that everything becomes crystal clear to me: we must fight this injustice for all couples struggling to be together who may not be as fortunate as Max and I to have found a temporary refuge in exile.
Max and I joined this campaign because we want to return to the United States and marry, but we want to do so on our terms, with full equality and full dignity. Together we decided to put these words into action. For almost a decade, discriminatory laws have controlled us and have flung us around the globe like rag dolls forcing us to live thousands of miles from our families. We believe strongly that this must be challenged. With that in mind, I have filed a fiancé visa petition for Max.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government denies recognition to same-sex marriages and for this reason my request that Max be granted a visa to come to the U.S. as my fiancé is an uphill battle. But that will not stop me from trying. I am petitioning my government to give me the same rights as all other Americans and to end the senseless discrimination caused by DOMA. We know that this petition is a direct challenge to DOMA, but we see no alternative but to fight.
It is our dream to return to the U.S. and marry in Big Sur, California surrounded by our close friends and family, staying in one place…. once for all. We are prepared to fight to make that dream a reality.