Monday, November 15, 2010

Forced Into Exile, Jesse & Max Fight To Return: File Fiancé Visa Petition and Challenge DOMA

I never imagined that what began as a typical night out on the town in Manhattan would mark the beginning of a most amazing journey with the love of my life.
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.

Many reading this may not realize that U.S. immigration laws permit an American citizen to petition for his or her fiancé(e) … as long as the couple is heterosexual. In fact, U.S. immigration law elevates the status of heterosexual marriage to such an esteemed position that it actually offers a visa for a couple intending to marry specifically that they can be together to marry in the U.S. and reside permanently together. The only requirements are that the couple must prove that they have a relationship; that they have met at least once in the last two years; and that they have an intention to marry. In contrast to this simple process, it is outrageous that lesbian and gay binational couples struggle and fight to be together.

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.


  1. Jesse - great blog. Never realized how much of a struggle this was for you and Max. Your persistence is an inspiration to everyone

    keep fighting the good fight


  2. Nothing would make me happier than for you two to return to the U.S. as a couple. We are behind you, Brother.

    Eric & Whitney

  3. Wow, Jesse, I'm so impressed with your persistence! Good for you! I wish you all the best in your absolutely justified fight.

    I hope to one day see you and Max living your dream.

    Atalia (Eric's mom)

  4. This breaks my heart that in the year 2010 you cannot live like a civilized human being and are denied basic rights. We love you Jesse and Max and I pray that one day this country wakes up! Never give up , your strength illuminates others struggle


  5. My partner and I look forward to the day we can be together. For now, we were just happy being able to travel back and forth to our respective countries. Myself in the U.S. and my partner in Italy. My partner is established in her country, owns property and at this point is not interested in moving here. I have to retire before I can move there. That all came to an end when she entered the U.S and encountered our dreaded CBP officers. They detained her for three hours, berated and accused her of drug dealing and prostitution. Wanting to know who I was to her and asked her if she was gay. She was treated with no respect. Like a common criminal. She has no desire to return here. We have broken no laws, she carries her own insurance when she is here, never over stays her welcome and is never here more then 179 days a year. She travels here on the Visa Waiver Program because she never stays more then the three months allowed under that Visa. We are falling apart. I would leave now but am two years away from retiring. We are treated like second class citizens. Will this discrimination ever end? I hope more sooner the later!

  6. Dear Anonymous,
    Please contact us at if you want to become involved in our campaign. It is not necessary to reveal any identifying information. All communication with us are strictly confidential.
    Thank you for sharing your story in this comment.
    Lavi Soloway

  7. you've put this in perspective for me. my thoughts are with you! it may be a long road, it may be a short one, ultimately, i believe, love and compassion will prevail!

    may you be filled with loving kindness
    may you be well
    may you be peaceful and at ease
    may you be happy

    Austin, TX

  8. Wow. Just wow. I thought I had some idea of what was going on. I thought I was sort of fairly aware... But no. So I can only imagine what the rest of the US doesn't know. Doesn't realize. Wow!

    Last I heard, only 10% of US citizens have a passport. Ignorance!

    So awareness, yes!

    Go Go Go!

  9. Thank you for your story and bringing this issue up. How can we help you with your petition?

  10. Happymooncake,
    If you would like to help this campaign to end exiles, separations and deportations of gay binational couples like Jesse and Max, please contact us at
    In the meantime, share this link with your friends, post it widely. We welcome the participation of all persons impacted by these unjust laws, to join us in our public education campaign.
    Lavi Soloway

  11. I can't wait for the day we can come to your wedding in Big Sur. xx

  12. It's time the US reformed its ridiculous and outdated stance towards this issue! Keep fighting Jesse & Max. We love you and we're behind you.

  13. First off, I thank you for so eloquently presenting the online community with your story. Hi guys, I love you two so much (even though I haven't seen you in so long). As you may know, I'm in the same damn boat as you two. I so wish I could take Joydah to America as my (legally recognized in New Zealand as my) de-facto partner. Why oh why can't American policies reflect what the rest of the leading nations feel as a legit relationship?
    I will really try to spread your link to as many people I know.

    All my best. All my love.


  14. It is not possible to fully comprehend the pain that comes with the fact that my children have less rights than their parents. The United States needs to awaken to the realities of the 21st century and live up the lofty ambitions of its Constitution. Please let's work together to bring my children home and make this the land of the free for everyone's children.
    Much love and besos to my darling Jesse and Max.

  15. It breaks my heart to read this.

    I've known you both for so long and yet I had no idea that you had been through so much. A testament to you both that you have never complained about your situation and faced every new move with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.

    England and her subjects(!) love having you here but all my hopes are with you that you can return home. Until then, FIGHT ON!


  16. To my darling boys:
    Of course your story is partially my story, Dad, and Sara's story too, so we know it well. And still we cried when we read it, because it just reminded us of how much we miss you, and how we wish you could be part of our daily lives.
    At every chance I get I remind people that you are exiled from your country of birth. I will do everything I can to fight for your rights and for the rights of all bi national couples
    I am so proud of both of you, of the deep love you share, and how you face life with courage and enthusiasm..all my love to you,

  17. Wow guys,
    Knew the story and still so weird to hear it so openly.
    Power to you on your fight!

  18. We are waiting for you guys with open arms. Much love to you from across the ocean. xoxoxo

  19. Love will find a way, guys!

    St. Augustine wrote, "Dilige, et quod vis fac," meaning "Love, and do what you will."

    Best wishes, Scott

  20. Jesse (and Max):

    We've heard your story many times from Jerry and Mimi.

    I'm British, but I've been married to my (American) wife and I've lived and worked in this country for 25 years. Such a travesty that I have more civil rights in this country that you, who were born here.

    Good luck in your fight.


  21. Jesse, you really moved me. You and Max are awesome and you have all of my love and support.
    I hope things will work out, and you'll stop this eternal drifting from place to place and settle peacefully as a recognised couple, just like you deserve.



  23. Jesse and Max,

    I know about your story personally, through my longtime connection with your Mom and family. I know how hard it is on them for you to be so far away and absent from their daily lives. I know how the look forward to the times that you all can be together. I have experienced, firsthand, the discrimination for being in a same sex relationship. I don't think people are aware about the realities of homophobia. It is so important to put a real face on this issue. My family supports you both, and your family and we will do anything we can to help you both return to the ones you love!

    Amy & Adrienne

  24. You are the people this country should embrace: ethical, educated, and productive young men. You could have lived on the fringes as so many do - working odd jobs, walking dogs - but you chose integrity. You stand on the shoulders of giants: Thoreau, Gandhi, MLK. I hope you and all of us who support human rights can force our country to confront the cruelty of its homophobic laws. Kudos to you, Jesse and Mac, and to your parents.

    Love, Sheila