20 Photos: How DOMA blocks Jonathan and Juka’s love, education, and life together

When Juka Mendes arrived in the United States five years ago, in July 2008 from his home country of Portugal, he had a few expectations: He expected to see and experience a new, exciting part of the world. He expected to obtain a degree in Human Resource Management. And he expected to have his mind opened to new ideas and ways of thinking. He never expected to fall in love. But that's what happened in 2011, when he met Jonathan Malumay (left)

Jonathan is a 6-year member of the U.S. Air Force, and he and Juka instantly got along when they met in 2011. When they first began dating, they lived nearly an hour apart, but the men were drawn to each other, so invested in learning more and pursuing the relationship that they spent time together nearly every day in their first month of dating. The romance grew serious very quickly - and after four months, when the lease on Jonathan's apartment expired, he asked Juka if he wanted to move in with him. Juka agreed, and the two began building a life together in Vacaville, CA.

Just weeks after moving into an apartment, Jonathan got a surprise letter in the mail: He was being deployed for four months in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, hundreds of thousands of miles away from Juka. "Many relationships don't last in the military when a partner is deployed," Jonathan explained. "You're far away from the one you love, and people drift apart. So this was kind of a test: If I deploy, will everything be OK? And when I came back, he was still here waiting for me, and I saw that everything was OK. I knew that he was the one."

While Jonathan was deployed, he and Juka exchanged multiple emails each day. They talked about Juka's classes and Jonathan's co-workers. They explained how much they missed each other. They celebrated the certification of the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in September 2011, which allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve openly for the first time ever.

In October 2011, Jonathan drafted a particularly significant email. He wrote about how deeply he cared about Juka, how amazing it felt to be able to openly discuss his relationship with Juka, how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Juka. At the end of the email, he typed, "Will you marry me?"

"It felt good to finally include Juka in my military life after the repeal of DADT," Jonathan said. "I was very happy that he was with me, and I wanted to show everyone how happy I was. I wanted to be married to him and never again hide who I am or who he is. I just wanted us to be together forever."

A week after Jonathan returned from deployment, he and Juka flew to New York City to get married. They had a perfect day - in spite of some rain - by renting tuxes, taking photos with their photographer, and enjoying the city for their Honeymoon.

In the next year, Juka continued going to school, taking a full load of classes to maintain his student visa. This year, however, tight finances have made it impossible for Juka to continue his studies and complete his last year of schooling. Jonathan and Juka have been forced to move into a smaller, different apartment - one with roommates - to be able to pay their rent and support themselves financially.

Since Juka is no longer a full-time student, his student visa that allows him to live in the United States will expire in April. He will be expected to return to Portugal. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal respect of lawful marriages between same-sex couples, will separate Juka from his husband. Because DOMA does not respect Juka and Jonathan's marriage - or marriages between any same-sex couples - Jonathan is not allowed to sponsor Juka for a green card to grant him U.S. citizenship.

In fact, DOMA is largely the reason that Juka's student visa will be expiring in April - the reason that Juka will not be able to afford to finish his last year of undergraduate studies at Sacramento State University. As a service member, Jonathan is eligible for the G.I. bill, which grants him thousands of dollars in funding to place toward education. He is allowed to pass on the funding from that G.I. bill to legal dependents - like a spouse - but because DOMA does not view Juka and Jonathan as a married couple, Juka is unable to access Jonathan's G.I. bill.

DOMA also restricts Jonathan from sharing his military-issued medical and dental insurance with Juka, so Juka is currently uninsured. "We need things to change so that Juka and I can get the same protections that a married straight couple would," Jonathan said.

The couple's financial woes - a result of DOMA and the fact that Juka can't obtain U.S. citizenship and therefore can't be employed in the country - have led to unnecessary stress and tension in Jonathan and Juka's life together. "We get stressed out and insecure not knowing what's going to happen," Juka said. "I've never been in this position before of not being able to stay in the country, and I'm scared. I'm scared of having to leave Jonathan."

"We've been separated before," Juka explained, referencing the time they spent apart while Jonathan was deployed abroad. "But this is a totally different situation. This wouldn't be a six-month separation. If we do get separated - if I'm forced to leave - we're not sure if it would be a one-year, two-year, three-year, four-year separation. it would be until as long as it takes for DOMA to be repealed. We're not sure what to do or what's going to happen."

"Marriage has shown me that a lot of things can be shared," Jonathan said. "And now that I'm married, I want to share everything with him. I want to share everything with the man that I love, my husband." But until DOMA is repealed once and for all, Jonathan won't be able to share so many critical things with Juka - he won't be able to share his health insurance, he won't be able to share his military protections, and he won't be able to share his U.S. citizenship. In order to keep this loving, committed couple together and protected, and allow them to truly share their lives together, DOMA must be overturned.

Photos by Leslie Barbaro Photography