comments_image Comments

'How the Government Could Separate Me From My Husband'



When Juka Mendes arrived in the United States five years ago, in July 2008 from his home country of Portugal, he had a few expectations: He expected to see and experience a new, exciting part of the world. He expected to obtain a degree in Human Resource Management. And he expected to have his mind opened to new ideas and ways of thinking. He never expected to fall in love. But that's what happened in 2011, when he met Jonathan Malumay.

Jonathan is a 6-year member of the U.S. Air Force, and he and Juka instantly got along when they met in 2011. The romance grew serious very quickly - and after four months, when the lease on Jonathan's apartment expired, he asked Juka if he wanted to move in with him, and the two began building a life together in Vacaville, CA.

Just weeks after moving into an apartment, Jonathan got a surprise letter in the mail: He was being deployed for four months in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.  While Jonathan was deployed, he and Juka exchanged multiple emails each day. They explained how much they missed each other. They celebrated the certification of the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in September 2011, which allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve openly for the first time ever.

In October 2011, Jonathan drafted a particularly significant email. He wrote about how deeply he cared about Juka, how amazing it felt to be able to openly discuss his relationship with Juka, how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Juka. At the end of the email, he typed, "Will you marry me?"

"It felt good to finally include Juka in my military life after the repeal of DADT," Jonathan said. "I was very happy that he was with me, and I wanted to show everyone how happy I was. I wanted to be married to him and never again hide who I am or who he is. I just wanted us to be together forever."

A week after Jonathan returned from deployment, he and Juka flew to New York City to get married. In the next year, Juka continued going to school, taking a full load of classes to maintain his student visa. This year, however, tight finances have made it impossible for Juka to continue his studies and complete his last year of schooling. Jonathan and Juka have been forced to move into a smaller, different apartment - one with roommates - to be able to pay their rent and support themselves financially.

Since Juka is no longer a full-time student, his student visa that allows him to live in the United States will expire in April. He will be expected to return to Portugal. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal respect of lawful marriages between same-sex couples, will separate Juka from his husband. Because DOMA does not respect Juka and Jonathan's marriage - or marriages between any same-sex couples - Jonathan is not allowed to sponsor Juka for a green card to grant him U.S. citizenship.

In fact, DOMA is largely the reason that Juka's student visa will be expiring in April - the reason that Juka will not be able to afford to finish his last year of undergraduate studies at Sacramento State University. As a service member, Jonathan is eligible for the G.I. bill, which grants him thousands of dollars in funding to place toward education. He is allowed to pass on the funding from that G.I. bill to legal dependents - like a spouse - but because DOMA does not view Juka and Jonathan as a married couple, Juka is unable to access Jonathan's G.I. bill.

See more stories tagged with: