Op-ed: When Marrying Is Like Winning

For Caroline Hart, the words 'Welcome to the United States of America' take on a new meaning.

BY Caroline Hart

February 12 2014 8:30 AM ET

Caroline and Laurie Hart

Back on June 26, my wife, Laurie, and I sat with bated breath watching the live broadcast of the Supreme Court issuing its ruling on section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. As the court announced that DOMA was unconstitutional, we just held each other and burst into tears. This was the moment we had been fighting for.

As we were taking in the fantastic news, our lawyer, Verna Polutan, was sitting in the American Immigration Lawyers Association conference in San Francisco. She contacted us immediately, to let us know that we could go ahead and file for a green card.

After seven years of marriage, Laurie was now going to be able to sponsor me as her wife!

We quickly began the application process, and in December we received a confirmation letter saying our green card interview was scheduled for January 7. As you can imagine, we were filled with excitement and a little trepidation as the day approached. The night before, we were buoyed as we received so many messages of support from friends and celebrities from here and abroad who knew how hard we had fought for the repeal of DOMA.

We headed up to the JFK Building in Boston for our interview, armed with mountains of supporting evidence of our relationship. As we waited and I looked up at the Department of Homeland Security plaque on the wall, I couldn’t help but remember how I had felt all those times as I came through the immigration hall in Boston and was sent down for interrogation. Those times I was made to feel like a criminal even though I was legally married in Massachusetts to my American wife, because our marriage license meant nothing to the federal government!

This time was different. The immigration officer who interviewed us couldn’t have been more pleasant. He came out to the waiting room and found us, he introduced himself, and then he asked Laurie to accompany him to the interview room.

“With my heart pounding,” Laurie explains, “not due to the fact that I was nervous but with excitement, I followed the officer. After eight years of fighting for marriage equality, I was now going face-to-face with this officer to answer all the questions of why I want my British wife to be welcomed in my home country. Not knowing what to expect I just kept telling myself, just be you!  The officer soon put me at ease and asked, ‘So how did you meet Caroline?’”

Twenty minutes later he was back for me and my 12-year-old son, Leo. After a few minutes of questioning he gave us the wonderful news: I was approved to be a permanent resident of the USA.  

As the officer reached out to shake my hand he said, “Welcome to the United States of America.”

It was fantastic! Laurie and I felt a mixture of emotions: relief, shock, and complete happiness that our nightmare was finally over. We no longer had to think about all the “what ifs” every time we traveled or the fear of being separated or worrying that if something happened to my elderly parents in the U.K. and I went there, I wouldn’t be allowed to back into the United States.

After we left the interview we immediately contacted our lawyer with the good news, and then our family and friends who had supported us. They were emotional too, as they had fought this fight with us and understood what a huge achievement this was.

Verna says, “Having been Caroline’s attorney these past few years I know the sacrifices made by both her and Laurie, so I am thrilled to know that Caroline finally has her green card.

That night Twitter was alight with wonderful messages from friends and organizations who had followed our journey and wished us congratulations.

We are still reeling. Having worried and worked all these years, it’s hard to actually just accept that we don’t have to worry anymore. But one thing we do know is that we won’t stop fighting until all 50 states grant same-sex couples the right to marry. We know we are lucky, but there are many, many couples still waiting for their day. Sadly, we know from our experience that some people still don’t accept same-sex marriage. We still had messages from haters who are ignorant about equality, but they only make us stronger.

Right now we are enjoying a very new phase of our life together, one where we can actually make plans for our future without the worries of our past. People keep asking us how we feel, and it is hard to truly explain. It’s almost like we are celebrating being married all over again. It is actually said so well in this personal message we received yesterday from Sharon Stone: “It doesn’t matter who you love, it matters THAT you love. Happy Anniversary!”

 

CAROLINE HART is a photographer and activist. She wrote about her hopes for immigration and marriage equality last year for Advocate.com

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