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DOMA Stories:
Federal Marriage Discrimination Hurts Families

GLAD is in court challenging the federal government's discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. In Gill v OPM and Pedersen v OPM, we represent couples and widowers who are harmed in various ways by DOMA. But DOMA hurts many more people than we can represent in these lawsuits.

In these stories, loving couples, widows and widowers, from all walks of life, describe how DOMA hurts their families.

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Hart-Break or Happy Ever After for Binational Couple?

Photograph of Laurie Hart & Caroline Hart

Laurie Hart & Caroline Hart

After viewing pictures of the massive death and devastation caused by the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, Caroline Hart, a British photographer, wanted to do more than just donate a few pounds to the generic relief funds that proliferated in the aftermath of one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. “I wanted to feel I had actually done something real, that amounted to something,” Caroline explains, “rather than just sitting back and letting everybody else do the work.”

So she enlisted her childhood friend, the singer-songwriter Julia Fordham, to re-record her late-80s hit “Happy Ever After,” an anti-apartheid song, with new lyrics addressing the tragedy. Sales of the remix generated $40,000 that went directly toward rebuilding an elementary school – where 13 students were lost to the floodwaters—in Tamil Nadu, India. In 2007, the school re-opened with a celebration where local children performed musical numbers and dance routines. “It was so amazing to see it come to fruition,” Caroline says of the project.

Now, Caroline, 47, is fighting for her own version of Happy Ever After alongside Laurie Hart, 41, an American citizen and her wife of four years. As a bi-national same-sex couple, DOMA threatens to tear their marriage apart, because it prevents Laurie from sponsoring Caroline for U.S. citizenship, as heterosexual people are routinely allowed to do for their foreign-born spouses. Instead, the couple shuttles back and forth between their home in Somerset, Massachusetts and Caroline’s hometown of Portsmouth, England since Caroline’s visitor’s visa allows her into the U.S. for just six months at a time. The instability of their domestic life is straining their emotions and their finances; they’ve spent about $70,000 on travel costs alone over the course of their relationship.

But her 10-year visa is no guarantee Caroline will continually be allowed to re-enter the States as the couple awaits the day the U.S. government stops discriminating against them. They learned this the hard way back in June, when immigration officials interrogated Caroline after she landed at Logan Airport in Boston, questioning the motivation behind her frequent comings and goings since she first met Laurie. Even though she has never overstayed her visa, Caroline says immigration officials warned her that she is spending too much time in the country, and that if she doesn’t stay away between two and six months the next time she leaves, she may be denied entry.

The interrogation, Caroline says, made her feel like a criminal. “There’s never ever been an intention of coming in and abusing the system,” she says. “It’s just because I love Laurie. I’ve made that commitment to be with her, we want to make our life here, and that’s it really.”

That commitment to be together wasn’t difficult for either woman to make. Within weeks of meeting online in 2005 they were burning up the phone lines, singing to each other and making plans to meet in person during six-hour gabfests. “It was like an instant connection,” says Laurie.

They purchased commitment rings during their first eight-day visit. There were lots of tears when they parted, despite having already planned a second visit. “We knew we were going to be apart for seven weeks and that seemed terrible,” says Caroline. “Really, we barely even knew each other but we just knew it was right.” They legally married in 2006.

Laurie and Caroline could move to England, where same-sex couples are treated equally under immigration law. But Laurie, who owns her own photography business, is devoted to her ailing father, a widower who survived a massive stroke and lives in a nursing home. She also doesn’t want to disrupt her 17-year-old son Jonathan’s life with an international move, whereas Caroline sees her sons Andrew, 13, and Leo, 9, on a monthly basis either in England or the U.S. thanks to extended school vacations and the custody agreement between her and her ex-husband.

They avoid much discussion about the very real possibility they’ll be forced to live apart, despite warnings from immigration lawyers and advocates who have advised them to make a contingency plan. “We don’t really want to believe that it’s possible,” says Caroline. “It’s too horrible to have to think that we may be forced to be separated, and we’ve been working on other avenues to solve it.” For instance, they have co-authored two film scripts, the sale of which could enable Caroline to become eligible for an O-1 visa, given to immigrants who excel in film or TV production, among other categories.

Meanwhile, they make the most of their time together. Says Laurie, “We enjoy going out and we hang out with our friends, we go to movies, we go out to restaurants – it’s a normal life.”

Out of necessity, Caroline and Laurie are learning to be advocates for immigration equality. They’ve reached out to their elected officials and launched the Have a HART Campaign, a Facebook page aimed at raising awareness of the issue. They are increasingly willing to share their story publicly, though some have warned against drawing too much attention to themselves. They’re again leveraging the celebrity of their friend Julia Fordham, who has promoted their cause on her Facebook page, to the delight of her fans. Fordham is hopeful that Caroline and Laurie will indeed have their own Happy Ever After.

“Caroline has an instinct for what is right, and she is compelled to forge ahead like a tour de force in all humanitarian matters,” says Fordham. “I am sure the same flair and aplomb she applied to our charity project in India, that spark and fire that helped rebuild the school that had been washed away by the Tsunami, will set ablaze this issue that they are facing now.”

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