Twenty-five pills each day. That’s the regiment that 71-year-old Orient resident Edwin Blesch needs to treat several chronic illnesses, including degenerative spine disease.
He has a lifeline – his partner, Tim Smulian, whom he met 13 years ago in Cape Town, South Africa, while traveling with some friends. Every day, Tim is there to go to the doctors with Edwin and help him with household tasks, which can be challenging. To an outsider, they seem inseparable.
Edwin, however, lives in constant fear that he will lose his significant other and the caretaker whose love and dedication he depends on. Edwin and Tim married in South Africa in 2007, but Tim hasn’t been able to acquire US citizenship. He’s typically needed to leave every six months and return to South Africa to renew his tourist visa, a hardship for the couple even before Edwin’s worsening illnesses.
At the heart of their problem is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which says that in the eyes of the federal government, marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. The law creates discriminatory barriers for gay and lesbian couples, barriers that extend to the immigration system. That means that Edwin, regardless of how long he and Tim have been together, can’t petition for Tim’s citizenship.
“We’ve been living pretty consistently with what we like to call anticipatory grief,” Edwin says. “It’s like you’re expecting a death or something, you know, when we get pulled apart and can’t be with each other.”
Hear Edwin and Tim tell their story: