(SIOUX CITY, IA) It's been nearly a month since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA.
The end of the 1996 law gives same-sex couples in 13 states more than 1,000 federal rights, including preferential immigration status for couples with a foreign-born spouse.
But for one Sioux City couple, the ruling came too late. Now they're fighting to live together in Iowa.
Brian Mathers and his long-time partner Isidro lived in Iowa, but were forced to split because the federal government wouldn't have recognized their marriage.
Isidro overstayed his visa and moved back to Mexico.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, that would have made it nearly impossible for him to get back into the U.S. legally.
But now, Brian and Isidro are married and fighting for a green card.
"Marriage was legal in Iowa. So if DOMA hadn't been the law for immigration purposes, at the time, we could have just accomplished it all without him ever having to leave and without us having to endure this separation and this uncertainty about, you know, our- the future for our relationship," says Brian Mathers.
For newlyweds Brian and Isidro, they have to build a life together-- by starting it apart.
The bi-national couple is taking legal action to get U.S. residency for Isidro, who overstayed his visa while building a home with his husband over the past 13 years.
They got married in Mexico City earlier this year, where same-sex marriages are legal just like in Iowa.
"We already really felt very much like a, you know, like a family and a household and we had made a lot of commitments to each other and plans together so to have that interrupted when he had to leave was really difficult," says Mathers.
It'll be a long journey to get back to those plans.
"I anticipate it'll take about a year. I mean that's about what it takes for these to go through. If we need to do a waiver, it could take 18 months," says James Benzoni, attorney to Brian and Isidro.
During this process, both Iowa and Mexico City must first acknowledge the marriage, for the federal government to do the same and move forward with the immigration application.
Until then, the couple calls, texts, and emails to stay in touch.
"We text like every day and we talk to each other like every week--on weekends like every Saturday or Sunday. It is hard, but we just take, you know, like step by step and by then, you know, we're going to be together," says Isidro Huerta in a phone call.
While the couple is excited for the next steps, not everyone feels the same.
Groups like the Family Leader continue to fight to ban gay marriage in Iowa... and say the DOMA ruling was a mistake.
Brian doesn't think so. He says it's a step forward.
"It's such an important thing. It's such an important part of your pursuit of happiness to be with the person that you love- you know- and to have the freedom to choose who that is and to structure your life around that. So, to me, this was a really significant change of the law that really did level the playing field," says the newlywed.
There are an estimated 28,000 bi-national lesbian and gay couples that are facing the same immigration problems as this Sioux City couple.
The next step for the newlyweds is for Brian to prove his hardship from the separation for their application to move forward.