Frederic Deloizy, left, and Mark Himes, with their four children in April 2010.

Story highlights

Frederic Deloizy, a French national, and American Mark Himes were married in 2008

They have been a couple for over 20 years and have four children

Deloizy faces deportation because their marriage is not federally recognized

Philadelphia CNN  — 

Frederic Deloizy says his life began the day he met Mark Himes by chance at a birthday party in April 1990.

Himes had recently started a job with Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and Deloizy was studying at a nearby college. The strangers arrived at the party at the same time, and Deloizy held the door open for Himes, catching his eye.

“It was love at first sight. We felt we belonged together,” Deloizy said.

What followed was a whirlwind romance lived out across two continents, through overseas phone calls and hand-written love letters.

Deloizy, a French national, spent the past two decades in and out of the United States leapfrogging from one visa to another, in hopes of creating a life together with Himes, who was born and raised outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

But 21 years and four adopted children later, the couple – who were married in California in 2008 – is fighting to stay together since Deloizy’s final visa expired in September.

Deloizy faces deportation because immigration officials are barred from recognizing their marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Himes filed a spousal green card petition so they can continue living stateside in Harrisburg with their four children, John, 11, Claire, 8, and 6-year-old twins, Jacob and Joshua.

“I will no longer ride in the back of the bus. I am tired of waiting for people to give me rights,” Himes said.

On Wednesday, they faced an immigration officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ district offices in Philadelphia to defend their relationship and marriage, the usual process for opposite-sex married couples where one spouse is foreign-born and not a U.S. citizen. The immigration authorities will now review their information and make a decision about their green card petition at a later date.

From left to right is Jacob, 6, John, 11, Claire, 8, and Joshua, 6.

Deloizy and Himes represent a growing number of same-sex couples with a partner of foreign nationality at risk of separation under DOMA, according to the couple’s immigration attorney, Lavi Soloway.

“They have sacrificed everything for their family, and the idea that the federal government wants to tear them apart in the name of the Defense of Marriage Act is preposterous and cannot [be allowed to] happen,” said Soloway, co-founder of Stop The Deportations, a campaign to stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.

DOMA was passed in 1996 by the GOP-controlled Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. It bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and says states cannot be forced to recognize such marriages from other states.

Deloizy and Himes are hoping their case is placed on hold until DOMA makes it to the Supreme Court. On the flip side, if their petition is rejected, deportation proceedings could begin for Deloizy.

“If I’m deported, the whole family is deported. You don’t split a family,” Deloizy said. “It could make me mad, but it makes me sad. This is our reality.”

In February, President Barack Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Despite the order, the administration will continue to enforce the law.

“(DOMA) is clearly unconstitutional because it violates basic equality rights,” said David S. Cohen, associate professor of law at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law. “Unless the legislative stars align themselves and make it a part of the priority to repeal DOMA, it will take some time for the courts to get to it.”

The couple is not seeking special treatment, instead they’re asking for equal protection under the law, Himes said.

“You live constantly with the stress of knowing that you’re a second-class citizen and at any moment your family could be torn apart by the same government that permitted you to become a family,” Himes said. “This is not gay life. This is two guys with a lot of kids trying to get laundry done and homework finished.”

With Deloizy unable to work because of his visa status, Himes is now the sole breadwinner for the family. Deloizy runs the household when Himes is at work, packing lunches, getting the kids off to school, and shuttling their brood to doctor’s appointments and activities.

“I simply could not do this by myself,” Himes said. “The private schools are gone, the nice cars are gone, and the big house is gone. But we have our family and we have our love.”

Himes chronicles their daily life on his blog, where he creates a “virtual scrapbook” of the couple’s children: his daughter, Claire, getting her ears pierced for Christmas; his son, Jacob being rushed to the hospital when he bit his tongue after falling off his pogo stick; and the family trip to Washington for the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2010.

“It’s not about being gay or straight, it’s about love,” Deloizy said. “If we’re not a family then what are we?”