2014 is not 2013 – by many measures. And, though we saw more good LGBT news last year than I thought possible, I am glad 2014 is here and it’s a different year. This year sees me older for one thing and I hope it brings me a more normal life for another. So what’s that mean?
First, this month, I turn over another cycle on my life’s odometer. I am 66 and glad to see it arrive (consider the alternative, folks). My birthday celebration is on Maui and Molokai, Hawaii – 14 days of warm weather and lots of exploring/or little or no movement, depending on the day and my mood. Time to be with Karin!
Second, I am still ready for a breather, to rest up, to be more normal and less of a talking head. To be just me – and only just me. As much as I can be just me. Not that I am a big time star or a well-paid anchor or host, but I have spent lots of time in 2013 and the few years before it writing and speaking and being interviewed and being considered knowledgeable on the topic that took over my life and my wife’s life for years: namely, the topic of same-sex binational couples and families. Men and men or women and women, often with children, where one spouse is American and one is not.
Karin and I did everything we could think of to help people like us get the solution we needed. I told my Congressman, Mike Honda, and he added same-sex binational families to his immigration reform legislation, Reuniting Families Act. So we were sure to visit him and celebrate when Karin finally got her green card. I spoke to groups and conferences and was interviewed on radio, TV and in online and hard copy media. I drove all over and flew where I could. Karin and I spoke in DC for Congressional staffers at a briefing with other families like ours. We were VIP guests at President Obama’s immigration speech in Las Vegas in January 2013. And on and on. Tiring, but good tired – to a point. And expensive, too…
But all the work paid off and was worth it. I was even named a 2013 Cesar Chavez Champion of Change for Immigration Reform. That meant Karin and I went to DC again. I spoke on a panel on March 26 with other immigration champions. Then we were ushered into the Oval Office to chat with President Obama and have photos taken – surreal!
The next day, Karin and I got to demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court with others there to support the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) case and help bring down the federal discrimination faced by same-sex families. It was a thrill to see and hear the demonstrators, meet famous activists and see Edie Windsor come out and speak to the crowd – another surreal day.
Here’s the back story. Because my wife was not born in America, I got into the trenches fast in 2005, after we met, on something I barely knew about, though I had worked on civil rights, human rights, LGBT rights for decades. I fell into the category of those who were forced to be torn apart, for months or more at a time, because the American government did not recognize our relationships, our families, our marriages, until the middle of last year.
Fortunately, Karin and I were able to navigate the U.S. Immigration process quickly because: 1. we did not remain domestic partners (California, 2007); 2. we were married in a state that recognized same-sex marriage (Vermont, 2011) and 3. I had applied for a spousal green card while it was still against the law (January, 2012), part of a plan with others to push the envelope on this issue, so we had our marriage interview (September, 2012) before SCOTUS weighed in. Lucky for us, our case was not denied, but held FOR MONTHS under further review. Even though we had to wait, Karin ended up getting the first green card for families like ours in California and the third in the country.
To give a quick overview of what you need to do if you are a same-sex binational couple, 1. get married in a state that recognizes your marriage, then follow the steps in the application process for a green card; 2. if you can’t do that, get married in a country that recognizes your marriage and follow the steps needed to obtain a fiance/fiancee visa or whatever is required by the situation you find yourself in; 3. don’t go off on your own without legal advice – I am no lawyer and I cannot advise you, will not advise you, and in no way intend this information to be legal advice. Lavi Soloway, our lawyer, and his law partner, Noemi Masliah, are two of the pioneers in this area.
You can get help from groups that have been working on this, like Immigration Equality, http://immigrationequality.org/contact-us/ or, The DOMA Project, http://www.domaproject.org/ or, Out4Immigration, http://www.out4immigration.org/ if you are in America. If you are abroad, contact Love Exiles, http://www.loveexiles.org/home.htm for information. More lawyers are able to deal with this situation now that the Supreme Court has ruled on DOMA – but be sure you hire a lawyer that is well-versed in the process and understands the issues facing you. It is still new and somewhat uncharted territory, so be careful and cautious and don’t waste your time or money.
So now that Karin has her green card, what’s been happening to these two old broads? Well, first thing she did was leave the country for five weeks, since she had not been able to visit our family or friends in Europe for almost three years. The U.S. government would not allow her to travel while she was in process for the several things we tried with our lawyer. So until SCOTUS ruled on DOMA, Karin was what we called a prisoner of love. She and I could travel in the U.S., or I could travel outside the country without her, but we could not leave the U.S. together and return together as a married couple. It was worse than the years before she got her green card, because it tied her down. But at the same time, it was safer than having that fear of being hauled away to the questioning room again any time we approached U.S. Customs in San Francisco together, or she returned from a visit out of the country alone.
Karin and I have lived our years of crazy-making time. We don’t like it. We don’t recommend it. We want it to stop for all who still face immigration situations that leave them torn apart from family or not in a safe and settled situation. As Karin says, she wants us to be little old ladies, Golden Girls, who can just do what we want. I will go along with that! And, we want to find out all the benefits we get now as a federally-recognized married couple. We have started with Medicare and Social Security. We already had health care and dental care taken care of by my employer as domestic partners. Now that I am past 65, more and different things are happening. We want all the benefits of marriage, because we also embrace all the responsibilities of marriage. For us, marriage is more than a legal contract with the government, but you can’t ignore the framework the government has set up, and you don’t want to miss things you are entitled too, either.
So for 2014, while I try to recover, rest, and recuperate from the years of the battle, and we find our balance on time at home and time abroad, we also do what we can for CIR, Comprehensive Immigration Reform – the ongoing problem in the U.S. that affects more than 11 million people. This year I am again offering my help to electeds, candidates and groups working on this issue. I have my allies and I hope they accept my offer to help. I speak on this with several voices – a senior, a Democrat, a lesbian, an American wife of a foreign-born wife, a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change for Immigration Reform, someone recognized for this work by my city, county and state, a California citizen, a U.S. citizen, a concerned person and someone who knows a bit about what this broken immigration system does to individuals, families and communities.
People have asked me if I would write another book. I am happy that my book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, 2011, Findhorn Press, is now history. I am glad for whatever help it was and I was to the solution so many of us got in June last year when 5 of the Supremes supported our solution.
I don’t have a follow-up book in me, at least not now. If I find something that burns in me like that issue did, I will consider raising my voice again. Right now, I am newly 66, enjoying quiet down time with my wife, and finding anything I want to explore on Maui and Molokai. My heart is happy and full. My life is happy and full.
I am still nursing a broken toe that has not fully healed after a bad tumble down 8 concrete stairs – but I will win that one.
I am glad to see Mark publishing this vehicle again. I’ll chime in from time to time and hope you find it interesting. You can also see what I am sharing on my blog at
or on Twitter at
or on my book’s Facebook Page at
If you know someone who needs help in this area, please refer them to the groups and links I have cited. The longer someone waits to apply for a green card, the longer it will take for him or her to get into the process. Now that we have the green light for green cards, no one should be left behind.