SACRAMENTO, CA, Nov. 21, 2012 - As Americans across the country prepare Thanksgiving dishes and celebrate the holiday with family, some Americans are forced to observe the holiday alone -- separated from their loved ones by U.S. law. Gina, an American citizen, and Katie, a citizen of the United Kingdom, are just one example of a couple struggling to stay together despite an unfair and unjust combination of U.S. marriage and immigration laws.
For over 36,000 binational same-sex couples, holidays are times of sadness and loneliness, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans are prohibited from sponsoring their same-sex partner for immigration purposes by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Despite the White House's refusal to defend the law in court, Congressional Republicans have spent $1.5 million defending the law in 14 pending cases -- hitting the spending limit set forth with the approval of the Committee on House Administration (link here: http://www.advocate.com/politics/marriage-equality/2012/10/17/boehners-doma-defense-hits-15-million-limit).
This Thanksgiving holiday, GetEQUAL and Out4Immigration are publishing the stories of just a handful of couples directly impacted by this discriminatory law, and who could be immediately helped by passing an LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform bill. Recently, both House/Senate Republicans and House/Senate Democrats have talked about introducing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the new Congressional session -- and tens of thousands of couples' lives hang in the balance as those negotiations begin.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of the Senators representing Gina, has repeatedly rebuffed requests from binational same-sex couples to co-sponsor a piece of legislation called the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would allow for these couples to keep their families together even in light of DOMA. As the 112th Congress draws to a close and the 113th Congress begins in January, binational same-sex couples like Gina and Katie are again calling on Senator Feinstein to publicly indicate her support for a legislative remedy for these couples.
As the holiday season approaches, GetEQUAL and Out4Immigration are asking Congressional leaders to include LGBT families in all conversations about comprehensive immigration reform, desperately needed by thousands of American citizens living separated, exiled, or in the shadows in order to be with the person they love. Below is the story of Gina and Katie, a couple united by love but divided by law:
Cats Over Couples – Gina and Katie
Over five years ago, Katie and I met through mutual friends. The connection was immediate, and we spent the next week learning everything we could about one another until she had to return back home to the United Kingdom. As I sat in my house in Sacramento, I felt a deep sense of devastation – it was impossible to comprehend that I might have met the love of my life, only to be kept apart by discriminatory laws. Neither of us had ever thought about – or even heard of – the unjust laws that binational same-sex couples face each day. But as we remained in contact with one another and as our relationship developed, it became crystal clear what hurdles couples face simply to be with the person they love.
Over the past five years, Katie and I have had more than our fair share of struggles. The lengths we've gone to in order to be together have been financially, mentally, and physically burdensome – and it's often a mystery to our friends how we have managed to stay together when we're only able to see each other a few times a year. We maintain that we will not let the law destroy our love – and we'll do whatever we have to do in order to stand together.
Across the years, we've faced unemployment, depression, accidents, and other trauma – similar to other couples, but with the added stress of not being able to face those challenges together and to lean on one another.
Last year, we had finally had enough and decided that it was time for me to live in the UK on a visitor's visa. I had never overstayed my welcome in the UK before and knew that our time together would be too short, but it was our only option. I quit my job, packed up my belongings, and prepared our two cats for the long travel abroad. Once I arrived in the UK, I was immediately stopped. After a series of very personal questions, I was told that I was too old to be traveling for any substantial length of time, and that I should be married with a house and children at home in America. Over the course of the next 12 hours, I was held in two different detention centers, my belongings were searched thoroughly, and my personal journal was read by multiple officials – simply because of who I love. I was refused entry to the country in order to see my spouse – though our two cats were welcomed in with no trouble.
We have tried everything possible to legally be together – a (denied) visa application in the UK, a short-term student visa application in the U.S., and everything else we can think of. Katie and I will never stop fighting for the justice and we and so many other binational same-sex couples deserve. We believe that, by sharing our story, more people will understand the hurdles we face – and the very clear solutions to those hurdles. So many couples like us live in fear and are forced to stay in the shadows – but we believe it is our responsibility to speak up for those who have not yet found their voice.
How many more holidays must we go through apart? Will we have to celebrate our ten-year anniversary over the phone, as we celebrated our five-year anniversary? There is no reason for the United States to maintain these unjust laws other than bigotry, pure and simple. But we, as Americans, can choose to stand up and tell the government that we will no longer endure the pain and suffering being inflicted upon American citizens. It is time for comprehensive immigration reform that includes LGBT families so that we can truly be the land of the free.
GetEQUAL is a national civil rights organization fighting for the full legal equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Emphasizing direct action and people power, the mission of GetEQUAL is to empower the LGBT community and its allies to take action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way. For more information on GetEQUAL, please visit: http://www.getequal.org. You can follow GetEQUAL on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/getequal, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GetEQUAL, or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/getequal.
Out4Immigration is a volunteer grassroots organization that addresses the widespread discriminatory impact of U.S. immigration laws on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV+ people and their families through education, outreach, advocacy and the maintenance of a resource and support network. You can find more about Out4Immigration online at www.out4immigration.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/out4immigration, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/out4immigration, or on Tumblr at www.unitedbylovedividedbylaw.tumblr.com.
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