22 Years After They First Met, Gay Dads and Their Four Children Fight DOMA To Keep Their Family Together

We are Mark and Frédéric.

After more than 20 years, four children, and three houses, we are still unsure of our future.

Like any other parents in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where we live, we spend our days taking care of our family, making sure that our children are loved, happy, healthy and are learning the skills and values that will give them the most opportunities for a successful and fulfilling life.

And yet, as much as we have devoted our lives to our family and to each other, we do not enjoy what most families in America take for granted. Despite being legally married, and having become the parents of four wonderful children, our family can be torn apart at any time by my own government because of the Defense of Marriage Act and because of outdated immigration laws.

We are Mark, Frédéric, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua.

Fred and I met in April of 1990 at a birthday party for a mutual friend. As I learned later, neither one of us wanted to attend the part on that particular night, but, somehow, we both were talked into it. I arrived with my friend Rebecca at the same time that Fred arrived with his friend, Steve. As we approached the entrance, Fred said hello to me in his thick French accent. I often joke saying that “he had me at allo.” He held the door open for me that night.

After that, we spent most of the rest of the evening on the floor in the hallway simply talking about our lives. I found out that he had been in the country for the past year teaching at a university a couple hours away. By midnight, his crew was heading out. As we were saying goodbye, I leaned in and gently kissed him. I don’t know what possessed me to do that. He looked shocked. After he left, I asked the host if Fred was gay, since almost everyone at the party was straight. The host responded “yes” and told me that Fred was planning on going into the priesthood. That didn’t stop me from reaching out to him. I tracked him down at his university and sent him a card. We were able to meet again a few times before he went back to France two months later. And so began unbearable seven years of flying back and forth across the ocean as often as we could.

In 1997, Frédéric was hired at a local high school to teach French. We were finally together in the same country again, and we were both elated. In 1999, we stumbled across a house in Harrisburg that was condemned and boarded up. I fell in love with it. I had to convince Fred to buy it. We paid $1.00 for it and spent the next several months bringing it back to life. It was a labor of love. We literally built a home for ourselves. Ten years after we first met we were settling down and ready to start a family.

In April of 2000, we submitted our application to an adoption agency. They called us six days later to let us know that a boy was just born and asked if we would be interested. Nervously, we said yes. Our son, John, was born on April 20th, 2000. In July 2003, we were blessed again by the birth of our daughter, Claire.

In 2004, with Fred’s work visa due to expire after he reached the limit of six years, he and his employer reached out to an immigration lawyer only to learn that they had acted too late to be eligible for any extension. We began to face the prospect, that we would be forced to leave the United States and move to France. It was very difficult for me to think of leaving my parents and my sister with severe MS, but we could not allow our children to be separated from one of their parents. Our highest priority was keeping our family together. So thinking that we were moving to France, we advertised the house for sale. We had a buyer within a couple of days. With only a few months to go, Fred was able to obtain a student visa to attend our local college. But it was too late to save the house. We moved into a rental. During this time, we experienced what so many gay binational couples come to feel: a growing sense of frustration with the blatant discrimination that prevents gay American citizens from sponsoring their partners, even when they are legally married. We were featured in the documentary, Through Thick and Thin, which profiled the experiences of a diverse group of binational couples. We felt then, as we do now, that we must stand up for our rights. We could not live on this roller coaster, without any way to plan a secure future for our family, and just sit on our hands and do nothing.

Also during that time, we found another condemned house and started renovations on that. We completed the renovations and moved into that in 2005. By 2007, with two kids in private school and Fred unable to work because of his status as a foreign student, money was running low. We decided that, once again, we had no choice but to sell the house into which we literally had poured our blood, sweat and tears. It was heartbreaking to lose our home. We sold the house quickly and purchased a much smaller house in a less expensive neighborhood so that we could keep going for as long as possible on one salary.

In 2008, we married in San Francisco, 18 years after we had first met. A French film crew came with us, and we became part of a film on gay life in America: This is Family.

On April 7, 2009, our 19th anniversary, we met our youngest sons, Jacob and Joshua who were four at that time. They easily blended into our family and overnight, we went from two children to four. We were a growing family, full of love and optimism about our future in every respect but one. A ticking clock grew ever louder, as we knew that Fred’s student visa would eventually come to an end.

In the spring and summer of 2011, we were forced again to weigh our options. Now the proud (and sometimes exhausted) parents of four children, we were forced to look for a way to remain together in this country or else leave. We started to seriously consider moving to France. However, we quickly learned, that despite some advances in French law over the years, we were trapped. We could not stay in the United States (my country) and we could not move to France (Fred’s country). We are unwanted by both. Although we are both the legal parents of four American children, and both the state and federal government recognizes our status as parents, it will not recognize our marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act. According to the U.S. government, I am the father of our four children, and Fred is the father of the same four children, but we are legal strangers to each other. Our marriage, our nearly 22 years together, all of that amounts to nothing. Fred has no right to stay in the United States beyond the expiration date of his visa. And that day was rapidly approaching. At the same time, while France would recognize our relationship under its less-than-optimal Civil Solidarity Pact (“PACS”), and it may even permit me to reside in France legally as an immigrant on the basis of our relationship (but not our marriage), the French government refuses to recognize the adoption of our children, because under French law same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting children. We are trapped by U.S. law that refuses to see our marriage, and French law that refuses to see our children. We cannot continue to live this way, and we cannot be torn apart. .. so we decided to fight back.

Over the past years, we have built our entire lives in the U.S. All of our family and friends are here. Our children should not be put through the trauma of seeing one of their parents forced out of the country, nor should we be uprooted and turned into refugees searching for a third country that will take us in. It is an outrage that my own government has created this situation and allows it to persist, when it has the power to solve the problem both in the short-term with interim policy changes, and in the long-run by defeating DOMA. We are thankful that this administration is fighting DOMA in court alongside lesbian and gay couples. Those cases will hopefully bring an end one day to that law and its cruel, unnecessary impact. But we need the administration to help all LGBT families like ours today by putting in place policies that protect us.

This past summer we decided to join The DOMA Project and fight for full equality for our family. After many discussions with our lawyer, we decided that I would file a “green card” petition on behalf of Fred, as my spouse. We have done this because we cannot continue to exist from one visa to another, we cannot put our children through the stress, and we cannot allow the status quo, in which our future is so unstable, to continue. We believe that we must set an example for our children by living our lives in a way that assumes we are all equal.

On Wednesday, January 11, 2012, Fred and I will go to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Philadelphia to be interviewed in connection with the marriage-based immigration petition I filed last summer. We will go into that interview expecting to be treated equally. A USCIS officer will ask us about our marriage, review our evidence of cohabitation and commingled finances, and proof that that we have a marital relationship. We have dutifully compiled a pile of documents and photographs for review. We welcome the opportunity to be treated just like everyone else: to prove that our marriage is real. While we look forward to the interview, we have no illusions of what we are up against. We will prove that we are, in every way, qualified for Fred to receive a green card, but he will still be denied. And that is where the next stage of our fight will begin.

We have notified our elected officials and we will continue to fight for our case to be approved or, at the very least, held in abeyance, and not denied. We are painfully aware of the Obama administration’s position that DOMA, despite being unconstitutional, must be enforced. We know that President Obama believes that DOMA prevents the Immigration Service from “recognizing” our marriage. Even so, there is no reason that our marriage cannot be respected and our family protected. We need bold leadership to create remedies that keep all families together. Our four children, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua, deserve no less.

Mark, Frédéric, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2010

Mark Himes blogs about his family at Our Simple Lives…A Daddy, a Papa and their four children.

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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.