Binational Same-Sex Couples to Congress: “Enact LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform!”

In 2005, Karin and I met via an online dating site. I hadn’t had much luck with online dating before, but a friend convinced me to try one more time. I gave it my best shot — a long, thoughtful profile and several photos. One day, I saw that someone had clicked on my profile, but hadn’t sent me a message. I messaged her, which freaked her out a bit. But she decided that someone who had spent so much time on their profile deserved an answer, which led to a flurry of online messages.

Messages turned into phone calls, and our ignorance about U.S. law allowed us to develop a relationship without knowledge that the U.S. government would eventually stand in the way of our being together. At the time, we didn’t know how much — the bliss of ignorance about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a big factor in our early days. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about the issue, though I have been actively working on LGBT civil rights since the 1970′s when I came out. Karin and I have learned that many, even in the LGBT community, don’t know about the problem that binational same-sex couples face when trying to be together. In fact, most binational same-sex couples learn about the DOMA discrimination challenge the hard way — in the trenches.

Karin was visiting from France and knew nothing about DOMA. She hadn’t intended to enter into a long-term relationship — but both of our lives have changed dramatically as a result of that fortuitous click on my profile. It was only as our connection and our relationship began to deepen that we discovered the horrible truth that American citizens are forced every day to make a choice between love or country, spouse or career. I don’t think any American citizen should have to face this choice!

Because I chose Karin, I had to take early retirement and months-long forays out of California so that we could stay together.

The difficulties of binational same-sex couples became crystal clear after Karin was detained for hours in the San Francisco International Airport when we came home together in April, 2009. She had been out of the country for six months and I went to visit her, taking extra unpaid time off of work before we flew back home together. As I was getting our luggage, I turned and saw that she was no longer at the passport desk. She had disappeared! After standing there for a half hour or so, I was told that I had to leave — I couldn’t loiter at the luggage area. “But my friend isn’t here yet,” I told the guard. We couldn’t be truthful about our relationship, we learned, at passport crossings.

Over three hours later, Karin emerged in the international lobby, exhausted and shaken. She explained what had happened to her and shared that three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials had questioned her and told her she was visiting the U.S. too often. They told her to leave the country for a long time. That night we had a big dose of what so many others suffer from being same-sex binational couples. It put us into high gear about seeing what we could do to get this situation fixed. When I went to work a few days later, I told my boss that I would have to quit my job and take early retirement, so that I could be together with my wife. No one could believe that we had faced this situation at the airport, that our future was so heavily impacted. Karin was able to stay with me for four months, but then she had to leave “for a long time” — still an unspecified length of time by the federal government.

I am now retired. I have a pension that is smaller than it would have been if I could have worked to age 65, but we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we can be together and we won’t stop fighting for the solution we all need. In August, 2010, I got the bug to write a book about people like us. Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law was another labor of love, and we have used that book to share our story and the stories of many others, as well as key information on groups working toward a solution to this problem. Proceeds from sales of the book are donated to Out4Immigration and two other groups. Karin and I speak about this issue at conferences. We have been on TV and radio. I have preached about it in church. I keep a blog and website going with stories and resources and upcoming events about our issue. It’s exciting and exhausting. We find that it is hard to document your life while you are living it — but we think it’s worth it (even on our bad and cranky days!).

The end of another year approaches and Karin and I are now calling ourselves Prisoners of Love instead of Love Exiles. Why? Because we are “under further review” with USCIS, the federal customs and immigration service. We cannot leave the U.S. together because Karin would not be allowed back in. She is not out of status, since she is in proceedings, but our status has not been finalized, either. So instead of being out of the country together as Love Exiles as we have been for six months at a time in the past, we are now home (two years in February 2013), though constantly on edge because of the threat of deportation.  We’ve watched weddings via Skype, we’ve helped friends heal from surgery via phone, we’ve experienced grandchildrens’ graduations through photos — we’re literally watching our families’ lives pass us by from afar — and we’re angry about it!

In January, 2012 I applied for a marriage-based green card for Karin. Because of DOMA, our very application is against the law, but we decided not to let a little thing like federal law stop us. We are pushing the envelope and we hope it helps break the wall of discrimination that all same-sex binational couples face! We are legally married and we want the federal government to recognize our relatioship and treat us like all married couples should be treated.

Karin and I are in our golden years. She turned 72 this year. I face 65 in the first week of 2013. We don’t want much — we just want to be together, safely and legally. And if we can be healthy and happy and wise, that’s the icing on our cake! We love the Out4Immigration folks we have met on this journey. We love those we have met from other groups, too. We donate what we can to GetEQUAL and other LGBT equality/civil rights groups, and we share stories and information online and in person as often as possible. And we won’t stop until DOMA is relegated to the dustbins of history and we can live our lives in peace!