Love or country – it’s a decision many gay Americans with foreign partners are forced to make.
It may seem counterintuitive; in the past few years, a wave of American states have legalized gay marriage.
But because of a 1996 federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government does not recognize those unions.
The result is that a heterosexual American can sponsor his or her partner for U.S. visa, but a gay American cannot.
Rather than break the law or split up, many gay couples are leaving American shores.
That was precisely the situation that Brandon Perlberg found himself in when his British partner, Benn Storey, who had been in the U.S. legally on temporary visas, was told it was unlikely he would ever obtain a green card to stay.
The couple had lived in New York for seven years, but upended their lives and moved to the United Kingdom to stay together.
“We never considered separating,” Storey told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour from London on Thursday.
“We had always thought that this was going to be our backup plan,” his partner, Perlberg, added. “At the beginning of last year, it became certain that if we did not move now, we really faced the risk of being indefinitely separated. And that wasn’t a risk we were willing to face.”
In New York, Perlberg had been a practicing attorney. But his expertise in New York and American law was not valued in London, and he struggled to find a job.
“That was one of the most difficult parts of this process for me,” he said. “I spent eleven months hemorrhaging financially, burning through savings and going on interviews.”
President Obama has made immigration overhaul a top priority for his second term. Part of his proposal is to recognize, for the first time ever, gay partnerships when evaluating visa applications.
Perlberg, the American, said he is conflicted about his feelings for the U.S.
“On the one hand,” he said, “I love my country and I’ve never felt more personally attached and involved in its future as I do right now, as there’s a debate going on as to immigration and a debate going on as to same-sex marriage. At the same time, I cannot shake this feeling of resentment that I have, that our lives were taken away from us.”
Unlike many intra-national gay couples forced to choose between love and country, they had a fallback, because Storey happened to be from a country, the U.K., that allows gay citizens to bring in their foreign partners.
“We are very much the lucky ones,” Storey said. “There are people who have no option but to go back to their home country and separate from their partner.”