Ana and I “met” in 2008 while we were both participating in an online book club. Although Ana is a Portuguese national, she currently resides in the United Kingdom. We quickly became friends in the book club and in November of that year, I was fortunate enough to have a business meeting scheduled in London. It was during that trip that Ana and I met face to face for the first time. Although we considered ourselves to be “just friends” for approximately a year after that first meeting, we never went more than two or three days without corresponding with each other. At first it was only by email, but we were soon spending hours on the phone together learning more and more about each other. We quickly realized that our “friendship” was taking a turn and knew we had to meet again. This time it was in New York, where I live. It was clear to both of us that we were falling in love.
In early 2010, Ana flew over and we spent four beautiful days together. It was then that we just knew we were meant to be together forever.
When New York’s legislators passed the marriage equality bill in June that year we knew we wanted very much to be married so in August we exchanged wedding vows and became legally married! Finally, in November, I went to the Portuguese consulate in New York City to have our marriage officially recognized in Portugal, one of the 15 countries worldwide with equal marriage laws.
In some sense you might say we have now “married” each other four times and our MARRIAGE is now recognized on two continents. Without question, we have the love and support of our friends and family but not the U.S. government.
For the first two years one of us made the long flight from New York to London at least once a month. To visit the U.S., Ana enters under the ESTA/Visa Waiver Program since there is no long-term visa program she would be eligible. Over the past year, her stays here in the U.S. have been longer (less than the legal 90 days but sometimes for a couple of months at a time). At the end of a stay, she goes back to the U.K. for 10 days or so and then returns. Most times, I go with her. Although it has been a financial burden for both of us, we know that we would suffer, being apart.
This is not a way to live…traveling back and forth every couple of months. We are aware that Ana can be turned away at border control at a U.S. airport at any time, for any reason. I’m not even sure what my next steps should be to give her the best odds of not being turned away when entering the U.S. All I know is that no matter what it costs, I will do whatever I have to so that we can be together as much as possible! We are MARRIED and we want and NEED to be together yet we are viewed as nothing more than legal strangers by my own government.
This is cruel and heartbreaking. It forces us to live a life crossing the Atlantic Ocean, never knowing when an immigration officer might literally stop us from being together.
We are sharing our story because we believe that we must stand up and tell others about the reality that we are living. I am an American citizen. I expect to be treated the same as all other Americans. I have married the most wonderful woman, and I do not want to spend precious time apart from her. We should not have to exhaust ourselves or deplete our savings to be together. No opposite-sex married couple would ever be expected to do what we have been forced to do.
It is overwhelmingly obvious to everyone in our extended community of family and friends whether in the U.S. or abroad that this is cruel. We find ourselves explaining that although we are married, that means nothing to the American government. We see the puzzling looks on people’s faces when we explain that we have a recognized civil partnership in the United Kingdom that gives us the same rights as opposite-sex couples when it comes to immigration. But we want to live in the United States, and should be able to.
We know that the “Defense of Marriage Act” and our immigration laws are the only things standing between us and our future together in the United States. I cannot make this more clear: I do not want to be forced to leave my country, but we cannot build a future together separated by 3,600 miles. My love for Ana cannot wait. Equality for all lesbian and gay couples cannot wait.