Can the U.S. Government Recognize True Love? Married New Yorkers, Brandon and Luke, Join Fight Against DOMA


More Than Just Friends

Luke and I had been best friends for a couple of years when we faced a decision that many gay friends confront: Whether to take our relationship to a romantic level. We soon learned that as a binational couple, we would face even greater challenges.

Luke was the first person I met when I moved to New York from Los Angeles in January 2007. He is South African, and I’m a sucker for a good accent. We clicked instantly. Rarely did I hang out with someone one-on-one and feel comfortable; if there was any lull in the conversation, I felt like it was my fault and my duty to fill it. But hanging out with Luke was effortless. Other friends drifted in and out of my life, but Luke was always there and I could always talk to him. Our lives merged more and more over the first year and a half, despite my moves to that distant region called Brooklyn and our neighbor to the north, Harlem. His friends became my friends and my friends became his. We went to movies and dinner in groups, but more often than not we were meeting in coffee shops and enjoying each other’s company. It was so simple and so… easy.

We grew closer as we talked about everything, called each other out on our ridiculousness, shared our lives and revealed our imperfections with each other. When I came out of the closet, I had no clue how to form friendships with other gay men without making it seem like I was asking them on a date. Half of the time I wasn’t sure myself.  I’ve rarely been sure where I stand with people. And I’ve rarely known what I’ve been looking for. Despite this, my friendship with Luke never seemed to get bogged down with such self-doubt. Even when we seemed to run out of things to say it was oddly comfortable.  Our friendship became extremely valuable to me.

Luke would make a comment and hold my hand. In doing so, I noticed Luke had a way of holding my hand that seemed so loving and nurturing. I started looking at him differently but I was afraid of our friendship changing, or worse, ending.

The tension built when I was away on a work trip in Atlanta.  I was texting back-and-forth with Luke, when our byte-sized conversation hit a lull. That dreadful lull. Then his text came. You know the one.

“Brandon, have you ever thought of us as more than friends?”

I shot back, “Really Luke?? Over text?? While I’m out of town???”

“LOL,” he replied.

I was simply too afraid of our friendship changing, and I told him we would be better off if we did not put it at risk. I made it sound like a very logical and reasonable solution, but still, I was filled with fear. What if we made great friends, but we weren’t compatible as boyfriends? Our friendship would be forever altered. And finally, what if it was true love? What then?

When I returned back to New York, things were different. Everything I was afraid of happening was happening. He would skip out on going to dinner with our group of friends or he would leave early with other friends. He seemed distant. I had never experienced the kind of feelings that overwhelmed me when I sensed him slipping away. I felt a void in my life. I told my therapist and one of my closest friends about our text conversation and how afraid I was of things changing. My therapist said, “When’s the last time you made a good decision based on fear?” I had no response. It was one of the most logical things I’d ever heard. I texted Luke a few days later.

“Have you ever thought of us as more than friends?”

We both LOL’d.

Our first kiss was on my 29th birthday. It was ridiculous how cinematic it was: the two of us desperately trying to get a moment away from our friends the night of my party, finally ducking around a corner as it started to rain. We pulled each other against the side of a building across the street from Sheridan Square and started to kiss. That was more than three years ago.

Our friendship had changed. And nothing collapsed. The ground didn’t open up and swallow us whole. My fear subsided. It turned into a hope that I had never felt before, that sense when you meet someone you can imagine waking up next to and craving a day of doing everything or nothing as long as he is with you.

We already knew so much about each other. We’d seen all of our different moods, unfiltered. He moved in within 6 months. We got a dog, a Dachshund named Andrew. We moved from Harlem to a great apartment in Greenwich Village. We were a family. We started talking about marriage less than a year into our relationship.

We wanted to wait until we could have a big wedding; neither Luke nor I is a man of half-measures. We soon realized it would be years before we would be able to afford the kind of wedding we wanted, but we didn’t want that to stop us.

The day we got our rings, we sat at our dining room table, smiling, alternating glances between them and each other. Andrew was looking up at us, waiting patiently to be fed or played with. There was kind of a healthy blend of shock, fear and excitement between us that was palpable. These days two men marrying can be considered political activism as much as an expression of love and commitment. Neither of us thought that at this point in our lives we would have met the man we wanted to be with for the rest of our lives. For me, there was no question: My best friend made the perfect partner.

I got down on one knee, slipped the ring on Luke’s finger and said “Luke, will you marry me?”

Almost immediately I felt a knot in my stomach. Not because of the question or Luke’s answer (he said yes). I felt like it wasn’t real because it wouldn’t truly be official for all the world to know. It didn’t feel equal. I felt like an imposter in a straight world’s tradition and privilege. I shared these feelings with Luke, who assured me our marriage was just as valid as any other marriage. This was going to be our marriage and our ceremony, he said. We were going to start our own traditions. We understood from the beginning that this decision would cement our commitment to each other. That was the easy part. I was dating my best friend.

For a gay child of divorced parents, a committed marriage can seem like a triumph of will as much as fate. If anyone could make it, I knew we could.

When the economy collapsed, I got laid off. Within a few months, I was able to find a new job but Luke’s business slowed down. So we were tight on money. Our dreams of having a big, gorgeous wedding seemed to be slipping further away. So we opted for the cheapest, er, most affordable wedding in history. With our $20 rings from the glamorous Canal Street, we caught a train up to Milford, CT ($50), obtained marriage licenses ($40), and caught a cab to our friend’s house for the weekend ($10).  During the ceremony, we smiled from ear to ear and didn’t break eye contact while the Mayor of Milford read the gender-neutral wedding vows and Andrew sniffed around City Hall.

We spent the weekend at our friend’s house and watched the movie “Milk” in honor of our wedding, which also happened to be gay pride weekend.

Our first year as a newly married couple has been phenomenal, though not always easy. We’re moving through the same growing pains as every other healthy marriage. Communication, compassion and humility have gotten us through our difficult times, and will continue to do so as we grow together. We have replaced our Canal Street wedding rings with something more appropriate. But our first rings will always have the most sentimental value.

On our first anniversary, New York joined five other states and the District of Columbia ending discrimination against lesbian and gay couples in marriage. We celebrated with thousands of other New Yorkers, knowing that other couples would no longer be forced to travel like refugees to Connecticut or other states to do what all other Americans take for granted. But winning marriage equality in New York, and watching the euphoria on Sunday July 24 as thousands of lesbian and gay couples married across New York state, is a celebration of a job not yet completed. Marriage Equality can never simply mean winning the right to marry in each state, as long as the federal government denies recognition to those marriages.  Each of us, married and celebrating our love and this historic advance, remains unequal. Marriage InEquality will continue until the ruinous and hateful era of DOMA is ended.

And that is how Luke and I decided to embark on a new chapter of our lives together. I will fight for my right to sponsor my husband for a “green card,” a privilege heterosexual Americans take for granted. With President Obama’s recent decision not to defend DOMA and signals from the Department of Homeland Security about protecting LGBT families from being torn apart by deportation, we believe that this is the time to challenge our exclusion from the family-based immigration system that otherwise works reasonably well to keep opposite-sex binational couples together.

We start here today by arguing our case in the court of public opinion. Recently, we joined Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project, and I filed a petition for Luke as my spouse. We know that puts us in a potentially perilous position: unlike an opposite-sex couple my petition will face the insurmountable hurdle of DOMA and unlike all other spouses in our situation, Luke could face deportation if we are not ultimately successful.  We do not want to be forced into exile and we cannot imagine life apart. This means we might have no option but to fight this in the courts and in Congress like so many thousands of gay binational couples who have raised the profile of this inhumane and cruel discrimination.  Whatever the short-term challenges, we will not allow ourselves to be torn apart by my government.

For now, I’m determined not to let fears about our uncertain future dominate my thoughts. I am not worrying about being forced to leave our home and lives we’ve built in New York. I’m not thinking about saying goodbye to friends and family, or how we’d ever re-build new lives for ourselves half-way across the world in South Africa. I cannot allow myself to think of what would happen if Luke was deported. Instead, I’m trying to channel the uncertainty into the sort of optimism I felt when President Obama was elected: That this is a country in which we judge others by the content of their character. We should not hold anyone back because of who they are or who they love.  And, most importantly for us, in the end, we must take on this battle.  We will not bring about change by standing on the sidelines.

Can a nation’s immigration laws recognize something as simple as true love? We think so. If change comes, Luke will truly be able to live his life to its fullest potential with his husband and best friend. Which will make it all the more possible to take that honeymoon we have been dreaming of.

27 comments


  • This article it’s really inspiring, I love it to read it from beginning to the end because I can relate to it. Guys you have my support.

    Gus

    November 28, 2011
  • Oliver

    Brandon, so proud of you and your fight for equality. And I’m so happy for your love.
    Oliver from LA x

    November 28, 2011
  • John Glines

    Go for it, guys! And may you live happily ever after.

    November 28, 2011
  • Jimena Vicario

    Hi guys, what a beautiful story.
    I’m from Argentina, and here marriage is for everyone and national, now we are fighting the adoption issues, a gay person can adopt a child, but a gay couple no, it’s ridiculous and the congress is talking about it.
    I’m not gay, and I understand you because I also date my best friend, we’ve been friend for 4 years, and when he had to return to Spain (he’s from there) to arrange laboral thing, we deal with the same as you over chat. lol
    We started dating when he returned, and moved together after 6 months. We’ve been together for 9 years now. We don’t have the inmigration problems you have because Argentina has open borders, and anyone who want can get a citizen visa in one or two months.
    I’m really happy for you and hope that America grow up some day.
    Best Luck to you and Andrew!

    November 28, 2011
  • J. Mayo

    Guys…a brave and wonderful story. My partner and I met six years ago. He is a Norwegian citizen; I, an American. We have spent the last six years traveling back and forth every three months, as he can’t stay longer than 90 days, and with the economy, has not had ample opportunity to obtain an H1-B Visa. As Harvey Milk pushed those to come out of the closet 35 years ago so we would be recognized, so too bi-national, homosexual couples must do the same. Thank you for your courage…it will take a lot of us to stand up and be counted and say “ENOUGH”!

    November 28, 2011
  • Brad M

    Wishing the both of you the best from Chicago. Know that you’re not alone.

    November 28, 2011
  • Diana Q

    I am so proud of everyone who fights for our right. I am priginally from Colombian and even though I am a citizen I am unable to sponsor my partner which whom I have beem with for 7 years. I could never see myself with anyone else, we are perfect together…. But being that my parntner is here without a visa I am in constant fear of havong her be deported to Colombia… As much as I like colombia, we have a home here in New York, our family os here and we dont want to be torn apart .

    November 28, 2011
  • Marie

    Hola!!!! I want to thank you guys for be brave and dont give up the fight. Im also unable to sponsor my girlfriend and have to life in different continents :( hope one day be able to be together . Good luck !

    November 28, 2011
  • Gailya Brown

    I am so proud of my two sons. Love you both. Mom

    November 28, 2011
  • Waiyde Palmer

    i’m a sucker for a good love story-and-an avid supporter of luke, brandon & any other couple who stands up to be counted in a world where many still say, “shut up & sit down!” proud of you boys!! (PS-when the ‘big’ wedding happens’ i’ll be the one grinning from ear to ear-xo)

    November 28, 2011
  • I’m so proud of your committment to love and face the uncertainty of breaking new ground for true equality in the face of so much hatred and fear (and support!) around us. I wish you both the best and I know our country will grow in this new world. Good luck to you both

    November 28, 2011
  • Ana

    Live and let live!!! Vive y deja vivir!!

    November 28, 2011
  • Criss Melchior

    Ya’ll are such special guys. I am so very proud of ya’ll.
    There is nothing more wonderful than true love and I can’t think of any reason you shouldn’t live the rest of your lives together in the country you choose. Love you lots.

    November 29, 2011
  • Victoria Difortuna

    With LOVE you can build and empire.
    With an Empire you can’t buy love.

    The most important is to stay together.

    I wish the best luck!!!

    November 29, 2011
  • Gabrielle

    What a wonderful love story. Best wishes to both of you and hope you succeed in your efforts to change governmental policies.

    November 29, 2011
  • Karren Cortez

    amazing story… wishing you both all the best!

    November 29, 2011
  • Rick Melchior

    What a brilliant and brave statement… and I’d say that even if I weren’t your Dad.

    November 29, 2011
  • David and Marlene

    From your brother in SA . Well done to you guys. It was lovely reading your adventure this far and it s inspiring to all lovers all over the world. You got to fight for your love of your life .Hands down i take my hat off to you two .Go well from loved ones in SA , hope to meet Brandon soon :)
    LOVE YOU BOTH .

    November 29, 2011
  • Eugene Fisher

    Wishing you all the love and strength…Blessings from Cape Town

    November 30, 2011
  • Mindy

    Love you guys!!!!!

    December 1, 2011
  • Charles Marvin

    Eloquently stated Brandon! You are both certainly brave, and I wish you the very best…

    December 1, 2011
  • Rob Tanis-Evon

    So happy to witness this budding romance. My frustration with our government is superseded by my faith in your love. No matter where in the world you two are, you are adored. Keep up the fight for those who follow your footsteps!
    XO -Robbie

    December 1, 2011
  • tony

    i teared up a bit during the article. Diego and i were married in September of 2009. He is from Spain and i’m a born and bred Bostonian. We met when i was 22 and studying in Madrid… 6 years later here we are married in living on this horrendous island otherwise known as th UK. I’m a proud American and everyday i wish i was back home… i want to show Diego what its like to be American to be near my family and friends and to live our lives… happily. For now though i have to live on the island sunshine forgot… can you believe Diego won’t even let me get a dog!!! What is a boy to do without sun and a dog???

    December 2, 2011
  • Rodrigo

    So inspiring!! I have a three-year relationship with the man I love…We usually talk about getting married, specially after Brazil’s Supreme Court has finally recognized same-sex registered partnership. And there is also a recent decision that convert a partnership between two women into marriage. I consider these landmark decisions a real victory in a country which the majority of the population has a strong prejudice against gays. As one has pointed out before, in Brazil we live in a dicotomy: you can be gay, but do not talk about that! Do not show you are gay and happy. But I do believe (and want to believe) it is changing…Best wishes and good luck for you guys. With such a love story, you deserve the best! Keep us informed about the next moves!

    December 5, 2011
  • Gloria Jasieniecki

    Brandon, I remember meeting you at the Central Park Zoo when your mom was visiting a few years ago. I was so impressed with you at the time and even more so now after reading this article. I hope to be able to keep up with your progress through your mom and dad. I am a “retired” activist here in CT; if there is any way I can help your cause, please let me know.

    December 6, 2011
  • Doug Purcell

    What a beautiful love story. I wish you both long life and much happiness together. As New York State newlyweds — after 18 years together — my husband bad I will also be joining you in the fight to repeal DOMA and achieve full legal protection under the law. Hang in there, the fight will be worth it.

    December 13, 2011
  • ThomasNYC

    I am a New Yorker who was married to a woman, had kids, then came out. Now eight years into a fantastic relationship with my South American partner, we’d like to get married but the federal government (OBVIOUSLY) won’t recognize our marriage from an immigration standpoint.

    Maybe I was naive but I used to consider that most of the government functioned as best it could and assumed I would always have the rights I was entitled to.

    Now what makes my planned marriage (to a man) different from my previous marriage (to a woman)?

    It’s unreal, and I truly appreciate those of you (especially Brandon and Luke) who are bringing your stories public and taking big, big risks RE: deportation proceedings to fight this.

    June 20, 2012

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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.