Friday, December 07, 2012

Our Story: Eleanor and Fumiko

American Grandmother Forced to Live in Exile in Canada While Supreme Court Considers Same-Sex Marriage Case

Fumiko and I met in New York way back in 1986. At the time, I was a 46 year old American woman working as a computer programmer, while Fumiko was a 37 year old Japanese woman studying as a weaver. Fumiko had planned to be in New York for just six months, on her way to Guatemala in order to study indigenous weaving techniques there. Unbeknownst to us when we were introduced by a mutual friend, our lives would soon become much more complicated.

Just a few weeks after we met, Fumiko was scheduled to head to Guatemala, and we decided to go on that trip together — the beginning of our now 26-year relationship. After a series of travels to Guatemala, then Mexico, then Japan, and then back to New York, we settled temporarily in the Big Apple to see if we could make this new relationship work.
We soon discovered what all binational same-sex couples discover — that U.S. law is by no means hospitable to couples like us, refusing to allow Americans to sponsor their same-sex partner for immigration purposes. Eight years into our relationship, Fumiko was forced to return to Japan with no clear avenue to ever return to the U.S. and to our life together. Years of short-term trips, tourist visas, student visas, tears of despair, and glimmers of hope eventually led us back to New York.

For three years, we did everything we could to be together — to get around unjust laws, to buy ourselves more time together, to try everything we could imagine a way that we could continue to share the life we had built together. Faced with an expired visa, Fumiko eventually had to return again to Japan alone, as I remained in New York, forlorn.

Fortunately, we discovered that we could live together in Canada with a bit more ease, as Canada welcomes same-sex immigrant couples. We began preparing their applications in early 2005 and were approved in 2007. We made arrangements to wind down our respective lives in Japan and New York in order to build — again — a new life together. We have lived together in Canada for five years as permanent residents — it’s certainly not a perfect situation as we’re both separated from our families, but it’s the only option we have until the United States becomes more hospitable to binational same-sex couples.

I return to New York and Boston often to check in on my grown children and, now, grandchildren. Fumiko returns to Japan every few years, as well, but is happy to return “home” each time. Last August, we married in Massachusetts.

The amount of time, money, and anxiety that U.S. immigration and marriage laws have cost us in enormous. We have been separated many times, adding unnecessary stress to our lives and to the lives of our family. It seems unjust that we have had to make such hard choices and such immense sacrifices simply to be together — and we look forward to the day that the United States finally lives up to the values articulated in the U.S. Constitution. We know that the U.S. is better than its laws — and we’re looking to the Supreme Court now to solve the problems that we and so many other binational same-sex couples must navigate each day for the sake of love.

Are you a same sex binational couple?  Do you have families / friends affected by this issue?  Please contact us at if you are interested in sharing your story.

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