American Rita Boyadjian and her German life partner, Mara, met in Cologne, Germany at a European Gay Pride celebration in 2002 while Rita was touring Europe on vacation. They fell madly in love and began a long-distance relationship. After 18-months of flying back and forth every 3 to 4 weeks while visiting on a tourist visa, Mara was able to obtain a student F-1 visa that allowed her to live legally in the U.S. for a four-year Bachelor’s degree program in Los Angeles.
From 2004 to 2008, Mara lived in the U.S. on her student visa. During that time, Rita and Mara bought a five-bedroom home to start their family and had a baby girl. Rita’s entertainment marketing business was thriving, and she created jobs for 20 Californians. The federal government and the state of California also enjoyed Rita’s business success, as Rita paid well over $1M a year in income tax; $250,000 in payroll taxes; $25,000 in City of Los Angeles taxes; and $30,000 in property tax each year.
But the American Dream was about to allude Rita and Mara. Mara’s student visa expired in August 2009, which was also the due date month for their second child. The couple was forced to interrupt the wonderful life they created in Los Angeles, and move to Germany in summer 2009 since the U.S. does not extend immigration rights to American citizens and with same-sex, non-U.S. citizen partners.
While Mara tried to pursue another student visa and a work visa, it was simply too difficult to raise a small child and be in the middle of a second pregnancy while going back to school or working full-time.
“I guess you can describe us as a non-traditional family with very traditional family values,” says Rita. “When we decided to have children together, we were committed to raising our children ourselves and not raising them with nannies or putting them in a daycare every day. We did not want other people raising our children so Mara could go to school or work full-time in order to fulfill visa requirements to remain in the U.S. I was earning enough money so that Mara could stay home with our children.”
Rita, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, had no other choice but to sell her L.A. home at a $250K loss and leave her thriving L.A.-based entertainment marketing business, her entire family who all live in Southern California, and three decades of friendships, in order to keep her family together in Germany, because Germany provides immigration rights for same-sex couples. Rita and Mara got married in Germany, and Rita was able to obtain a resident visa to live legally in Germany.
It is now 2013. Rita and Mara live near the city of Cologne, Germany and have three children. They have lived in exile since Mara’s student visa expired.
Rita reluctantly commutes between Germany and Los Angeles in order to keep her L.A. business alive.“I cannot begin to describe the anxiety I feel about leaving my business to run without me physically present,” says Rita. I fear my employees and my clients will tire of my inaccessibility. At the same time, I also worry about leaving my family in Germany every time I have to go to Los Angeles without them. What if something bad happens and I’m a 12-hour flight away? I feel doomed in each direction, as I don’t want to lose my business and I don’t want to lose my family. I’m angry and sad that I may have to choose between the two, after I have worked so hard to build this successful business and also have the good fortune to find love in my life.”
Rita is angry that she and Mara have played by the rules and for that they have been forced to leave America. “For four years Mara lived in the U.S. legally,” says Rita.“Even though male friends of ours had offered to marry Mara, we refused to break the law by doing such a thing, and instead were forced to leave the country. It’s imperative that we extend immigration rights to same-sex couples. It is high time we acknowledge the fact that there are gay and lesbian citizens across the nation that are being forced to choose between their love of country and the love of their lives.For gay and lesbian Americans, the pursuit of life, liberty and justice for all are simply words that mean nothing until Comprehensive Immigration Reform includes LGBT families or until DOMA is settled in June 2013.”
Rita is not the only one who suffers under this unfair situation, but also her parents and grandmother, her sister, her niece and nephews, her extended family, her employees, her business partner, her clients, her neighbors and her community. The United States is ultimately bound to suffer, should Rita close down her business and lose a productive U.S. citizen to Germany, taking with her the spirit of entrepreneurship and opportunity America is known for.
“When I told my neighbor about our situation, her five-year old son began to cry,” said Rita. “He could not understand why we would have to leave. How do you explain discrimination to a five-year old? I was speechless. His mother rhetorically asked, if a five-year old can learn about acceptance and love for one another, why can’t we adults?”
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