Nov 27, 2018
Maben and Robert have been a couple for over 20 years. Robert is from Michigan and moved to California to pursue a career in banking, but then began a construction company and now is in the wine business. Maben is from Canada and has been a serial entrepreneur all his life, starting and running a myriad of successful businesses including an advertising company in Mexico, an IT business in Toronto and an art import business with Robert in the UK and later in San Diego. That is how they met and started their life together.
Now they are both well-known fixtures in the West Sonoma County community: serving on the school board, coaching their kids’ sports teams, active in an array of local charities and raising a beautiful and multi-cultural family in Sebastopol.
But it’s worth remembering that until 10 years ago, Maben and Robert could not even marry in California. Until 5 years ago, the federal government did not recognize their marriage. For couples like them – one born here as an American citizen and the other a foreign national living and working in the U.S. – there was always a barrier to a normal life in the U.S. Typically, LGBT couples with one member born abroad struggled to find a way to get that spouse immigration status under our laws; very often it was just impossible.
While heterosexual couples were entitled to permanent residence for their spouses born outside the U.S., this door was closed to same-sex couples. Before 2013, many LGBT immigrants were forced to either live here as undocumented or return to their home country-- even though they shared their life with a U.S. citizen.
That all changed five years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled at once that both the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 were unconstitutional. Since then, same sex couples across the country like Robert and Maben have been able to access the same immigration procedure as heterosexual couples, building a life together without fear of deportation.
It was nothing short of immigration reform for the LGBT community.
In the case of this Sonoma County couple, it has meant a dynamic but a bit complicated family. Maben and Robert have three children: Alexandru who is 21 and serving in the Marines; Nicholas, also 21, living at home, and Kira who is 14 and a student at Analy High in Sebastopol. All three kids were adopted; the boys from Romania in 1999 at the age of two and Kira at birth from Las Vegas.
You can also find around their stylish West County homestead a variety of wildlife: two Labradors and a couple of cats, not to mention the wild turkeys, racoons, and deer that frequent their five-acre property near Occidental.
And this year the couple started the parental odyssey all over again when they were given custody of their two-year-old grandson, Tyler Rainwater.
In addition to their dynamic family life, they both have active careers. Robert is the Director of Sales and Marketing and runs the small family winery Amista Vineyards in Healdsburg. He has his Green MBA from the program at Dominican University in San Rafael. Robert is committed to both responsible stewardship of our environment and providing some of the best California sparkling wines ever. He also gets to take their Labs, Spencer and Bailey, to work every day. Maben is the Director of the North Bay Neuroscience Institute, which runs several clinical trials of promising pre-FDA approved Alzheimer Disease drugs under the supervision of Dr. Allan Bernstein – North Bay’s noted neuroscientist.
Now Maben has his U.S. citizenship, a big relief for the family. He keeps his Canadian citizenship too - as he says, “just in case”.
“Having to go through family court to obtain custody of Tyler this past year has reminded us how very important it is to have the same parental rights as everyone else,” notes Robert. Before the Supreme Court decision five years ago, life was much different for gay couples. Adoption of children domestically was much more difficult in the U.S. The simple step of changing Maben’s last name after marriage required a court proceeding. Owning property, running a business, creating a will or trust – everything was more difficult when your marriage was not legal according to the federal government. And for immigrants, that used to mean facing separation or life abroad.
The Supreme Court decision five years ago changed the lives of couples like Maben and Robert forever. “Being allowed to marry and have that marriage recognized by the federal government was crucial for us,” says Maben. “It’s all about securing the basic legal protections and rights every couple needs.” Robert ads that while it has always been possible to create LGBT families, “it is important for people to understand it was challenging, costly and you felt inferior and less worthy. Not so now.”
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