Monday, May 23, 2011

Married Gay Binational Couple in Exile for Six Years After Fulbright Teacher from Nashville Falls in Love in Austria

Andy and Achim at their wedding in June 2006

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I always dreamed of traveling and seeing the world. I finally got my chance in college and again after graduation. I applied for a job abroad as an English Teaching Assistant through the Fulbright Program. I was offered a position at an Austrian secondary school, and I was accepted. At the time, I assumed that I was heading off to Europe or a year, maybe two at most, before returning to the U.S. and moving to New York City.

Of course, life unfolds differently than we plan. In a small Austrian village nestled in the foothills of the Alps, I met Achim, the love of my life.

Sometimes, there are things in life that are just so clear that you don't have to think about what is right, you just know it. My father still recalls the first time I talked on the phone with him after meeting Achim. "You could just hear the excitement in your voice... I knew Achim was someone very special and that you were happy." And happy we were. Within two months, we were living together... and I'll never forgot the moment when we told each other: this is it, this is our forever.

That day was January 1, 2005. It was precisely 98 days after we first met. We had celebrated the New Year gazing over the rooftops of Vienna, watching people waltz under the fireworks. Back then I have to admit that we were a little naïve. After all, binational couples fall in love, get married, and live together all the time. But while our friends and family in Austria and Tennessee treated us just like any other engaged couple, the U.S. government saw things differently.

While today Austria has a "civil unions" law back in 2005 they did not. I was well aware that the United States government did not recognize gay marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act meant that we were trapped between Nashville and Austria, our love was in a legal limbo. What I was not aware of, though, was how difficult it was to immigrate to the United States.  Achim and I were quickly educated. If you are not an highly qualified professional it is nearly impossible to immigrate into the U.S. without being married to a citizen. We consulted a lawyer in the U.S., who tried to be helpful and suggested that maybe Achim could get lucky in the Green Card Lottery... or perhaps my dad's employer could offer him an internship or a job that would qualify Achim for an H1B visa.

None of these alternatives would help us achieve our goal. We didn't want to live hoping for hoping for a temporary visa. We wanted to live our lives together WITHOUT a expiration date.  It became so clear to us that I should be able to sponsor Achim as my spouse, but because we were gay that avenue was foreclosed to us.

After months of worry, research and tears, we finally found a solution. As an EU citizen, Achim has the right to live in any EU country if he has work there.  So we surveyed our options. Back in 2004/2005, there was marriage equality in the Netherlands; but that was not particularly helpful, as neither of us spoke Dutch, which would, of course, make it extraordinarily difficult to find a job. Without a job we could not prove to the authorities that Achim had an income to support both of us should I be unable to work. Fortunately, a change in the German Civil Unions law at the end of 2005 made Germany an option. That meant that we "only" had to (1) move to a third country, away from both of our families, and (2) Achim had to find a job there. Somehow, we made it all happen. Looking back today, I'm amazed to think that we figured out we could move to Germany in February 2006, we moved there in the middle of May, and we got married in the presence of both our families in the middle of June.

Today, five years later, we have met lots of wonderful people here in Dortmund, Germany. Yet, not a single day goes by when we don't miss our family in Nashville and in Austria. We are so lucky to have families that have supported us every step of the way. But in a way that makes the separation even more painful sometimes. In the meantime, Austria has changed it laws to recognize civil unions, so we could move back there and be close to Achim's family. The USA, though remains closed to us. I would love to be able to move home and share my culture and where I come from with Achim for real—not just a two week visit—but it is hard to keep up hope that this dream will come true. I wish that Washington would realize that they are playing here with real people and real lives, that we are not political footballs.  American families have been torn apart because of a senseless law. Real "family values" politicians ought to be working as hard as they can to keep families together, not deport them, separate them, or force them into exile.

(Below, Andy and Achim featured in the Austrian daily newspaper, Der Standard.)


  1. Thank you for your story! I live in Nashville and am working for equality with my partner as is expensive and frustrating.
    Please friend on Facebook and keep in touch with your situation. We are knowing that change is coming and coming soon!

  2. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story. My partner Max and I are going through a similar struggle as we live in the UK (I am from the U.S. and he is from Argentina). It is so important that we share our stories and keep fighting for a change in U.S. law.

  3. Hi Jody - look for "Andreas" on Facebook :). You know - I went to Hendrix, so I have an Arkansas connection, too!

    I am just horrified at the developments in Tennessee lately - and at the failure of Rep Odom and Senator Henry to even respond to my emails.

    Stay strong - sending you positive energy from the other side of the pond.