The morning in June of 2013 when DOMA was finally struck down by the Supreme Court I sat at my computer desk staring at the screen in incredulity. In a moment, the oppression I had lived under my entire adult life was consigned to history, as though it never existed. It felt like a new door had opened in a room I thought I knew.
People who were unaffected – and that’s most people – got on with their day without giving it much more thought. But for my partner and for me it was a watershed. After 15 years of waiting, it allowed us to finally avail of the same rights and protections that other couples took for granted.
One of the rights granted by the collapse of DOMA was the right of LGBT couples to marry – and for their foreign-born spouses to immigrate to the United States. Finally the door that had been barred shut to me for so long had swung open.
We picked July 5 for our wedding day. One day after Independence Day, we chose it because it was a simple reminder that we had waited longer for our own independence.
When we arrived at City Hall we were married by a good humored Irish American man whose mother came from Co. Sligo. He knew how to pronounce my name perfectly, a rare luxury on civic occasions. It cost us just $25 to change our lives.
Later, with our marriage certificate in hand, we were represented by the excellent Irish-run law firm of James O’Malley, whose track record of successful visa applications on my behalf had made them our first choice.
Immigration law for LGBT couples is still new, but O’Malley’s firm was prepared for any question that arose and the application procedure was flawless.
It took months after the application was submitted for our green card interview date to be scheduled. O’Malley’s firm had given us a comprehensive dress rehearsal telling us what to expect, but on the day itself the actual interview was even shorter than they had anticipated.
After 16 years you end up with a lot of supporting evidence of a long marriage. We had photographs, joint accounts, and years of visa and employment records, everything they needed.
Like a lot of people I had still dreaded the experience. What if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service officer is homophobic? What if they ask for some proof we don’t have on the day? What if, what if, what if? The anxiety can be described, but it can’t be conveyed until you have the experience yourself.
As it happened we were barely in the office 10 minutes before my green card application was approved. We had abundant supportive material, we had prepared for every question, and we looked presentable. We had arrived that morning at 8:15 a.m. and we were back on the street with the good news a little after 9 a.m.
For the rest of the day we hardly knew what to do with ourselves. So in the end we did what we always do. We had an old married couple day – lunch at the Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights, then back home to tidy up and do laundry. Feed the cats, look out a window.
I baked some Irish brown bread, which I find cures my anxiety, and later we sat down and had tea like any other American family. We were home after all.