Without immigration rights, Utah gay couple seek new home abroad
(via The Salt Lake Tribune)
Benjamin Anderson, 55, and Mattia Lumaca, 41, traveled from their Salt Lake City home this week to marry in New York on their four-year anniversary as a couple. On Friday, they left for Lumaca’s hometown near Parma, Italy, where they will spend Christmas with Lumaca’s family.
But the honeymoon is bittersweet. They don’t know if they will ever return together to the United States. After the holidays, they will settle in Germany or another nation in the European Union that recognizes same-sex unions (Italy does not).
Lumaca can offer Anderson rights as an immigrant. But Anderson, a Coast Guard veteran, has no way to help his husband stay in the United States after his student visa expires next year.
“It took me a long time to find Mattia, and I honestly believe God sent him to me. I’m not going to give him up,” Anderson said in a phone interview from New York. “Of course, I would stay here, but then I’d have to give up Mattia. Or I stay with Mattia, but now I have to give up America? What kind of a horrible choice is that? I love my country. I am a patriot.”
Even though six states and the District of Columbia now allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Anderson cannot obtain legal residency and expedited citizenship for his spouse as he could if he were married to a woman. There are an estimated 28,500 binational same-sex couples in the United States in a situation similar to Anderson and Lumaca’s, according to the Williams Institute, a sexual orientation policy center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration decided it would no longer defend DOMA in court challenges. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is pushing to repeal the law, which she views as “discriminatory” because it denies legally married same-sex couples more than 1,100 federal benefits. Another proposed bill, the Uniting American Families Act, would grant immigration rights to long-term, same-sex partners without recognizing them as married.
Utah’s congressional delegation opposes same-sex marriage.
“Like most Americans, Senator [Orrin] Hatch firmly believes that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman,” said Hatch’s spokesman, Mark Eddington, via email. “Without DOMA, the majority of states that affirm traditional marriage could be forced by the courts to recognize same-sex marriages and to subsidize federal same-sex rights and benefits. He also opposes the so-called Uniting American Families Act, which would extend the same immigration benefits now reserved for married couples to same-sex relationships.”
Utah’s lone Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson, said through a spokeswoman that he also opposes extending immigration benefits to same-sex partners.
This year, national public opinion polls have shown that Americans are evenly split or slightly in favor of legalizing gay marriage. In a Gallup poll conducted in May, 53 percent supported recognizing same-sex marriages — a jump of nine percentage points from the previous year.
Fracturing a family
Anderson and Lumaca hope federal policy changes in the future so they can return.
“I want America to bring us home,” Anderson said. “Mattia loves America. I love America. And I think that America needs us.”
It was important to both of them that Lumaca not remain in the country illegally. They have sought legal counsel from New York-based Immigration Equality, which advocates for immigration rights for same-sex couples.
The couple also are leaving a year before Lumaca’s visa expires because he is not allowed to work and has spent his life savings. Anderson, meanwhile, cannot afford to pay Lumaca’s student tuition and their living expenses on his disability and retirement benefits.
Anderson leaves behind a 33-year-old son and is risking his health with the move. He retired early from the Coast Guard following exposure to chemicals and the development of a severe heart condition, which has led to four heart attacks. He also suffers from diabetes and glaucoma. He relies on Veterans Affairs health centers for medical care. In Munich, Germany, where the couple plan to try living first, he can access some health care at a nearby U.S. military base but says some of the services and drugs he receives at the VA hospital in Salt Lake City are not available abroad.
“It’s kind of a scary situation,” Anderson said. “I’ve been given enough medicine for three months and then after that, I’m kind of on my own.”
In 2006, Anderson was recovering from surgery that removed his thyroid — and temporarily left him unable to speak — when he met Lumaca on an Italian travel website. Anderson was dreaming of an European vacation. Lumaca, an avid skier, was planning a trip to Salt Lake City. The two agreed to have dinner when Lumaca visited Utah. They spent much of Lumaca’s trip together and quickly fell in love even though Anderson was still in recovery.
“He was going through these horrible medical issues when I met him. I saw how he was a real fighter. He was gentle, he was lovable, he made me feel comfortable,” recalled Lumaca. “When I returned to Italy, I felt I had to go back. I was telling myself, ‘I left something there. I left a piece of me with Ben.’ ”
Three months later, Lumaca secured a student visa and moved to Salt Lake City in 2007. The couple hoped they would be able to find a long-term solution later. Lumaca studied English at a language institute. He took over as Anderson’s caregiver, sorting the 20 pills he needs each day and driving him to doctors’ appointments.
Jared Anderson worries about how his father will fare abroad. In recent years, with father and son both living in the Salt Lake Valley for the first time in a decade,
Jared has relished spending more time with his father, who divorced his mother when Jared was 13 years old. At age 15, he says he became a “fervent supporter” of gay rights, penning a high school play about his father.
Jared Anderson doubts he will be able to afford to visit his father in Europe.
“For me, it’s not really a gay rights issue, it’s a family issue,” Jared Anderson said. “Because of this, I’m losing my family.”