Early in 2003, I was coming out of an emotionally abusive, 24-year marriage to a man. Searching for support online, I finally found a message board that not only gave me an outlet for healing after this abuse, but also an outlet to explore emerging questions I was having about my sexual orientation. I connected with one of the forum members, Sally, immediately – finding much in common in our pasts, but also finding much in common in the futures we were creating for ourselves. Forum messages progressed to emails and instant messages before we knew it and, over the course of many months, it seemed as though our friendship had grown to much more.
Sally lived in England and I lived in Texas – presenting a logistical challenge that I had never imagined. Later that year, I traveled to England to see if what we felt was a passing friendship or something deeper. We spent five days together that were heaven on earth – before reality came crashing down around us. When she drove me to the airport at the end of those five days, we weren’t sure if we would ever see each other again. I traveled back to Texas and began exploring what steps I would need to take in order for us to be together.
I sold my business, got a more flexible job, and we began traveling back and forth between the U.K. and the U.S. We ran up thousands of dollars in phone bills and plane tickets before deciding to get legally married in Canada with the hopes of helping our situation. I proposed to her on a trip to Washington State and we married in Toronto in July 2004. We honeymooned in Mexico and were forced to again go our separate ways, hoping that we would soon be able to be together permanently.
Oh, now naïve we were in those days! We soon learned that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the government from recognizing our marriage or allowing me to sponsor Sally for immigration purposes. We were grasping at straws at that point, and started to find other couples online who were dealing with similar situations – a bittersweet discovery, to be sure.
We finally realized that the only way for us to live together as a married couple would be for me to move to the U.K. I was ultimately granted a visa under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and left behind my entire life – including my two daughters, extended family, and friends – to start over. Never in a million years did I think that, in 2012, I would still be living in England.
Eight years ago, I assumed that passage of the Uniting American Families Act would be a sure thing once people saw the injustice of the U.S. immigration system, and that we would soon be able to move back to the U.S. Though I’ve rebuilt my career in England and found a place that accepts me for who I am, the same cannot be said for my home country.
My older daughter has since married and has two beautiful boys – my two grandsons. My younger daughter has struggled financially – I’ve been forced to care for her from across an ocean, tearing my heart apart each day. We’re occasionally able to go back to the U.S. for short visits, but do so rarely because Sally is so fearful of going through immigration after being detained once before. As an American citizen, I’m embarrassed at the way my country treats me, but horrified by how my country treats my wife.
My grandchildren, now 3 ½ and 20 months, only really know me by voice and through the internet. I’m not able to be a proper grandmother to them, nor can I support the rest of my family as I wish. Two years ago, my father committed suicide – because of DOMA, I wasn’t there to support my brother as we grieved our father because my government chooses to discriminate against me.
I’m not there for birthdays, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas morning deliveries from Santa Claus, Easter egg hunts, or Mother’s Day lunches. I’ll miss my grandsons reveling in their Thanksgiving meal today, and I won’t be able to cook them the secret family sugar cookie recipe. For yet another year, I can’t watch them open the presents I sent for them next month for Christmas. I’ve lost years of those holiday memories and I will never get them back. I have been married to my soul mate for over eight years now, and have been living in exile for seven them. I will continue to miss years of holiday celebrations unless DOMA is repealed or LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform is passed. I deserve to see my grandsons grow up – I deserve to be equal.