Thursday, March 24, 2011

Married Binational Lesbian Couple Forced into Exile with 3-Year-Old Matthew Because of DOMA

I knew it was going to be a magical year when I stood at the top of the Hill in South East London with my friends, watching the fireworks above Central London on NYE, and as the bell chimed 12, it started to snow. Precisely at midnight.

Three weeks later, having just returned from travelling in Borneo, I was feeling bored one evening, so decided to head out to a women's night with some friends. As I recall, they took a bit of persuading but eventually a plan started to take shape and they arrived to pick up my roommate and me. Becs was in the back of the car. We had met a few times in 2009 and socialized with the same group, but our communication had been limited to saying hello in passing. (Of course, I'd always thought she was hot!)  Neither of us were looking for a relationship at that point. I wasn't that evening in January either, but wonderfully, cupid struck.

From that moment on Becs and I were inseparable. We moved in together shortly afterwards and Becs was there proudly holding my hand and surprising me with a room filled with balloons as I celebrated my 30th birthday with my nearest and dearest.

Becs job was in transition (coincidentally she worked in the same building as I did, although for a different company) and we didn't know where she would be, so we were initially living for the moment, not knowing where our time together would take us. I also knew that Becs had a 3 year old son and was arranging the custody situation.

We decided to take a weekend trip to Amsterdam in March 2010. I'll never forget that weekend; the hotel was diabolical. We had to shower in a cupboard within the room and the room itself was at the top of about 4 wonky flights of very steep stairs AND the size of a postage stamp. But the view of the canal was breathtaking and it was this weekend that Becs told me that she loved me, and I in return told her that I loved her too. (Unbeknownst to me, Becs had spent much of my birthday party telling my family this very fact!)

If I am honest, we knew from the start we were falling in love with each other, but it was scary to admit it not knowing where the relationship would go. We did know that we wanted to make it work - no matter what. We've both had long term relationships before, but when you meet the love of your life, your soulmate, the person for you - you just know.

Fast forward to May, Becs although in the UK on a Tier 1 Highly Skilled Migrant Visa, has to go back to Texas to sort out the custody situation and is required to remain in Texas throughout the proceedings. We don't know how long it's going to take.

Meanwhile, I stay on in the house in London and continue to work. We survive each day by emailing and Skyping at night. You know, they should employ us as laptop testers, we put our two through some serious use. Every single night without fail, we would Skype and fall asleep with our Skype up and running on our beds, so we could be as close as we could be. I would love waking up in the morning and watching her sleeping - but equally would be reminded with overwhelming sadness at not being with her. We would potter around at the weekend, doing jobs around the house and chit chatting to each other as though we were in the same room and watch movies together, starting them on our laptops at exactly the same time, whilst keeping our Skype windows open so we could see each other’s reactions. I’d take her on my laptop to friends houses and the pub. And don’t get me wrong, whilst Skype is marvellous - it's no substitute for the real thing.
The little things that others take for granted are so important, like being wrapped up in a hug at the end of a difficult day, taking in your partner's familiar smell and just knowing things will be OK, a little cheeky wink while you are out socialising with friends, being able to fall asleep at night in the arms of your loved one, sharing the washing up, or even arguing about who wants to do it!
Skype, in fact, allowed me to be there to help celebrate Matthew's* (my step-son) 3rd birthday. Though it would have been a much happier event if the group picture had been of me with the rest of the family, and not the family and a computer screen.
Unable to bear being apart, I flew over for 8 precious days with Becs in August 2010. On the 21st of August, in Becs' Mom's living room and in front of her Mom, Becs got down on one knee and proposed to me (I actually thought she was giving me a tacky picture frame as a present and making a big ol' deal out of it!!) And as my friends and family will agree - I've NEVER been happier.

It was a tremendously sad day when we had to part and I had to hide myself in the toilets of the airport once through security until I could stop the tears, but we were hopeful there would be some resolution on the custody case.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. So we made a decision - that if Becs was going to be in the U.S. for a considerable amount of time - I would be there with her. Thinking this would be a straightforward process; I did a bit of research and was gobsmacked to see that as a couple in a same sex relationship, we didn’t have the same rights afforded to us as heterosexual couples do. Heterosexual couples could apply for a fiancée visa, sponsor their partner; they could in essence just order a mail order bride from the internet - and Becs and I, in a loving and committed relationship with children involved, we're not afforded the same rights. How is it that Becs, a tax paying, law abiding U.S. citizen cannot sponsor her fiancée to be with her?

I think this was about the same time the 'It gets better' Campaign was being launched after all those tragic suicides and all I could think to myself, after discovering there was NO way for us to be together was, does it? Does it get better?

Finally in November, we couldn't bear the 6 hour time difference, the late nights; emotionally and financially it was taking its toll on our family. I handed in my notice, moved from our house, back in with my mother (at 30, having moved out at 16, this was a pretty desperate thing to do) and applied for a B2 Tourist Visa. We met the criteria as far as I was concerned.

Having lived in the UK for all of my life - I could show strong ties to the UK. So armed with my declaration that stated I absolutely didn’t want to live in the U.S., but that my partner was going through a custody battle so I wanted to be there to support her, the fact she had a UK Tier 1 Visa, and the fact we had a home to return to, and of course her job - I applied. It was a lengthy and fairly intimidating process and I was immediately turned down for not showing strong enough ties to the UK. I broke down outside the embassy in London. The fact hit me, I couldn't be there to hold Becs' hand during one of the most difficult and stressful times of her life.

I had to return to work immediately afterwards, but was sent home by my boss when I got in; she could see I was devastated. I didn’t even need to say the words to Becs, when I had called her from the pay phone outside of the embassy, she could tell by the way I was breathing.

That weekend, I shut myself off from everybody. I couldn’t see an end to this depressing way of living. Ultimately, we want our family to be in the UK - but if we can't in the meantime, then we should be allowed to live/stay in the US - just as any other heterosexual couple can. WE should be allowed to make that decision based on what is best for OUR family.

Immediately after the B2 Visa denial, I applied for ESTA. Their website said they had to consider it because of my B2 denial. And they got back to me a day later confirming that I could enter the US, but that the final decision would be made at the border. They would let you spend your hard earned money, to be met at the border and sent home. I can't even think of anything crueler.

Now, I despise flying. I have a huge fear of it, and rely heavily on valium to travel, but even the valium wasn't helping my nerves. I flew via another state to break up the flight to make it easier, but it was literally the most nervous I have been, knowing that they could want to question me further and had every right to send me back on a flight that very day. It was a strange mixture of anxiousness and desperation to see my fiancée. I was terrified of my own reaction to the news I wouldn't be allowed in - and I think that my friends and family were too.

I don’t know if God or somebody up there was looking out for us that day-but thankfully it passed without incident. However, I don't expect it to be like that next time and I spent a few days trying to get over the stress of it and relax and be with my family again.

We spent 3 months together, in her Mom and stepfathers house, whilst we were tying up the legal arrangements surrounding her sons custody. There wasn’t a day that didn’t go by, when I didn’t hear the familiar tick tock above my head, reminding me that I only had X amount of days left before I would have to leave without Becs. Every happy occasion was tinged with sadness, even as I sat and watched my Fiancée and stepson decorate the Christmas tree with my in-laws I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘what if we’re not together next Christmas’. The thought of having to part with your loved one at the airport is hard enough; not knowing when you will see them again is too much to bear. Becs and I married in Boston in December. We were virtually surrounded by friends and family – who were logged on around the world, watching via streaming video and overjoyed to be a part of our day. One day, when we have a home established somewhere and our family is settled - we will have the big wedding like the one we always imagined. Of course, our marriage will be recognised in the UK as a civil partnership, so it will be recognised whenever we are there, but nothing at all will change for us when we are in the States; as far as the U.S. is concerned, we’re strangers despite the fact we share the same surname.

There are 36,000 other families being affected in this way and I wish more would come forward and share their story - our voices; our stories NEED to be heard. Instead we live in fear that sharing our stories means we are more likely to be stopped at immigration and turned away.

My family loves Becs and I know that Becs' family love me in the same way; we are so lucky to be surrounded by support. We are not criminals; we work hard and are good people. Why should our family suffer in this way? We consider ourselves extremely lucky in that we were only apart for 4 months; but during this time, we were officially homeless and our life was in limbo while we were forced to live in separate countries. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is to account for this.  DOMA must be defeated, please help us and tens of thousands of other couples facing separation and exile by contacting your Senators and members of Congress and urging them to support the Respect for Marriage Act.


  1. I know how you feel. I hope things change soon! I pray that UAFA passes or DOMA gets taken down!

  2. We love you guys very much.....and we're here for the long haul, to support you.

  3. Thinking of you both and all the other couples in the same situation. Johanne xx

  4. Heart-rending.
    So glad you are all here together at last, but so sad that you don't have the right to be together anywhere you may choose to live.
    Love you. XX

  5. Welcome to America the land of the free IF you are str8.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. I cried again. We love you three so much!!! xoxoxo

  8. Thanks for sharing your story ... it's like reading my own. *sigh* :(
    Love, Sandra