It seems like something out of a movie: two lovers meeting on the Internet, thousands of miles away from each other, pouring their hearts out through a computer screen. However, this romance may not have a fairy-tale ending, thanks to a passport-related rule limiting same-sex couples.
Mike Roach and Carl Barlow first met on an Internet forum for newly out LGBT members. The two men were coming to terms with their sexuality; Roach was a newly out gay man and Carl was a former Mormon whose marriage to a woman was ending.
"We were both on symmetrical wave lengths at that time. Both of us venturing out embracing what we knew was inside of us and trying to find somebody of like heart [ and ] mind to talk with," said Barlow.
The couple's love for travel and sharks kept them talking.
"Our first conversations were about sharks [ and ] places we would like to visit," said Barlow.
After three months of steady five-hour long conversations, the couple decided to transition their relationship from the virtual to the real world. Roach flew from the United Kingdom to Tennessee, where Barlow is in medical school; after two weeks, the couple was in love.
"It was amazing. We had a connection straight away. We decided to continue the relationship," said Roach.
Roach was using the U.S. visa waver program, which allows citizens of other countries to come to the United States for a maximum of 90 days without a visa, to visit Barlow on and off during 2010 to 2011. When Roach flew back to Tennessee for the last time in August 2011, he didn't know it would be his last.
"When I entered, the immigration officer said that [ I ] have used the visa waver program six times, and it's starting to look as though you live here. In the future, you will be refused entry into the U.S. It's best if you get a visa," said Roach.
Roach claims that when he went for his tourist visa application interview the consulate denied him a visa because he was gay.
He said, "I didn't know what to expect. I said, 'I'm in a gay relationship, I want to go spend some time with him, I'm not using it to live there,' and he actually said to me 'If you [ were ] in a straight relationship, we probably would grant you this visa.'"
Lavi Solowayan immigration attorney and founder of Stop The Deportationtold Windy City Times that Roach is in the situation "because he told them he was in a relationship with a U.S. citizen." [ Note: Soloway is not involved in Roach and Barlow's case. ]
Soloway added that the solution to Roach's problem is for him to stop visiting the United States until he can rebuild ties with his own country.
Roach recently made a YouTube video called "My Desperate Plea: Let Me Be With The Person I Love." The video, made a few weeks ago, has already generated more than 8,000 hits. In the video, Roach explains his story and begs viewers to go the White House website and sign a petition. Roach has already gotten 985 signatures, but needs 24,015 more before March 13 in order for his case to be examined.
"I was asking people to write to the White House [ to ] express [ how ] they think it's wrong," said Roach.
Roach and Barlow's case is one of many plagued by immigration issues each year, but not as many as opposite-sex cases.
"Heterosexuals deal with this more because there is more of them," said Soloway.
Soloway added that because each case has to be looked at individually, individuals cannot create universal laws that dictate the number of times each person can come into the United States.
For now, the couple is relying on Skype and a shared love of video games to get them through. Barlow will be graduating from medical school in August. The couple will then have more time to decide what to do next.
"In ways, our relationship is really good, and then, in ways, it's really tragic. If you had my apartment hacked with a camera, you would see someone sitting in front of a monitor anywhere from four to 15 hours just interacting with his computer monitor," said Barlow.