That's because Dennis' partner, Jair Izquierdo, was in the United States illegally and the pair's civil union wasn't recognized by the federal government. So the New York couple of more than five years lived their lives in constant fear that Izquierdo, a Peruvian citizen who had overstayed his visa, would be deported.
Then, in October, it happened. Izquierdo, 33, was at his job as a cosmetician at a hair salon in New York's East Village on Oct. 20 when he got a phone call from a client asking him if he would take a freelance job doing makeup at a wedding. But when Izquierdo arrived for the consultation, there was no client in sight.
Izquierdo entered the United States legally in 2001, but overstayed his visa after his application for asylum was denied in 2005. He said the experience of being deported was traumatic.
"It was a weird call. The guy said he wants me to do his wife's makeup at a wedding. But he was nice, so I went," he told AOL News from Peru by phone today. "They put me in handcuffs. I was terrified. I was screaming to them, 'I'm no murderer! I'm no criminal!' I know I'm illegal. But I'm a human being."
Dennis said one of Izquierdo's co-workers called him with the news.
"I would always give him a goodbye kiss even though he was sleeping. And I would always say to myself, 'I have to give him a goodbye kiss because I don't know if it's the last time I'm going to see him,' " Dennis, 47, told AOL News in a phone interview today. "And that day, it was."
Now the couple, who have lived together since 2005, are separated by thousands of miles and are devastated. And they're fighting to be reunited in the United States.
Izquierdo says he is filled with sadness at being separated from Dennis.
"I miss him terribly," Izquierdo said through tears. "I know I overstayed in the country. But it's the country of opportunity. My gay relationship should have all the same rights that a straight couple's does."
But their relationship does not have the same rights. Even if the pair had legally married in Massachusetts, or in another state that allows same-sex marriage, for example, it would not be recognized by the federal government because of the 2004 Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In fact, in October, a legally married gay couple in New Jersey went public with their fight against deportation as well.
So instead, Izquierdo is hoping to get humanitarian parole, a temporary permit to return to the United States because of a "compelling emergency" based on "urgent humanitarian reasons." Humanitarian parole, often offered to care for a sick relative, is not widely granted and would only allow him to remain in the United States for up to a year, but can be extended.
The couple's attorney, Paul O'Dwyer, thinks it's the best chance Izquierdo has to re-enter the country. "There have been humanitarian paroles granted to same-sex couples before," O'Dwyer told AOL News today by phone. "This is not a novel issue."
Persistent discrimination against gays in Peru may help Izquierdo make his case, according to Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality, a legal immigration advocacy group for gays.
"We want Homeland Security to understand that the conditions in Peru are such that his safety could be jeopardized," Ralls, who is working on the couple's behalf, told AOL News.
Izquierdo said he left Peru in 2001 to escape the harassment and physical abuse of family members who knew he was gay. He said he feared for his life.
"There was no place for me in Peru because I was gay. We're still being discriminated against," he said. "They're killing people."
But Dennis said he's ashamed at the way he and Izquierdo were treated in the United States.
"I am incredibly angry. I'm just disgusted," he said. "It's not just about me and Jair. I don't think a lot of people realize that at the federal level, gays have no civil rights in this country."
A spokesman for ICE said he is aware of Izquierdo's case but could not comment on it directly because of privacy laws. He also noted that ICE does not discuss its investigative or law enforcement techniques or procedures.