Monday, February 21, 2011

Together for Nine Years and Married, Lisa and Diana Are Still Forced to Live an Ocean Apart

Lisa and Diana on their wedding day in October 2005
November 7, 2001 turned out to be a changing point in my life. I was home in England recovering from surgery and felt a little lonely and down. I had placed an ad online a short while before hoping that I would find someone to correspond with. Then on that day in November, I received an unexpected email from Diana in Salem, Massachustts. We started chatting via e-mail and we developed a connection, becoming fast friends within days.

After Christmas she wrote to me and said she would really like to meet me. Diana invited me to come to the United States and offered to host me for the visit. I must admit I was a bit scared of flying thousands of miles to stay with someone I had not yet even met.

So, after a few more weeks of writing to each other, we changed plans. Diana booked a flight to England to visit a city close to where I lived and I agreed to meet and be her ‘tour guide’.  Diana wisely suggested that I bring a friend and meet her in a public place so that it would be less intimidating.  And that is how, finally in Easter 2002 I met Diana in person for the first time. She met me as she embarked from the train where I waited with my friend by my side. I was still cautious about seeing someone I had only ever communicated with online.

Exchanging Vows
Admittedly, I was a bit shy that day. Still, I knew within an hour of meeting Diana face-to-face after all the months of chatting, that she was someone I wanted in my life, someone I could love. I spent the week showing her the sites. Diana met my parents and my pets and came to see me at a performance with my dancing school. After her week-long visit she had to leave. Parting was heartbreaking for me. I knew I wanted to be with her and we agreed that we were now together as a couple. I was so scared when she left. What if I never saw her again? Talking on the internet and phone after that was just not the same. After a few more weeks, I decided that I would come over to stay with her and I started to plan my visit.  It would be my very first trip to the U.S. and my first time on a plane. It would also be my first holiday without family or friends.  To say the least, I was nervous! I stayed with Diana for three weeks and we had a great time together. During my visit I purposely put off thinking about the day that would soon come when I would have to leave her. I knew how my heart would be ripped out the day I had to return to England. (Plus, I was petrified to fly again, so that didn't help at all!) And so it continued for us with more visits over the years, never able to find a way to live in the same country but becoming more and more attached to each other.

In October 2005 we were married in Massachusetts. Of couse, like so many thousands of other same-sex couples despite being legally married we are still not considered married by the federal government. Still, it was a most beautiful, memorable and incredible wedding. We were married at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts. My parents both flew in from England and were present for the ceremony and the celebration. Diana's Mom and her stepmother were there. Diana's Dad and her grandmother knew of our plans to marry and were excited and happy for us; sadly, both passed way months before the date of the wedding.  Of course, Diana was very upset that they couldn't be there because they were so excited to see their only child and only grandchild get married.  But we pressed on.  On the brighter side, we had around 100 people as guests. It was mostly Diana's friends and co-workers, but they all supported and loved what we had together. Everyone told us that they had a great time, but every single one of them expressed the fact that they hate what we are going through, the struggle just to be together. They are all good people and just want to see us together in peace like any other married couple.

We are aware that while our marriage is not recognized by US immigration law, it can still impact my access to visit Diana in the US, as an Immigration Officer may see me has having the intent to stay permanently. The irony is that with the struggle we have been through for nine years——living apart but sustaining our love and our relationship——the last thing we would ever want to do is break the law. And so I dutifully visit briefly, and leave my spouse behind each time.  It is impractical and cruel to require us to sustain our relationship forever on the basis of infrequent visits.  I’m lucky that I am from the UK and we have more rights and greater ease to visit the US than citizens of most non-Western European countries; and we are also more fortunate than most because Diana could apply to immigrate to the UK on the basis of our relationship.  However, this good fortune does not provide solutions for us.  In order to sponsor Diana to move to the UK and live with me, I would have to earn more money, have a house of my own and, ironically, that would mean for several years I would have to stop visiting her while I set up a home and saved money. In contrast, Diana has land in the US and a place to build us a home, something I cannot do for us in England. Financially and pragmatically, we would be able to establish out our permanent home life together with more stability in the US if we were only allowed to that opportunity. But the law keeps us, quite literally, up in the air, tossed back and forth between two countries, never being allowed to settle down and call either one of them home.

The Wedding Party
In June of 2009 my mum and I went to visit Diana in Massachusetts. The day after we arrived, before we had even unpacked, Diana got an urgent call at 6:00 a.m. from a hospital in New Jersey where her mom was being treated. The medical team said that Diana's mom was dying. She had surgery for a hysterectomy 22 days earlier and now they said she wasn't going to make it. Diana woke us up and got us in the car and we drove as fast as we could for the 325 miles to try to get there. The doctor called about every 30 minutes to say that they had to revive her repeatedly so that we could make it to her bedside before she passed. We got stuck in traffic in New York state, about a 90 minutes from the hospital. The doctor kept calling. Diana would have to make the decision at that time whether or not to remove her mother from life support.  It was extremely difficult because that her Mom was her last surviving relative. But Diana knew in her heart that she had to do it. We did finally get to the hospital, but it was too late to do anything. Mum and I stayed with Diana and helped her through all the arrangements, the wake the funeral and everything. It was a moment of crisis and deep sadness, but it demonstrated how close we were as a family, despite being kept 3,000 miles apart. We have support for each other in times of need, unconditionally. Sure, my Mum and I arrived with the intention to enjoy a vacation with Diana; but things turned out differently on that trip. Circumstances proved that how important it is to have your family's support in your hour of need. And yet, sadly I once again departed and left Diana behind.

It’s now 2011 and we are still not able to live together!  This is the tenth year since I first met Diana on line. Diana visits me in England once a year and I visit her once or twice a year in the U.S. Diana doesn't have any close relatives still living, so she comes to England to celebrate Christmas and New Year's with us as a family and we always have a great time. However, the years of this are taking its toll. Physically, financially, you name it. We are both now depressed and suffer from panic attacks. We are struggling to find the money for more flights and the cost associated with being away from home for weeks, sometimes a couple of months when we are lucky. Travelling is a nightmare; I hate flying and the US immigration officers seem to hate me.  Whenever I visit I seem to get such a hard time, I’m scared to tell them why I am really there. Diana seems to have it a bit easier visiting me, she doesn’t come as often or for as long so they don’t seem as suspicious.  Or maybe the British immigration officers are simply nicer. Who knows. We should not have to be dealing with this stress.
Visiting Washington, D.C.

We have gone through everything to try to see if I could live there. But I don’t meet the requirements for a work visa and don‘t have the money for other kinds of visa, like investing or going to college.

I can’t explain what it is like to have to leave or to see the person you love leave from the airport. It feels like someone is tearing out your heart or beating it up. Your heart simply aches. I feel like running away. I just want to run and run and never stop. I cry until I get a migraine. And I just want to say to everyone who passes ‘please, help, please make this stop’. It’s almost like the grief you fee when you’re told someone you love has passed away.

I am hoping to go to university soon, so I can eventually either get a job where it means I can sponsor Diana to live here or means that I can work in the US. But it scares me that if I go to the U.S. on a work visa and lose my job it means losing my status and being forced to leave. My status in the U.S. should be stable and permanent and based on my relationship not some employment visa. I hope and pray every day and every night that we will be together one day and build a home together.

Diana says often that she does not want to live her life without me anymore. She cannot wrap her head around the discrimination we face, despite being married. Diana and I see the Defense of Marriage Act as the ultimate obstacle to our happiness. We are married and immigration laws that protect families and keep married couples together should apply equally to us. How can it be right to keep spouses separated on two continents despite our 5-year marriage and our committed relationship of almost a decade? We have joined this fight against DOMA to help all binational couples like us who want nothing more than the right to live together in peace.


  1. Wow, this totally made me cry because I completely understand what it feels like to be standing at the airport and having to leave the person you love to fly back to another country. It's not economical to have to spend thousands of dollars to fly back and forth between two countries; two continents, to see the ones we love for just a few short days. I bawl my eyes out for days after returning to my home because it doesn't feel like home without my girlfriend.

    Coming from an American I can say that American immigration and custom's officers are nasty pieces of work. Not all of them, but American's seem to think that we are above everyone else, when in fact we are sinking in the eyes of the 'free' world and gaining momentum.

  2. I'm so sorry. I'm in a long distance gay relationship too and I know how it is. I hope things work out for us soon.

  3. I'm sorry you have to endure what you do - it is an injustice that both of you must do so much just to see each other for a little bit. It's a shame and someday, it will be better. We cannot give up and give in. Be strong.