Leaving Cambodia Behind, Ken & Wes Settle Down to Married Life in Florida, Determined to Defeat DOMA
We met in the summer of 2008 in beautiful and exotic Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had been there since 2004 working in developing nations as a doctor for advocacy, child protection, LGBT and human rights, trauma, HIV/AIDS. I also worked in the development of mental health systems in Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Wes was one of the top students for International Business as well as a part of the social elite in Cambodia. We met through Wes’ dean, who happened to be my best friend. She would bring Wes with her to events and meetings and even social outings as part of his role as University Ambassador. The attraction was clear; the spark ignited. After hours of phone calls going late into the night plus courting, teasing, and flirting, our feelings turned into a relationship. Years later, across oceans and hardship, we continue.
Wes quickly found his passion for advocacy and development, becoming a key member in my governmental and non-governmental organizations. Wes particularly focused on the development of protection and assistance for his own people who suffered greatly from past genocide and the current oppressive regime of the prime minister. At the same time, life was fabulous with glamorous events, dinners, royals, celebrities, parties, ceremonies, and exotic travels; but in reality it was not an easy endeavor to work with a government when it was the government that was responsible for the very problems we hoped to address. Nonetheless, our relationships and passion made the experience not just bearable but full of love and fun. Our work together was exciting, caring, compassionate, risky and frightening all at the same time. In spite of the dangers we faced in our work to bring about change, one of the biggest obstacles was having to hide our relationship from Wes’ family and from society for fear of being harmed and outcast. Though not ideal, it brought us even closer together and made our love and commitment that much stronger.
We found love, we grew, and thrived on the intrigue and challenge involved in our work. However, eventually our situation became too dangerous as our work placed us at odds with powerful leaders who did not wish to be exposed for their corruption and abuses. As the situation became unmanageable, I was forced to leave the country out of fear for my safety, leaving Wes behind in the protection of his family. We were both persecuted on many levels, but with the help of Wes’ wonderful family and hard work, a path was found for him to also escape to America six months later. It was a very long six months, but we had the happiest of reunions here in Miami – our new home.
Despite all our success and our love, we struggle with the fact that as a binational couple we are still feeling vulnerable because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing our marriage and allowing me to sponsor my husband for permanent residency. As a result, we feel threatened in our freedoms and our ability to stay together. After working in nations fraught with extreme oppression brutal regimes; it is sadly ironic that we may one day be forced to leave the “Land of the Free” in order to find a place that allows us to be able to spend the rest of our lives together.