When Laurie and I met back in 2005 we had no idea how hard we'd have to fight to stay together. Our commitment was tested at every step by the federal government and everyday people holding on to prejudice.
I am a British citizen and on a number of occasions I was nearly denied entry into the United States to be with Laurie, an American born citizen, despite the fact that we had a valid Massachusetts marriage license.
Since I had family in England, it was important to me that I return without restrictions, so initially I had been traveling under the visa waiver program, which allowed me to stay in the U.S. for 90 days. This quickly became an issue whenever I reentered the U.S. and was asked at Border Control each time, “Why are you entering the country so often?” I would explain that I was married to an American citizen. Then they’d inevitably ask, “Why doesn’t your husband sponsor you?” and I would then have to explain I was married to a woman. And that’s when the trouble would start.
The first time I was sent down for secondary questioning Laurie was with me, which helped. The officer asked me about the amount of time I was staying in the U.S. and why. I explained again about being married and Laurie added her input too, but our marriage was not recognized because it was a same-sex marriage. Even though we were at Boston’s Logan International Airport in Massachusetts and same-sex marriages had been legal in that state since 2004, the federal government didn’t recognize it, so it didn’t count. We were made to feel uncomfortable and I was told that I had to get a different type of visa that allowed me to stay longer, then I was able to leave.
The next time we traveled back to England we made arrangements for me to get a visitor’s visa from the American Embassy in London. As I now had my visitor’s visa, which allowed me to stay for six months, I wasn’t worried about reentering the U.S., so I was completely shocked when again I was not approved entry and sent down for secondary questioning. I explained all the same things about being married and having obtained the visitor’s visa as previously requested. But this time I was told that it was “the number of entries into the U.S., that’s the problem.” I really felt persecuted.
The final straw came when one time I had to leave the U.S. because my allowed time was coming to an end and Laurie couldn’t come back with me. Her father just had a stroke and she was his healthcare proxy. This was the turning point for us.
I was sent down for secondary questioning and this time I was interrogated by two officers who had absolutely no sympathy for my situation. I took out our marriage license and Laurie had even given me a photocopy of her passport for me to show further proof. But they didn't care about any of that. It was a frightening and humiliating experience — all I wanted was to reunite with my wife!
Finally after much pleading on my part, I was told they would allow me in this one last time but after that I would have to remain out of the U.S. for six months to a year, or face being banned entry for 10 years. This was the worst news. Laurie couldn’t possibly leave her father as he was totally incapacitated and I could face being deported if I didn’t comply.
We scanned for advice from as many sources as possible. We were told to either go over the radar or under the radar, so we chose to go over the radar and set out on a media frenzy telling our story to anyone and everyone who would listen. Luckily for us we gathered great support from people like New York Congressman Jerry Nadler to Sharon Stone, all throwing their weight behind our fight for equality.
Fortunately our campaigning worked and we helped play a part in highlighting the need for the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. On June 26, 2013, the court’s decision enabled Laurie to finally sponsor me for a green card. After all of that, Laurie and I decided to take our journey further. We’re making a short documentary called Status Unknown, about our fight for equality, going into production here in Boston this March.
When politicians like Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee are to appear in an antigay documentary, it just gives us more reason to want to make our film a huge success. While some legal battles may have been won, social acceptance is often a tougher battle. The more we can highlight that, the closer we are to achieving it.
CAROLINE HART and her wife Laurie Hart are photographers based in Massachusetts. For more information about Status Unknown, visit Hart2HartProductions.com