Glen Retief and his Partner

Two years ago, on holiday in Madrid, I met the love of my life. Our story wasn't all that different from countless others of our "backpacking generation." We spent three days together, bought clothes in the Rastro flea market, saw the cathedral in Toledo, and had long talks about painting and architecture. He seemed sweet, kind, generous, full of laughter and enjoyment of life.

When I caught my plane back to Florida, we both thought that was the end of it. But then we found that we missed each other. We sent daily e-mails. He came to visit me in Florida; I lived for three months in Madrid. Somewhere along the way, we realized that even when apart we were thinking of each other constantly, that we were spending a large part of our monthly salaries on phone calls, and that the thing that both of us wanted more than anything was to build a life together.

Such is the nature of love: It sneaks up on you and snares you in its barbs. Not for nothing did the Greeks attribute the emotion to the pranks of a winged child, mischievous and capricious. After a while it is pointless to argue with love, or to analyze it too much. The only thing is to find a way to be together, and fortunately the U.S. government, recognizing its citizens' constitutional right to "the pursuit of happiness," allows the spouses of its citizens and residents to come to this country and live here permanently.

At present, however, this right applies only to heterosexuals. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, commits the federal government to a definition of marriage restricted to union between a woman and a man, regardless of what individual states may decide. And there is no provision in current law for same-sex couples like Alejandro and me.

We've tried all the options. He got a job in Tallahassee working for a Web design firm. The paperwork for his temporary work permit took forever, and then the dot-com crash happened and the company was forced to withdraw his job offer. We looked into bringing him here as a student, but we cannot afford the $25,000 he needs to show in his bank account to be allowed to study in the United States. We've even thought of arranging a fake green-card marriage. But the Immigration Service rigorously screens these applications for fraud, and if we got caught both of us, and our female accomplice, could face five years in jail, a rather frightening prospect.

What to do? Spain, like the United States, does not yet recognize same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes, and so I would have the same problems over there as he does here. There is the possibility of immigrating to a third country - one of the 16 democracies, including Canada, Britain, Australia, France, Germany, and South Africa, that do allow reunification of same sex couples. But immigrating anywhere is a struggle: finding work, adjusting to culture and language, overcoming laws designed to protect local workers against international competition. And it would mean that both of us would be forced to leave the places we call home.

Regardless of the pros and cons of the gay marriage debate, U.S. immigration law is, in this respect, cruel, unjust and discriminatory. It penalizes gay men and lesbians purely on the grounds of their sexual orientation. It tears apart loving, committed relationships and drives other law-abiding Americans to commit serious felonies. In a world increasingly opposed to discrimination against gay men and lesbians, it makes the United States an anomaly among democracies that support human rights.

Changing the law would not, as social conservatives might fear, undermine traditional moral or religious values. It would simply allow people like me to live our lives peacefully and productively, without endless worries about visas and deportations, and with the same right to love and companionship that most Tallahassee residents take for granted.