Glance through the snow-framed windows of Vermont homes and you'll see couples like Sissi and Janet poring through seed catalogues and dreaming of spring.
But Sissi and Janet won't be planting, harvesting and feasting together.
Nor will they be able to spend their 25th anniversary in May together, continue worshiping together at their Episcopal church or participate in a community project to grow vegetables for the hungry.
Nor can Sissi, now 64 and using a scooter to get around because of arthritis pain, depend on Janet to be there to shovel snow, grocery shop, lug in logs for their wood-burning stove or deal with a medical emergency.
The lesbian couple is caught in the nightmare of having mixed passports. Sissi is a U.S. citizen; Janet is British.
Their home state recognizes their relationship as a civil union. But that gives them no federal rights: Unlike married heterosexuals, Sissi can't sponsor Janet to be a lawful permanent resident.
Janet must enter the United States as a "tourist" and be with Sissi no more than 90 days at a time. She must leave again early next month.
"If she had been a man, we would have been able to marry, (benefit from U.S. immigration laws that enable foreign spouses to stay) and live happily ever after," Sissi says. "Unfortunately, that's not the case with lesbian couples.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., a House Judiciary subcommittee chairman, recently reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act to change the law. President Barack Obama supports changing it.
The proposal would add "or permanent partner" to parts of the Immigration and Nationality Act already allowing heterosexuals -- whether U.S. citizens or permanent residents -- to sponsor spouses for green cards.
"It's wanton cruelty, gratuitous cruelty to keep people who love each other apart," Nadler declared in a teleconference call set up by the Human Rights Campaign and Immigration Equality.
More than 35,000 same-sex couples are in the same bind as Sissi and Janet, the Williams Institute calculates.
Nadler said Obama's support means "for the first time (we can) make a really serious attempt to pass it" alone or in an omnibus immigration bill.
Nadler stressed that the change has nothing to do with gay marriage. "However you stand on that subject, there should be general agreement that loving couples should not be kept apart," he said.
Janet notes with irony that their British-born cat, Mitten Muff, who has a European Union pet passport, can legally live in Vermont year 'round. Janet, of course, cannot.
"Even when I'm in Vermont, it's always in the back of my mind that it's temporary and how many weeks have I got left," she says. "It makes me feel really depressed and angry about the unfairness."