by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
When Alexis Castillo met her wife, Val, in 2004, she knew that they would be together for life. Alexis, 25, a U.S. citizen living in Seattle, and Val, 26, a British Columbia resident, dated for six years and were legally married in Canada in November of last year. Alexis and Val were forced to marry in B.C., Canada, where marriage is legal, because although Washington state allows same-sex domestic partnerships, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) trumps that law - meaning Alexis could not sponsor Val for citizenship. Alexis and Val Castillo's story is one of love; a love that would survive through a citizenship battle, long distance, and federal same-sex marriage inequality to emerge as a clear example of just how dangerous DOMA can be.
'WITH THAT ONE KISS, I KNEW SHE WAS THE ONE'
On August 19, 2004 Alexis' life changed forever. The 19-year-old and some friends took a road trip to Vancouver, B.C., to go dancing at a Gay club. That was the first time Alexis had ever gone out as an openly Gay woman or to a Gay club - she was excited, to say the least.
"Halfway through the night, while dancing at Celebrities Nightclub on Davie Street, I looked up and saw this gorgeous girl," Alexis told SGN. "It was like something out of a movie. I had never felt this way before. She walked in front of me and I just stopped dancing and everything around me seemed to just disappear. I didn't hear any music and I didn't see anyone but her. We made eye contact and at that exact moment I knew that this girl was going to be something important in my life, I just didn't know how."
A mutual friend eventually introduced Alexis to Val, and for two months, the two women carried on as friends. As time passed and they got to know one another, Alexis says she realized that when Val described her "dream girl" to her, she thought, "That's me!"
"I knew she was the person I had been waiting for," said Alexis. "I came up to Canada every single weekend. Deep down, we both knew our next relationship was going to be with each other."
After a trip to Capilano Suspension Bridge, the two women stood over a wishing well. Alexis threw a penny in and wished that Val would kiss her, for the first time, that night. When Alexis dropped Val off at home before returning to Seattle, Val asked her to close her eyes and hold out her hand. "I thought she was going to slap it because we were always being playful and goofy with each other," Alexis recalled. "Instead, she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards her and kissed me. & My wish had come true."
"With that one kiss, I knew she was the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with," she said.
Over the course of the next few years, Alexis and Val made the best of a long-distance relationship, spending vacations together and seeing each other as often as they could. Then, Val proposed to Alexis on her birthday in front of all their friends on February 22, 2009. The two would marry later that year in Canada under circumstances that neither could have foreseen. Looming over the two women, weighing down on their love, was DOMA.
'DOMA FORCED ME OUT'
DOMA is a federal law that defines marriage, for all legal reasons, as a union between one man and one woman. In other words, same-sex partners in states that allow same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, or civil unions, are not allowed to sponsor their partner from another country for American residency or citizenship.
Because Val is a Canadian citizen and Alexis is an American citizen, she was unable to petition for her lover to live with her in Seattle because they were a Lesbian couple.
"We met with an immigration attorney because Val wanted to live in the states with me and I did not want to leave my family and country to move to Canada originally," Alexis said.
According to Alexis, they were given the following options: Val could marry an American man; Val could attend an American school so she could temporarily stay in Seattle (but the financial burden was too much for the young couple); she could invest $100,000 in a U.S.-based company or start her own business; she could find a company willing to sponsor her; she could be hired as a U.N. skilled worker; or she could have an immediate family member who is legal in the states to petition her.
The last of the options seemed the cruelest. How could the government not look at Alexis as Val's family member when they were, in fact, a family? Alexis was Val's wife, after all.
"DOMA is a unconstitutional law that had denied me of one of my basic civil rights - the right to marry who I choose - because she happens to be the same gender," Alexis argued. "DOMA put me in the situation of having to choose between my family and the love of my life. I shouldn't be made to choose because of this law."
Alexis admits that life probably would've been easier, on a practical level, if they had just broken the relationship off and dated someone in their own country. For Alexis and Val, that was never an option, because they are deeply in love and realized that life wouldn't be remotely as happy or fulfilling if they weren't together.
"Val and I fought for our love because we couldn't imagine going on our separate lives without each other," she said. "I feel like people search their whole lives and sometimes never find the kind of love that she and I have. You can't just throw that away because the road is rough, you can't just throw that away because of some unconstitutional immigration law. Val is my best friend, my wife, and my soul mate, and I will keep fighting for our love until the day I take my last breath."
'I MISS MY FAMILY IN SEATTLE EVERY SINGLE DAY'
On November 7, 2009 Alexis and Val had a small civil ceremony in front of their immediate family and close friends underneath the U.S.-Canadian Peace Arch at the border.
"It was the best day of my life, next to meeting her," recalled Alexis. "Being from a state and a country that doesn't allow me to marry my soul mate based on our gender is saddening. I take the term 'married to my wife' very seriously and never, not for one second, take it for granted. There was a time when I thought that I would never have the opportunity to legally get married - now that I have, I cherish it every day."
Currently, Alexis and Val are a bi-national couple. They live in Vancouver, B.C., and Val has petitioned for Alexis to become a Canadian resident. "I love it here, but I can't help but feel cheated by my own country for legally denying me the right to be with the one I love."
"I miss my family in Seattle every single day. I miss my friends," she said. "While it was my choice to leave them and move to Canada and marry Val, it was, ultimately, a choice I was forced to make by America. It was the only option we had if we wanted to get married and live together."
Alexis says that she doesn't like it when same-sex couples are put into a separate category and denied civil rights. "We go through the same daily human struggles," she said. "We deserve to choose who we marry, and should be able to petition that person if they are from another country without the government and voters stepping in to stop it. I am not asking for special treatment; I am asking for equal treatment."
For other bi-national couples who may be faced with a similar situation, Alexis has some advice: "Do not give up on your love. Val and I are proof that love really does conquer all. It won't be easy, but it'll pay off in the end. Keep fighting, and you will find a way."
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