March 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Someday we’ll be together?

You’re waiting on your partner and he’s late.

Most gays in that situation might be mildly irked, especially if a dinner reservation or theater tickets are at stake. Even if a few hours pass, you realize the likelihood that something serious has happened is small.

But when Kelly Cross, a local gay attorney, found himself waiting more than two hours at the Foggy Bottom Metro station last summer with no sign of his partner, who was scheduled to join him following a stint in Europe, it was a much more serious situation — it could have meant the end of their relationship.

Because the United States doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage at the federal level — where immigration is handled — bi-national same-sex couples have few options for staying together long-term in the U.S. or anywhere else. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) further complicates the matter.

Cross and his partner, who declined to be identified because it could increase his chances of being deported, had tried to make a go of it in Europe, spending more than a year together in Dusseldorf, Germany, but a bounty of practical considerations — most pressingly Cross’s cancer-stricken mother in West Virginia — made staying there untenable. Cross returned in June 2009. But on the July day when his partner was scheduled to arrive at Dulles Airport, Cross’s panic increased as time went by.

“I was going around calling all kinds of people,” Cross says. “I thought he’d gotten pulled over and sent to the detention center where they’re double- and triple-checking everything probably. They want to make sure these folks are not going to stay in the U.S. They have no idea of his life here, his friends and family. It’s terrifying to know that you could be traveling and get the wrong immigration officer and not be able to get back into the country and I would not be able to go back and say anything and have no right to appeal anything. We’re very much at their whim.”

It had already been a nerve-wracking month for Cross, 31. Since he’d returned to the United States, he’d spent a frantic month trying to find someone willing to give his partner a job. Without that, there was no hope for the partner to stay. Though the partner’s background is in public policy, he had some experience doing financial analysis in Europe and that led to a D.C. opportunity but one that they say is more of a temporary fix than a long-term career plan.

For the couple, who got serious quickly after meeting at Apex in 2007, it was just one more in a string of seemingly endless obstacles. The relationship is strong enough, they say, that it’s worth the constant anxiety and uncertainty.

Cross’s partner, also 31, came to the states from his native Poland in 2003 to study public policy at the University of Northern Iowa. Disenchanted with Iowa, he came to D.C. for an internship in 2006. Though he liked the U.S., he was planning to return to Poland or possibly somewhere else in Europe — wherever he might find a good job. His plans changed radically when he met Cross.

“This is an everyday concern, how are we going to survive,” the partner says. “In our situation, we’re lucky that we have sufficient funds to live in this not-very-pleasant situation, but I just cannot imagine if somebody is gay and working for McDonald’s and he has a boyfriend who is working for Burger King. I don’t think they are going to make it. They won’t make it for sure because they’re not able. But if there’s a couple who’s straight, they have all the rights and all possibilities to make it because it will be possible. A law that gives them the opportunity, one piece of paper, a marriage license, that gives all kinds of rights and we don’t have it.”

The couple did enter a New Jersey civil union last summer, but they say it was purely symbolic and has little practical benefit. The partner says although he understands the arguments of those who will settle only for marriage, he’d be happy with a federally recognized civil union.

“That would be fine, I don’t give a shit,” he says. “Just anything so I don’t have this headache every morning. I would be perfectly happy with a civil union.”

Cross and his partner are, of course, not alone. Immigration Equality, a gay rights advocacy group working to end discrimination in U.S. immigration law against LGBT people, points to Williams Institute figures based on the 2000 Census that indicate there are about 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples struggling to stay together in the U.S. They’re hoping the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), versions of which date back to 2000, will solve the problem. Because its wording says “permanent partner,” activists say it wouldn’t conflict with DOMA, though they’re hopeful — as are virtually all gay activists — that DOMA will eventually be repealed.

But how are the odds looking for UAFA? Immigration Equality’s communications director Steve Ralls is optimistic.

“Now that health care is officially behind us, there are indications that Congress and the White House are turning to immigration reform in the coming weeks and months,” Ralls says. “The White House has called key lawmakers to plot a way forward for comprehensive immigration reform and as part of that process, we’re working very hard to ensure that the Uniting American Families Act is part of that comprehensive bill.”

If it fails there — and many are opposed to its inclusion — it could pass on its own but Ralls says Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, supporters of the legislation, have told him they want to tackle a comprehensive bill before individual ones. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who introduced UAFA in the Senate last year, is a key ally, Ralls says.

“He’s chair of the Judiciary Committee, which has enormous influence on what immigration bills move through Congress when,” Ralls said. “He remains willing and determined to pass UAFA as a standalone bill if necessary. That gives us a legislative leg up right out of the starting gate.”

But if it fails, what are the options for couples like Cross and his partner? They’re few, they say. Moving to Canada is not practical because the antitrust law Cross specializes in is not viable to practice there. Cross says he was lucky he spoke German and that his England-based international law firm was able to transfer him there, but he took a large pay cut to do it.

His partner becomes indignant at the mere suggestion of moving to Canada.

“This question is not really appropriate,” he says. “Who the heck is going to tell me where I should live? … I am entitled to decide where I should like to live because I’m your partner. We want to live here. Nobody’s going to tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m not a random person who’s just coming and pushing to want to settle in the D.C. area. We have our life here.”

And though the immigration problem is by far the couple’s biggest challenge, Cross says it’s compounded by other factors that flair up occasionally. They have cultural, interracial and homophobic issues that pop up, mostly externally. Cross encountered it often when he was trying to arrange a job for his partner.

“There’s a different sort of worth people ascribe to a heterosexual relationship that they don’t ascribe to homosexual ones,” Cross says. “There’s a presumption that if you’ve found a woman and are in love with a woman, then that must be love and there must be something there and you know, that’s your family. People attribute that and assume it’s real. But I think with gay couples there’s a mentality that yeah, you could find someone else or why go to the effort for this, there’s plenty of other people you could find. But it’s not true. When you love somebody, you love somebody.”

Cross says the challenges sometimes overwhelm his friends and colleagues.

“I think it’s just a combination of the whole thing,” he says. “Black, interracial, bi-national, gay — sometimes it’s just too much and people don’t know how to deal with it.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

  • I am currently in the throes of figuring out the most expeditious way of leaving the US to be reunited with my same-sex spouse. We are legally married, but because of the actions of a single BCP agent at O’Hare, he was denied entry to the US late last year. There is no appeals process and to simply apply for a new kind of Visa is arduous. I commend Steve Ralls and IE for fighting the good fight. He has been helpful to me personally and at some point I hope to be reunited in my home country with my spouse. In the meantime, if I have to abandon my home in order to be together, so be it.

  • I know this story only too well. My partner and I (I am from the UK) are living this same nightmare. Fortunately for me, I have a US work sponsor – but, it is like a prison sentence – If the company goes under – I would be forced to leave the country. Thankfully the UK is far more progressive than the US and recognizing same-sex immigration policy.

    Reports say there are 36,000 bi-national couples…I think this number is far greater. The world is becoming a smaller place, thanks in part to the internet.

    I am hopeful and looking forward to the day when my partner and I can file papers with our immigration attorney’s that allow us the basic civil rights straight couples have – and not have this constant headache and worry…our lives are in a constant state of temporary flux…and have been that way for years.

  • We need to end all immigration discrimination. In addition to discriminating against gays and in favor of heterosexuals, US policies and practices have always discriminated against some nationalities and in favor of others. For example, those from Asia, Africa and Europe face strict enforcement on entry by air giving huge advantages to those groups who can more easily sneak across our land borders. This discriminates on an ethnic and racial basis. America needs to apply “do onto others,” “all men are created equal,” and “equal protection of the laws” to our immigration policy. It is absurd to discriminate against immigrants because they are from the wrong places or because they a gay, but then tell them they must not discriminate once they become citizens. If all men are created equal and deserve equal protection of our laws, so do all immigrants.

  • Another Guy In This Situation

    I am living in fear. I am always asking, “Maybe someday we’ll be separated?”

    My partner is Colombian and applied for a green card back in 2003 through a crooked attorney who took his money and lied to him about the process and about his application that may have never been submitted, all this while he was still here legally on a visa and WAS eligible to apply.

    Now, my partner of six years is living in fear, as am I, an American citizen, because we have no idea what might happen. We pray for justice, knowing that the more zealous anti-immigrant (not to mention anti-gay) elements in this country are practically frothing at the mouth to make examples of us, who just want to live our lives together.

    My partner is well-educated, self-sufficient, and a business owner. I am an American citizen who has no legal right to make sure he doesn’t face deportation and that we don’t face separation.

    If it happens, I feel my country will have betrayed me.

  • Ditto for me and my partner. He is Peruvian and pays taxes and has a Maryland drivers license. Still, we must wait and wait. All of this happened because he he arrived 15 years ago, he didn’t speak enough English to start residency paperwork. After one year, the window closes. We have been together 10 years ( TEN YEARS!!!) and have no hope of marriage until the Fed Govt changes its policy. I find it interesting that the IRS has no problem with illegals. They grant them tax ID numbers and smile and take their money. One eye of the government is open, and one is shut.

  • Kelly Cross did not return from Germany because his mother was sick. He was in the states for 8 months before driving 4 hours to see her. Too all you breast cancer survivors, he told his mother breast cancer was nothing that women get it everyday. He compared breast cancer to his Polish husband’s grandmother having a bad respiratory infection. Stop the madness people!!!

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