Monday, November 29, 2010

Andrew Sullivan: The Spousal Diaspora

Andrew Sullivan writes very powerfully about DOMA and the exile of gay binational couples:
More and more Americans are being forced by the US government to emigrate because the Defense of Marriage Act will not allow their legal spouses to remain in America. Why? Because the spouses are not US citizens. For ever, the US has acknowledged, perhaps excessively, that marriage and family trump everything in immigration law. As long as the marriage is valid, and sincere, no questions are asked. Why? Because we collectively acknowledge something profound about the decision to commit legally to one other person for life, and respect it. We do not force someone to emigrate from the US because he fell in love with a woman from, say, Spain or force the repatriation of an American because she swooned for a Russian.
But for gay couples, it's so different. It is difficult for a government to express more contempt for a citizen's human dignity than asserting that it is completely indifferent to his or her being able to live in America with the person he or she loves. And this inhumanity is compounded by the fact that in some states and the capital city, Americans can lawfully wed someone of the same gender but of a different nationality. So they are lured with the chimera of equality only to discover that, if they are to remain together, they will have to leave the country.
No other civilized Western country treats its own gay citizens this way. And yet it appears clear that the law will not change on this in the foreseeable future, as a more and more radicalized Republican party exercizes a veto over any equality for gay people, and as the Democratic party continues its defensive crouch in the face of religious intolerance and cultural panic.
This is not, in my view, a minor matter. In fact, very few issues demonstrate so starkly the inequality between gays and straights in America than this. Has any heterosexual American citizen ever doubted for a mili-second that he has a right to marry the person he loves and remain in the land he was born in? It is unthinkable. And yet what is unthinkable for 98 percent of citizens is mandatory for the tiny minority.
It hangs over a binational marriage like a sword; it eats away at you like a cancer; it terrifies and enrages and demoralizes. And, for so many, it is not going away.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Border Keeps an American Woman From Her Partner During a Health Crisis

The author asked that the faces in this photograph be obscured to protect their privacy

I am an American woman. My partner of five years lives in Canada. I want to share our story to add a voice to this effort.

We first met on line 12 years ago, and gradually we got to know each other and fell in love. Five years ago we committed to each other as a couple, despite the challenges we faced to be together. Like so many other couples, we live separated by an invisible line seen only on maps and the stern faces of immigration officers. Each border crossing is a nerve racking experience. To cross the border is to be reunited with the other, but still it is an act filled with fear and dread. The greatest anxiety we feel is that on this attempt to enter, we will be denied. I never know if the Canadian officials will allow me yet another visit. She never knows if the Americans will permit her to come see me. It is in one word, crazy.

Right now my partner and the love of my life is battling lung cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My visits with her are rationed, and carefully planned and scheduled. The most important goal for me, given her health situation, is to preserve the opportunity to visit her. To maximize my chances, I go up only ever other week. We are both afraid that if I try to go more often I might be denied from crossing the border and unable to be with her. We are also afraid that if I am denied once, I may be denied again and again. This fear may not sound rational. Even though I only have an intention to visit her, the concern is that the Canadian authorities may conclude that I wish to stay there permanently. In fact that is not true. But still there is the worry. Will one visit too many result in an officer will put an end to these difficult but vital trips?

My partner agonizes, too, about whether she will be denied entry as a visitor when she is well enough to travel again to the U.S.

It hurts me and her that I can't be with her while she is undergoing her treatment. It is devastating to think that I am stuck on one side of a border, by an invisible line that seems not to know about our humanity; this is never more upsetting than when is told she might not survive the treatment. She lives very far from her family who are on the other side of the country.

I am fortunate because my employer recognizes the issue has allowed me to work out a schedule so that I can go and be with her. Regardless, I am limited as to the amount of time I can take off form work. I also have to pay bills, take care of a home and take care of our pets. If the U.S. government would recognize our relationship I would be able to have her here with me and care for her 24/7 during this difficult time. Right now I worry about my not being there if something was to happen. I worry that I won’t be there when she needs someone to take her to the doctor or to the ER.

Through this awful experience, I learned knew things about people close to me. For example, I never would have thought my parents would have accepted our relationship but they surprised me. They welcomed my partner into the family just like they did my sisters’ husbands. I can’t help but think: if my parents with the good old southern up bringing can accept us and love us, why can’t my own government let us be together?

I am not much of a writer, I find it hard to convey our story for others to understand. But imagine your spouse fighting for her life and you can’t be there to hold their hand when they are getting sick from the chemo, give them a hug when it gets to hard to walk across a room, or fix them a meal so they can keep their strength up so they can go to another treatment. Imagine not being able to hold them and tell them you love them every day when the fear stalks you that it might be your last day to do so.

I cannot do this because we are a lesbian couple and the American government refuses to recognize our relationship. The state where I live does not permit same-sex couples to marry, but we would be happy to marry in one of the states that does allow it, or in Canada. But we need the United States immigration service to recognize that marriage. I must be able to sponsor her for a green card. This border should not be keeping us apart.

For now, I am grateful to be able to visit her every other week hoping and praying that nothing terrible happens during her treatments. She knows that I love her even though I am not there to hold her hand.

I am tired of being treated like a second class citizen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another Thanksgiving Without Jesse & Max
A Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA

We are a small family, with very few close relatives, so I think that makes us unusually close to our children. We often say there is no one in the world we would rather spend time with, than our children, because we so enjoy their company. Given this, we are so deeply saddened that our son, Jesse, is not able to live in this country. Most people find it hard to understand that our son, who is an American citizen, is actually forced to be in exile so that he can live with his partner of ten years, Max.

Max is from Argentina. He came to live in this country to be with the person he loves, just like so many other people have done before him. He came to the U.S. on a work visa, and when he lost his job he lost his visa too, but more importantly he lost his ability to remain in this country with Jesse.

At that point, Jesse and Max had no other option but to leave. They were forced to live and work in Europe, where they could remain as a couple and build a life together. First they lived in Budapest, Hungary, and after a few years there, they moved to London.

They have been out of the country and separated from us for six years. When possible they have come back for brief visits. We have visited with them many times as well. These visits are no substitutes for the real thing. We are unable to be part of their daily lives, we are unable to celebrate milestones together. Each year, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, all pass without their presence, which we miss so dearly. Jesse is also extremely close to his sister Sara, who shares a birthday with him, although they are seven years apart. For years they celebrated this special day together. Now of course they celebrate separately, and have a difficult time even seeing each other.

For Jesse and Max this separation from beloved family and dear friends was not a choice. It was forced upon them, because this country does not recognize that the love of two people of the same sex should be honored with the same rights and privileges that belong to a man and a woman when they fall in love and decide to make a life together. Since immigration laws do not protect binational same sex couples, in many cases these relationships do not last.

Although we feel deprived of the company of two people we love so dearly, we are grateful that their love has been able to survive as they have now relocated twice in Europe.

My husband and I have spent many sleepless nights worrying what will happen as we get older. Traveling abroad is expensive and stressful, and we know that if laws remain as they currently exist, we can never have the joy and peace of mind that comes from living near one’s children. Adding to that worry is the sorrow that when Jesse and Max decide to start a family, we will be separated from future grandchildren.

While we are well aware that in today’s global world, many people live abroad, far from family and friends, we do not feel as though we are experiencing a routine separation. Ours is a totally different situation that results from discriminatory and cruel laws. While other people can also make a decision to return home if they choose to, and that is not an option for binational same sex couples who are forced into exile. We are typical American parents: we worked hard to raise our children to value all other people equally, to care about the world around them, to contribute as members of their community, and to be independent and confident. In contrast, our government undermines our happiness. Our government has torn our son away from us and it has burdened us with the stress of separation and considerable expense of frequent travel, all because of discrimination motivated by homophobia.

Jesse is a tax-paying American citizen and he should be treated the same as all other citizens of this country, but he is not. We never thought that our child would reach adulthood with fewer rights than we have. It seems quite strange, that in the 21st century, in the United States of America, our son would have to leave his country and his family and friends, just to be with his partner. That is not a choice anyone should be forced to make.

Education is badly needed on this issue. Over an over again, well meaning people say to me in shocked tones, “What do you mean, your son and his partner can’t live in this country. Why can’t they just get married in Massachusetts?” The Defense of Marriage Act, which had so many politicians trembling in fear that it passed Congress by a wide margin fourteen years ago, is a distant memory even to many who are relatively aware of the fight for gay and lesbian civil rights. As an American and as a mother, I feel that it is important to add my voice to this issue and demand that my government cease discriminating against my son.

Like so many other issues, if one is not intimately connected to it, its impact on real people and real lives is hard to comprehend. So I explain, as many times as necessary, that that immigration law is federal, and no matter how many states allow same sex couples to marry, until federal laws change, my son and Max, and countless other binational couples, will not have the right to live together in this country. Meanwhile, real lives are hurt and damaged, sometimes forever.

(Jesse and Max's story is here.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Denver Post: Inger & Phillipa Battle Separation

"I don't want any special rights at all. All I want is to live with my family," says Philippa, 33. Via Skype, she helps do homework with the 10-year-old who calls her "Mum." People ask why they do it, pressing on with such a tough relationship. You can choose what you eat or wear, they answer. You don't choose who you fall in love with. "We don't want to keep doing this, shaking our fists at the sky wanting the world to be fairer than it is," [Inger] Knudson says. "But we will, we will for as long as it takes to be together."
"U.S. Policy and Same-Sex Love Are Oceans Apart," Denver Post November 18, 2010. See full article here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia

Tomorrow, Henry Velandia will appear before an Immigration Judge in Newark, New Jersey.

Sign Henry's petition here.  

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.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Josh & Henry Celebrate Fourth Anniversary: Save Their Marriage and Stop The Deportation

Sign and share this petition urging Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano to halt deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.

                                                                                                             © Paul Schindler 2010

Tonight, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia will be featured speakers at this event honoring Miss New York, Claire Buffie, at La Pomme Club in Manhattan. Miss New York is a vocal supporter of Marriage Equality. Tickets are $10 and proceeds will benefit the Children's Miracle Network and the Miss New York Organization.
Josh and Henry have collected almost 9,000 supporters on their Facebook page. If you have not yet visited that page, please do so here. Click on "like" and then "share" this page with others so they can reach their goal of 10,000 supporters.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From Iowa to Ecuador: Peace Corps Volunteer Falls in Love, U.S. Denies His Partner a Visa

Brad, Raul and Raul's sister
We decided to share our story to let others know about the way in which discrimination can destroy young, new love.  This December my partner and I will celebrate our first anniversary as a couple, but we will be in two different countries that are 3,000 miles from each other, and in many ways, worlds apart.

Raul lives in Cuenca, Ecuador and I live in Davenport, Iowa.  We met in the middle of 2009 when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small town just outside of Cuenca.  As soon as we met,  we had that kind of instant chemistry and we bonded quickly. We knew that we wanted to be together as a couple and after a few months of stalling on my part as I weighed the practical considerations, we began our relationship. As with many new couples, things went rather smoothly for the two of us.  We spent many moments during my final year of Peace Corps service getting to know each other, visiting his family, visiting my host family, and helping each other out through thick and thin.  He was there for me when I got tonsillitis and was so sick that I couldn't eat anything at all.  He knew he could count on me if the lunch lady forgot to bring him lunch at the construction site where he worked.

When it was finally time for our tear-filled goodbye at the Quito airport at the end of July 2010, we knew that we didn't want it to end there. I love him too much to imagine not being with him. Something special and precious happened to us that we found each other, and against all odds and from such different backgrounds and experiences we fell in love.  I promised I would be back and I intend to keep that promise.  I recently accepted a 7-8 month job in Cuenca and will be returning to my partner in January 2011.  Raul and I are very excited about being reunited in a two months.  We have every expectation, given our strong commitment to each other, that we will settle into a routine familiar to any other couple in a new relationship, learning to get to know each other and live as a couple.   We have even been discussing entering into a civil union once we reach the 2 year mark required by Ecuadorean law.  

Unfortunately, over that excitement hangs a dark cloud of uncertainty.  Earlier this year, Raul applied for a tourist visa to visit me in the US.  Because of the general subjectivity of the visa application process at the US Consulate in Guayaquil, Raul was denied a visa. He simply could not provide sufficient evidence of his intention to return to Ecuador, even though he had no intention of doing anything other then coming for a short visit. Unfortunately, coming to see me is not a very persuasive reason for a visitor visa since it is presumed that he would remain in the US and never return. He has little prospect of coming to the US on a work visa, since his skills are as a construction crew foreman and for the most part, long-term work visas are only available as a practical matter for highly skilled occupations. While many are fighting to prevent their partners from being deported, I just want Raul to have the possibility of visiting me in the US so that he can meet my family and see where I grew up. We understand that would only be  a brief visit, but as we are planning our lives together, it would be mean so much to us.  Many binational gay couples who first meet and fall in love abroad are in a similar situation.  I know it is hard for Consular Officials to determine who should be allowed to visit, especially from a relatively poor country such as Ecuador, but surely some policy could be put into place to permit me to vouch for his intention to return to Ecuador? Heck, my entire family would be willing to sign off on that.  We just want to be able to share some of our life here with him. And even that is denied to us.

As for me, I am in the midst of Ph.D. program applications to start in the 2011-2012 academic year. Thanks to my quality education, references and strong test scores, I am applying to be admitted into some of the best Psychology programs in the country.  However, if I am offered admission and the chance of a lifetime that it represents, Raul and I will face a decision that no heterosexual couples in our situation should be forced to make.  We will have to decide whether to live 3,000 miles apart and wait for the laws to change or live together in exile and accept the consequences for our livelihoods and standard of living. A third possibility is to study and live together in a marriage equality country. However, in my field, that would be a career limiting move; even if I could find a Ph.D. program abroad in a country where we could both live, that foreign degree would not be as well-received by US institutions. Did I work this hard and this long to get to where I am to lose what I have achieve or may achieve? Why can I not file a fiancé visa petition for Raul, like all heterosexual Americans can in this situation? If he was granted a fiancé visa, he could come here, we could marry and I could petition for his green card. I would continue to pursue my Ph.D. and I would be able to do so without losing either my country or the man I love. Why is my government so hell-bent on doing this to me? I am speaking out because I worry that our lawmakers are not aware of the small ways in which the Defense of Marriage Act destroys dreams and short circuits blossoming love. And in the end, our dreams and our love is what makes us human.

Raul and I have some difficult decisions to make. When I return to Ecuador in January, we will spend a lot of time discussing them and weighing our options. Our only hope is that things will change quickly.  We are both committed to helping bring about that change.  As a gay binational couple we cannot ignore the discrimination. We hope others out there will read this story and join in this effort.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Save Our Marriage - Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia Reaches 8,000 Supporters

If you haven't joined and shared this Facebook campaign please do so here. Josh and Henry are trying to reach 10,000 supporters before Henry's November 17, 2010 deportation hearing.

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.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Dan & Alex Struggle with Separation

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.