Seven Years After Falling in Love in Croatia, Jon and Nedo Fight for their Marriage and the Right to be Together
Photo by Steven Rosen Photography
My name is Jon. In the photo above, I am the American guy on the right looking a bit choked up. I think it was taken just after the moment during our wedding when my husband Nedo stared into my eyes and told me that he was going to love me forever.
Let me go back in time and tell the story of how Nedo and I met. In April of 2005, I decided to take some time off from work and travel to Europe with the intent of finding a place I could live while I finished a college degree. I literally stumbled onto the Stradun in the charming medieval, walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. I fell in love with the country and its people, but one particular Croatian hunk ended up stealing my heart. Having been a pretty jaded guy living in San Francisco I had pretty much given up on my dream of finding a soul mate. Even typing that I still flinch a little bit because I know it just sounds so corny.
I remember sitting in a coffee bar on a warm September night near Pile Gate, an entrance to Old Town, as it is called, and seeing Nedo for the first time. He had come to the location because he had heard from one of the workers that there was a handsome American whom he should come check out. He was beautiful and I was enamored but we didn’t know at that moment that our paths were meant to cross again. The next time I saw him I was eating ice cream at another coffee shop. I was caught a little off guard and couldn’t understand why he was starting at me so I kind of hid a little bit behind an umbrella. We laugh about it today because he couldn’t believe I would try to hide from him. He was determined, as he proudly states today, to get to know me.
The next time I saw him was when I brought a friend from the U.S. into the store where Nedo worked. I didn’t realize the “hot Croatian guy” that I had telephoned my friend back home about worked at this store. It felt like fate was dealing us our cards. I was so happy to see him again. We got to talking and Nedo asked me for my cell phone number; he called me almost immediately after we left the store wanting to drop off a bracelet that he “fixed” for my friend. That, it turned out, was a pretext to get to know me better.
Since the day we first met, Nedo and I have not been apart with the exception of the seven months while we waited for him to come to the United States on his student visa. When I eventually ran out of money and I had to return home from Europe, I never expected that Nedo and I would find a way to maintain our relationship back in the U.S. It occurred to me while we were chatting online that if this man was going to give up his beautiful country, his wonderful friends, and move away from his family, how could I not welcome him with open arms in my country? To this day the effects of that decision on him to leave his family are deeply emotional and he can’t allow himself to communicate with them regularly because it is easier to disassociate then deal with the enormity of that decision. Every time he talks to his family he ends up crying for the remainder of the night. He misses his nieces and nephews terribly and it hurts him not to see them regularly. The fact that he is separated from his mother is something he can’t even fully grasp without his eyes swelling with tears. Due to his current legal status he cannot risk leaving the country for fear his visa will not be renewed, but this means he also must live with the knowledge that he may never see his parents again. They are getting older and the more time that goes by without him being able to visit is another form of torment for us as a gay binational American family. My husband experiences this pain often, and it causes me to resent my government for the pain our families suffer in the name of DOMA.
I had to borrow $18,000 from my sister to prove that I could sponsor Nedo for a student visa. I worked two jobs to pay for his tuition and our rent in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. We went through very tough financial times in the beginning of our relationship. The stress took a severe toll on my mental and physical health. Nedo was not used to relying on others to take care of him, and he also suffered from not being able to contribute financially to our household.
Eventually, we settled into a domestic routine. Nedo went to school full-time, but almost every day he cooked our meals and did laundry; he even folded and ironed the sheets! He meticulously planned every holiday and decorated at least three trees on Christmas. Nedo took care of me as much as I took care of him, and he made our home and life together. Nedo has become an important part of my family. He is “Uncle Nedo” to my nieces, a brother to my sisters, and a cousin to my cousins. We celebrate every Thanksgiving at the home of my born-again Christian brother and his fourth wife. Numerous members of our extended family members support us in our cause for Marriage Equality, recognizing that our fight to be together is not a gay or straight issue, but an issue of our common humanity as a family. Virtually, everyone who has come into our lives knows and supports us in our struggle to stay together and cannot believe that there is a chance Nedo might be taken away from all of us.
Nedo has given me everything and has taught me the true meaning of partnership and unconditional love. He is the love of my life and he is a source of inspiration to all in our life. It makes me tear up even just thinking of how much love he has shown for me and my family. There are ways that this man has supported me that do not lend themselves easily to words. He is faithfully and religiously by my side. I feel blessed to be able to share life, our friends and family together. What we have in our lives together today is something we have both dreamed of all of our lives. We would love to be able to think of our future and how we want to have a home in California and a summer residence in Croatia close to his family. We dream of owning our own business to support ourselves but none of it can fully become a reality when living your life in constant fear of not knowing what the future holds. We would love more then anything to buy a house and know that it will always be our home together. Such simple dreams often seem impossible for us as a gay binational couple.
I remember the day in 2008 when the Supreme Court of California ruled that gay couples could marry. It was the first time I realized that Nedo and I could marry. At that moment I was ambivalent. I had been told that Nedo may complicate his visa status if we were married because it could be interpreted as an indication of intent to remain in the United States. (I later realized that much of the concern around marriage and visa status stems from a lack of understanding of these issues.) Importantly, though, something in my mind changed that day. With respect to my relationship to Nedo, to our love, I felt like every other American. I felt worthy. I felt that we had the chance to feel equal. Finally, I was in love with a wonderful man who I would actually want to marry and now the most wonderful and surprising thing had happened: a court ruling had made it all possible.
As everyone reading this knows by now, our right to marry ended up being put to a vote and it was taken away by a slim majority of Californians. It felt like a punch in gut. I was so upset that I lost a lot of hope in my own country at that moment. I remember the opposing side of Prop 8 using Obama’s statement about marriage and feeling let down that the President didn’t aggressively speak out in opposition to the Proposition. Nedo even met Nancy Pelosi at a book signing event in San Francisco and brought up the fact that I could not sponsor him for a green card because of DOMA. She said “I know; it’s a disgrace and we need to change that.” Nice words, but that’s all they were. Over the next few years we became increasingly frustrated when the response from our elected officials essentially became, “what choice do we have but wait for change?” We have started to realize that change is not something you wait for; it’s something you make happen.
I get upset when I think about the taxes I have paid over the years to my government only to be treated like a second-class citizen, while other people, like my brother, who is on his fourth marriage, get unlimited chances to pursue their happiness. As an American citizen I cannot stand by and allow my love for Nedo to be treated as though it is less valuable than my brother’s marriages.
A dream came true for us last August, when a birthday trip to New York for Nedo ended up being so much more than just a visit to the Statue of Liberty! On July 24th, New York State’s marriage equality law went into effect, so about a week before our trip I asked Nedo if after six years together was he would marry me while we were in New York. Nedo and I had concerns about jeopardizing his visa status; however, we both decided our commitment was worth the risk especially since his visa expires in February 2013. We arranged for Reverend Annie Lawrence to conduct our ceremony and hired photographer Stephen Rosen to take pictures of our Bow Bridge wedding in Central Park. Its hard to put into words the feelings and emotions we both felt that day while saying our vows. What we have is special and the experience of being able to legally commit ourselves in a ceremony like all other loving couples was a once in a lifetime, joyful experience.
Nedo and I live in San Francisco today and we are very blessed. We have been through a lot together and have always been taken care of. We have a certain faith in our respective higher powers that our love is special and that we will be taken care of.
Each year we participate in the Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery and this last year was especially bitter for us as we are running out of time on Nedo’s visa. The Green Card Lottery is our final hope. Nedo is tired of being in school and cannot continue to study as his heart is not in it. He also misses his family terribly and wants to see them badly. Because his visa will be up in February of 2013 we are running out of options.
We can no longer put off conversations about what will happen to us next year. If Nedo stays after his visa ends, how will we manage without being able to maintain lawful status? He will be stuck and unable to see his family in Europe, and we will be forced to live in fear that he will be deported. If we find no other solution, he will be forced to leave the United States, bringing our relationship to an end. We have talked about long distance relationships and do not believe it is fair for either of us to put one another through that. But we can’t imagine being torn apart. Will we stay and fight or will our love and lives be broken apart? This is devastating for us to think about this but this is our reality. Every day we inch closer to the expiration of his student visa without a solution. Living with this uncertainty and fear is like an ache in your heart that never goes away.
It’s been hard for me to write this story. I have spent all of my life in sales and promote things that have “value propositions” and am always discovering the needs of others and making recommendations. I am writing this story because I need help keeping the man I love with all my heart in this country.
Nedo has family and friends in Croatia. What he doesn’t have there is the life we have built together in the United States with our friends and family. We have worked very hard to put together an amazing home and a life for us as a couple. I want to take care of him and provide for him for the remainder of his life. I want for him to be legally recognized as my husband in the United States. I want for us to be able to go home to Croatia together and see his face when he hugs his mother. I want to see his mother for the first time with her knowing that I am Nedo’s husband. I want us to have the same rights and the same joys in life that every heterosexual couple takes for granted.
We will fight to have all of that. Getting married in 2011 was the first step in that direction. Now we will fight for our marriage. We will not wait for change to happen. That is why we have joined The DOMA Project. We encourage other couples to fight for their love, to tell their stories and to hold our government accountable for DOMA. Together we can stop this law from tearing us apart, destroying our families and our dreams, forcing us to live in exile or across the globe from those we love most. We have the power to end this now.