We met in Berlin, Germany in 2004 and fell in love. After living together in a coal-oven heated, 5th floor walk-up apartment in the former East Berlin, we quickly discovered we had found our respective soulmate. Our desire to get married “at home” compelled us to leave Germany. But our definition of “home” was different for the two of us, as Ligeia’s from the U.S. and Mindy’s from Canada. Where exactly would our home be as a bi-national couple?
Unfortunately, this very personal decision was made not by us, but rather by our governments. The United States government did not recognize same-sex marriage, and the Canadian government did. Thus, Ligeia could not sponsor Mindy to live in the States, but alternatively, Mindy was able to sponsor Ligeia. So, we moved to Toronto.
On September 16, 2006, we got married in Niagara Falls, with the ceremony being held in botanical gardens on the Canadian side and the reception hosted in a beautiful New York State Park. Our wedding highlighted and embraced our bi-nationality, sharing and appreciating the beauty of Niagara Falls, a natural wonder that both our countries share.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, a decade earlier U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Only when we started to consider moving to the United States, did we encounter how unconstitutional the law was. Ligeia led the fight for her right to pursue happiness in her home country, and sponsor Mindy as her legally married spouse.
Since DOMA defined marriage in the U.S. as strictly between one man and one woman, legal same-sex marriages performed abroad were not recognized. So, we reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and inquire about suing the U.S. federal government and although we were validated that we indeed had a case, the ACLU decided not to take it on because our chances of winning were too low.
Rather than seeking expensive private counsel, we wrote letters to each of the 100 senators asking for their support to repeal DOMA. We added the personal touch of a photo of us, as well as an explanation of our struggle. We didn’t receive a single response. In 2008, we again put pen to paper, contacting all 14 primary election candidates, trying to determine their stance on same-sex marriage. This round of letters resulted in a form letter response from John Edwards, and something brief from John McCain explaining that he forwarded our letter to Immigration and Naturalization Services.
We ended up living in Canada for five years. In this time, we were exposed to a considerable amount of anti-Americanism and sadly, this was a determining factor in our leaving the Great White North.
As a Canadian, Mindy is allowed to claim unofficial “snowbird” status, and live visa-free in the States for 6 months out of each year. To live in the U.S. permanently requires immigrating, which can be pursued in one of 4 ways:
- Show proof of income/investments totaling $1 million.
- Get sponsored by a spouse.
- Get sponsored by an employer willing to jump through hoops to prove that you possess the desired skills, which cannot be found in a U.S. citizen.
- Get sponsored through a school, being sure to pay the hefty “International Student” price tag (upwards of $100,000 for a 4-year degree).
With the Supreme Court’s recent decision that DOMA is indeed unconstitutional, the second option above immediately expanded from only being available to heterosexual couples to being a valid option for us.
We had often fantasized about where we would be and how it would feel to learn that DOMA had been overturned. We imagined a big hug, with tears streaming down our faces, and perhaps even running through the streets cheering. June 28, 2013 was a monumental day for the gay rights movement in the United States, but it was far from our Fall of DOMA Fantasy. Ligeia first learned the news, sitting alone at the desk in her bare-bones office at work, from her inbox full of congratulatory emails from friends. Mindy, on the other hand, had an email from a U.S. immigration lawyer, chomping at the bit to help start the application process.
Throughout the day, we were barely in email contact and our mutual excitement of was poorly echoed by those around us, and paled in comparison to the outpouring of triumph and joy from our American friends on the other side of the world. Only after our workday finished, were we able to embrace and let our tears of happiness roll down our cheeks.
It’s unbelievably comforting to know that when we’re ready, we’ll be able to call the United States of America our home. Our dream of opening a bed and breakfast in Vermont is one big step closer to becoming a reality.