By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
On a recent trip to IKEA, Raina Daniels, 30, and her fiancé Perry Eising, 33, wander the aisles like so many other couples, eying deals on practical household items. It’s April, and the binational same-sex couple knows better than to drift too far into domestic day dreams, but it’s a slippery slope.
“I wanted to buy myself a big box of candles,” Eising recalls. “I wonder: am I going to be in the country long enough to buy the 100 pack of tea lights? Or should I get the 50 pack? It felt really destabilizing in that moment.”
Daniels pushes through the discomfort, offering to use the extras if need be, until Eising picks up an inflatable travel pillow.
“I lost it. I started crying. I tried to be strong,” Daniels says. “If you let your guard down, you would wake up every morning with the person you love thinking, “What if I don’t get to do this for months or longer?’”
Eising — a citizen of the United Kingdom who grew up in Germany and has lived in the United States since 2005 — was staring down the expiration of a one-year work visa and the possibility of forced separation from Daniels.
They never intended to fall in love, but who does?
The couple met at a Shondes show at the Doug Fir Lounge. Both knew band members, and Eising had just finished a thesis on photography in the queer community that featured Daniels’ best friend Ally Picard (who was running the photo booth). The two hit it off immediately and made a date that night.
Before meeting Daniels, Eising anticipated working for a year after graduating from Reed College, with an “optional practical training” visa. Beyond that, the future was uncertain. Eising had thought about grad school (expensive) or seeking work sponsorship (rare), and was on some level getting ready to say goodbye.
“When Raina and I met, before my work visa started, I knew I liked her a lot and hoped it would develop into something serious,” Eising says.
“I wasn’t ready to be anyone’s girlfriend,” Daniels adds.
But as the relationship strengthened over the following months, Eising found renewed motivation to stay in the United States. Bringing it up with Daniels was a balancing act. Eising didn’t want to lead her on, or force a serious relationship conversation too soon.
“The first couple months were tricky in that way. I didn’t want to encourage something blindly,” Eising says. “We needed a couple months where we just got to run around and enjoy each other and fall in love and not stress about this.”
So when September came around, Eising sat Daniels down in the Penninsula Park Rose Garden and broke the news that Eising would have to return to Europe in one year.
“I said, ‘Let’s take every day, let it unfold,” Daniels says.
When it became clear that the U.S. Supreme Court was going to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the couple realized they might be able to stay together.
“It couldn’t have been a better time for DOMA to be repealed. If it had been sooner it could have forced that [marriage] conversation. And it does for some couples,” Daniels says. “We knew that this might not happen and we still went in with our eyes wide open, hoping the system would change at the pace we needed it to, and we were fortunate that it did.”
Although the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Windsor v. United States” opens up a path for U.S. citizens seeking to sponsor their same-sex spouse for a green card, it’s all still new, and guidance is limited.
Daniels and Eising are rising to the trailblazing challenge — quickly. Because there are a number of processes to set in motion before Eising’s scheduled September departure date, the couple won’t have time to plan their dream wedding. Instead, they will wed elopement-style in a small ceremony in Washington state in the coming weeks.
Daniels calls it “little wedding” — “big wedding” will happen when the time is right. But for now, it’s enough to keep Eising by her side.
“I need to say out loud to you that I thought I was going to lose you,” Daniels says to Eising over coffee. “We get so much out of having each other in our lives everyday. To have that not be an option….”
Eising looks forward to a time when their immigration status doesn’t influence all their decisions. In the meantime, they will be raising the approximately $2,000 in filing fees (add $4,000-$6,000 if they end up needing a lawyer) and sharing their story in an effort to help those who come after them.
“We’re kind of the first wave of people that gets to be scared about what that [process is] going to look like,” Eising says. “After DOMA was struck down there were these universal feelings of victory, like everything’s going to be great. But for us, the work has just begun.”