Worlds Apart

Federal law gives gay citizens with foreign partners tough choices: Leave the U.S. Lose your love. Break the law.

Good Shepherd's pastor, Virgil Fernando, says Angel's sexual orientation wasn't an issue: The church, in fact, sponsored him for an initial visa, then petitioned to transfer it to a church they merged with in 2003, and were again planning to sponsor him for a renewed R-visa in 2007. "Three times, he's come to us and we've said yes, so where is it that you see that we're questioning his orientation?" Fernando says.

To sponsor Angel for the last visa, the elders board drew up a new contract: They would pay him $200 more a month, and loan him $7,500 for legal costs to apply for permanent residency. Fernando says the church couldn't afford to pay the legal costs. Angel refused to sign the contract, so the church requested a withdrawal of the petition for his visa 10 days later.

It was time to go stealth. Angel changed his phone numbers, and he and Erik moved to San Francisco so immigration authorities couldn't track them from the information on Angel's application. Angel has his caretaking paychecks sent to a friend's house. "You're invisible; you can't plan for the future," he says, saying he is what Filipinos call tago ng tago, or "TNT" — "constantly hiding."

Erik and Angel, who is here illegally, have decided to stay in the country to be together.
Julie Michelle
Erik and Angel, who is here illegally, have decided to stay in the country to be together.
Angel and Erik are out about being gay, but Angel must live under the radar of immigration authorities.
Julie Michelle
Angel and Erik are out about being gay, but Angel must live under the radar of immigration authorities.

Angel sings first tenor in a choir, yet bowed out of an upcoming concert in New York City because he didn't want to face airport security without papers and without Erik. In his nightmares, ICE agents show up to arrest him; Erik won't let him answer the door at night, in case, someday, it turns out to be true.

Erik and Angel briefly contemplated a sham marriage, but ultimately didn't want the hassle. Right now, they're just waiting for change. "This is where my religious side comes in," Angel says. "Living here, trusting in God for what's going to happen with your life." But if there's no change in the law, they, too, might abandon the city where they've been out and proud.

Mark D. sits on his couch in jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie, listening to a reporter finish reading the transcript of Sang's interrogation at O'Hare Airport. He's silent for a second. "Sorry, that's very hard for me to listen to." It brings back the sense of injustice, he says: "I find it very amazing that my marriage is not recognized for the purposes of sponsoring him, but it is recognized for purposes of denying him entry, saying he's an overstay risk."

The lights are off in the tidy, blue-walled apartment with a view of the fog hovering over the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. While Sang was living with him, "every day was a honeymoon," he says. Sang had been a chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul, and would deliver lunch to Mark's office or cook Korean for his poker nights. At night, they'd play Rock Band or PlayStation, or walk the aisles of the Marina Safeway to peruse the food — love makes even the most routine errands fun.

After Sang called him, crying, to say he'd lost his visa, Mark packed up some of his clothes from their apartment and flew to Seoul to deliver them. Since returning, Mark has become a homebody — he says every place they've been together just reminds him that Sang isn't here. The plastic Rock Band guitar sits idle in the corner.

It will all be boxed up soon enough. Even before Sang got his visa revoked, the couple had called an immigration attorney in Canada and taken the online assessment to see whether they fell into a category the country would accept. Luckily, Mark's "financial manager" job was one of the qualifying occupations. They took a trip to scope out Vancouver.

Once Sang lost his visa, it was time to go through with it. Mark mailed their application packet in February.

This is a big step. Having lived his whole life in the progressive bubble of Northern California, Mark is the rare gay man who can't recall any other instance in his life when he felt discriminated against. "I was always one of those people that said to be gay in America is fine. Nobody's out there killing you." Yet he doesn't have high hopes for reform, so now he'll be leaving his elderly parents, who still live here.

"As we preserve marriage because it's supposedly a family value, I think it's funny that the side effect is it actually tears families apart," he says.

On a Sunday morning last month, Mark's mother drove to his apartment to ride with him to San Francisco International Airport and kiss him goodbye. There were no tears this time as he boarded the 13-hour Singapore Airlines nonstop flight to Seoul. It was just a two-week visit, a dress rehearsal for the date he leaves for good.

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