Anniversary of 1st NY marriages bittersweet for binational couple Gemma and Jessica

Editors' Note: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 marks the first anniversary of legal marriages between same-sex couples in New York. To celebrate, Freedom to Marry is sharing the stories of same-sex couples who tied the knot this year, celebrating their love and commitment with beautiful ceremonies and gatherings of their friends, family members, and other loved ones. Here, we share the story of Jessica and Gemma Perkins, who married on September 16, 2011. Read all of our stories about the first year of the freedom to marry in New York.

New York's marriage win last year has brought hope and happiness to thousands of loving and committed same-sex couples who have since shared in the freedom to marry. For Jessica and Gemma Perkins, their marriage has changed their lives in more ways than they ever expected.

The two women have been together officially for over a year but were friends long before they admitted they had feelings for each other. Moreover, Jessica had been married previously, and she was sure she would never do it again. "I tried to live the life we're told we are supposed to live ... I never wanted to get married again," she remembered.

That all changed as soon as she and Gemma knew that they were more than just friends. Gemma said that she was attracted to Jessica because of her drive, temperament, humor, open-mindedness, and "go-getter" attitude - and even her flaws. "I love them all," Jessica said, adding that both of them knew instantly that they wanted to be married. "There was never any doubt in my mind ... I'm so happy that the marriage law in New York finally made it possible for me to marry the woman of my dreams. I finally feel that I am completely comfortable with myself - more confident, more like me."

But the couple's happiness has been interrupted by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents legally married same-sex couples from receiving over a thousand federal protections, including permanent U.S. residency for a spouse from another country. Because Gemma is from the United Kingdom, the harms of DOMA immediately hit the couple hard. "Every day we were together felt like it was interrupted by a ticking time bomb. Every day, there was that fear of losing each other. It took a huge emotional toll on us and made everything ten times harder," Jessica said.

When Gemma's work visa expired, she was forced to return to the U.K. and be separated from Jessica. "It's been devastating for me to be without her," Gemma said.

"We've had to make some huge financial sacrifices because Gemma couldn't come here," Jessica added. "And, of course, it's now causing me to move to a whole other country."

Jessica said that were DOMA not in effect, things would be completely different. "In order to have my wife, my daughter Ashleigh, and I, all under one roof, we had to do it ... I definitely would have stayed here. I'm sad to be leaving this country, but now I know that I can finally protect my family and be under one roof with them. I know that my marriage to Gemma has made us a stronger family." Gemma agreed, saying, "It's hard to find the right kind of love and have it with the right person. I'm grateful to have found my wife."

Jessica will leave for the U.K. on July 31 to be with Gemma permanently, but she still wishes the best for other same-sex couples who hope to marry in America. "I hope that they feel as loved and respected and cherished as my wife makes me feel. ... I still want equal rights for everybody, no matter who they are."