Haverhill couple Tim Coco and Genesio "Junior" Oliveira are living on a prayer every day, hoping to stay together.
They celebrated their 10th anniversary together in America on Jan. 4, although they have been through one enforced separation and the specter of deportation still looms large.
Describing it as their "tin-th" anniversary, featuring tin-foil decorations and tin rings, Coco and Oliveira were joined by more than a dozen close friends and family members for a dinner at the On the Bone steakhouse in Andover.
Despite celebrating their time together, Coco and Oliveira recognized their struggles are far from over.
"We've been on a pretty amazing journey," Coco said. "One way or another we'll be together forever."
Oliveira, a noncitizen, lives in America on a "humanitarian parole" granted by the Department of Homeland Security. Oliveira returned to the United States in June of 2010 after being deported back to his native Brazil in 2007.
The couple was originally granted a one-year parole to live in the country, but Coco said Homeland Security has granted Oliveira an extension for the foreseeable future.
"When I came back, we felt stronger than ever," Oliveira said. "For three years we've had a tough time, but after all of that this is the best."
Exchanging an occasional peck while cutting slices of Oliveira's homemade cake, the couple put warm smiles on the faces of friends and family.
"I'm very happy to see how happy they are," said John Coco, brother of Tim Coco. "It's almost inspirational in a way. They're just devoted, and that's important in any relationship."
Oliveira recalled the moment Coco and he first met back in 2002.
"I stared at him for five minutes," he said. "I had no idea I was looking at my love."
Coco and Oliveira's tribulations, publicized in both local and national media, have continued due to both unfavorable rulings by judges and a federal law.
Coco and Oliveira have tried since 2002 to apply for asylum for Oliveira, saying he faced abuse in Brazil because of his sexual orientation. Oliveira said he'd been raped by a physician in Brazil as a teen.
A Boston Immigration Court judge denied Oliveira's asylum request, despite calling his fears "credible."
Although legally married after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, Coco and Oliveira were limited in the appeal options due to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes the right to protection and legal status only for heterosexual couples.
The efforts of U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry eventually brought them back together, even after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder turned down their appeals.
"This is a couple I just root for all the time," Kerry said. "What happened to Tim and Junior was wrong. A quirk in our law and a discriminatory ruling turned their worlds upside down, and so I went to work to reunite them."
Coco said he and Oliveira plan to make their struggle a political battle.
"We tried following the rules once, and Junior had to leave the U.S.," Coco said. "We're not going to let that happen again."