Monday, February 21, 2011

The Cost of Inequality... Our Story.

It was back in the last week of October, 2008.   I was in the UK visting Eric.  It was yet another of the many many trips I was taking back and forth from San Francisco to London.  Being in a long-distance relationship  has its own unique challenges under the best of conditions. For us,  being half a world away from each other meant we tried very hard to maximize what little time we did get to spend together.

So on this particular trip,  we had taken a long weekend getaway to Cornwall. It was a brilliantly sunny late afternoon at Land's End.  Land's End, if you have never been there,  is the extreme south-westerly point of the British mainland, and the extreme westerly point of the mainland of England.  We had just spent the day driving around the coast.  (We even found time to see the wonderfully cheezy Doctor Who exhibit that was going on there.)

Afterwards,  we hiked over to an incredibly scenic point on the cliffs overlooking the  North Atlantic. The sun was just  starting to set, and the  light  was perfect to take pictures.   So  I told Eric to stand there  against the panoramic view,  and I took this photo of him.  --->

It took me a couple of seconds to  adjust my camera to capture the light, and afterwards  I was looking at the photo in the view screen, when Eric asked me; "What are you doing?  Did it turn out ok?"

I  smiled  at him, and showed him the photo,  he  agreed  that with the light  and the view,   the photo was a good one.   I then turned to face him, and with the setting sun  shining in my eyes,  I asked him to marry me. He blinked a couple of times,  and  didn't say anything,  and  frankly my heart stopped for a moment.  A split second later,   he smiled  in that particular way he does, that  makes my knees go weak.  Then looked at me and said.  "I already said yes a long time ago."   What followed  was a  PDA (public display of affection)  that, while relatively mild,  would most likely  cause the bigots over at Focus on the Family's heads to explode.

I returned  to the United States  a few days later.  While sitting on the long eleven hour flight, I looked out  at the Atlantic Ocean 36,000 feet below and one thought kept ringing through my head like a trumpet blast. We were engaged!

On election night 2008,  Eric and I were hopeful for  two things.  The first, was that  Barack Obama would be elected President.   While campaigning  for  President,  Senator Obama had indicated  that  while he was not in favor of  "marriage"  for  same sex couples,  he firmly believed in Civil Unions that couples like Eric and myself should have the same legal rights  as any other American couple.

The other thing we hoped for that night, was  that Proposition 8 in California  would be defeated.   Prop 8 is the  ballot initiative  that  banned  same sex  marriage in California.   At the end of the night  we were disappointed by the passage of  legalized hatred with Prop 8,  but hopeful that  the new American President would live up to his word and work to pass the  Uniting American Families Act.  A law that would allow same sex couples to sponsor their spouse / partner/ whatever- you want to call it,  to come to the United States, just as opposite sex couples can.

We even added our voice to the lobbying effort on this issue.  Creating a  YouTube video that  was shown to lawmakers as part of the push to get a vote on the UAFA.

Yet as 2009 moved into 2010 it was clear that there would be no movement by the Obama Administration on the issue of marriage equality. The Republicans in Congress were consumed with their desire to prevent President Obama from getting ANYthing done, let alone addressing a hot button social issue like LGBT rights.

Faced with this reality we had to make a choice. We could continue the back and forth, long distance relationship we were in now, or we could pursue "plan b". Where Eric would instead sponsor me, to move to the United Kingdom. The UK, like most of Western Europe, grants same sex couples equal rights in terms of spousal immigration. The United States, because of the "Defense of Marriage Act", refuses to recognize Eric as my spouse, but the United Kingdom would recognize me as his.

So in the spring of 2010, we applied for a Civil Partner Visa for me. This visa would allow us to register as Civil Partners. This would be the first step in a two step process. Step 1: Register as Civil Partners and Step 2: Eric sponsors me as his spouse to settle in the UK.

The first visa, (the CP Visa) took about nine months to apply for . The documentation required, was very daunting. You basically had to prove everything about your life, your job history, financial history and prove that your relationship was legitimate. On top of that,  this process is certainly,  not cheap. Trying to do this on your own is a lot like trying to perform surgery on yourself.  It's possible you could do it, but all it takes  is one error to effectively make a huge mess of the whole thing.

So like many couples we used an agency to represent us. Which of course is really expensive. But the end result was, we got the Civil Partnership Visa in October 2010, nearly two years to the week, that we got engaged.

The next step was to actually get registered as Civil Partners. Which you think, would be the easy part. Guess again.  Because I am not currently living in the UK, the process is almost comically complicated. The UK like many other European countries has sensibly drawn a wall of serparation between "Civil Marriage" and the religious sacrament of marriage.  To get married or  registered as Civil Partners in the UK, you must first  "give notice" in your particular locale at the local  registry office.  To do that, you must first have been in the UK for  at least 7 days and 7 nights.

THEN after giving your notice, your names go up in a board.  Literally on a notice board.  Where  it must stay for  15 days and 15 nights.  The traditional  term for this  is  "positing the band" and is to give the good people who live your town,  a chance to voice their objections to your marriage or partnership.  If nobody objects,  then,   and only then can you go ahead and register or get married.

Since I was not in a position to  sit in the UK For 22 days while this whole waiting process ticked by,  it meant  making  two trips to the UK within  a one month period, One trip over the  Holidays to give our notice, and a second trip 16 days later to actually register as Civil Partners.   The end result being,  I would then be Eric's spouse and we could apply for  a Spousal Settlement Visa that  would allow me  to live and work in the UK.

On Monday January 17th, 2011, in the  Lewisham Registry Office,   Eric and I  became legal spouses in the United Kingdom .  It was an amazing  day, with friends and family from as nearby as just down the street, and as far away as  New York City, Dallas Texas, and  Omaha, Nebraska.

As we celebrated, we also  were busy putting together all the documents and material we would need for the last step in this long, long process.  Our application for  my Spousal Visa to settle permanently in the UK.

As we poured over all the required documents, we both had nightmarish visions of  forgetting something, and going through this  whole process, only to have to start all over again.   It was a stressful  two weeks after our ceremony,  as we  tried to go over everything via skype and webcam to make sure we had not forgotten  anything.

On February 8th, we sent all our supporting documents, including my passport, and the completed final visa application to the UK General Consulate in Los Angeles. Along with the $1,200.00 application fee. The final document weighed more than seven pounds.

The confirmation email from the British Consulate said that processing times for Settlement Visas is at least 50 days from the date they receive the application. So we were resigned to waiting at least until March 30th before we heard anything back from the UK Home Office on if or when my visa would be approved.

So when my blackberry buzzed last Friday to alert me I had just received an email from the  British Consulate in Los Angeles,   my first thought  was not a happy one.  As only two weeks had gone by, I figured the email must be to inform us that  our application had been rejected.  We had forgotten to include some document, some piece of paper that  now would doom us to  go back to square one,  and start this long agonizing,  and ridiculously expensive process  all over again.

It was with a sense of dread I opened the email.  I had to read the email through three times before  it finally registered in my brain what  it actually said:

To: My Office
Subject: Your Visa Application @ Los Angeles  (Ref: 369884)
Sent: Feb 18, 2011 10:06 AM
Your application has been approved and the visa has been issued.
Please check your visa immediately on receipt to ensure that we have completed your visa correctly. Please send details of any errors or omissions to ASAP.

The rest of the day last Friday is actually a bit of a blur. I immediately called Eric in London, He was startled when he saw my cell number on his caller ID, I rarely called him in the middle of the workday, and he also assumed it must be to deliver bad news. Both of us spent the rest of the day in a slight state of shock, that this long journey we have been on to finally be together , was about to be completed.

Today, Monday, February 21st, 2011 at 10:28am Pacific Standard Time, a brown UPS truck pulled up outside my building here in San Francisco. A rather harried overworked looking UPS Driver handed me a large box and asked for my signature. Inside it was the seven plus pounds of documents minus the visa application paperwork, and on top of the pile was my US Passport. On page 14, I found this... --->

Three years, thousands of dollars in legal fees, government application fees,  and more than 20 Trips across the Atlantic and two trips across the Pacific Ocean later; We finally have the legal authorization to live together, work and build our life together in the UK.  In two weeks I have a final interview for an amazing job opportunity in London, should that all go well, very soon, I will leave my job here in San Francisco, pack up my apartment and go home. To our new home in London.

So why am am I telling you this whole long, drawn out story? That's a real good question. And the answer is not an easy one. We had no choice, but to go through all this stress and expense for the simple reason that, the Government of the United States of America, MY government, is determined still, to treat me and my Spouse as 2nd class citizens

The Right Wing of American politics, has a vested deep-seeded interest in the preservation of homophobia and discrimination against Gay and Lesbian Americans. The GOP in the USA has realized the only way it can win elections is by making people afraid, In 2004 it was Muslims and Gays. In 2010 it was "Socialists". 2012 is shaping up to once again, to be the year the GOP screams hysterically of the "Gay Attack" on families and marriage.

When I hear clueless ignorant wingnuts, in their opposition to marriage equality say; "Same sex couples can daft contracts that give them the same rights as everybody else. We don't need to pass same sex marriage laws.", it's hard not to throw things at the t.v. The truth is same sex couples in the U.S. are anything BUT equal.

So after waiting for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party to keep all those wonderful promises about equality they made back in 2008, It became clear the United States Government is not going to treat its citizens equally under the law anytime soon. And the Republican Party, along with the Tea Party lunatics they spawned, are just fine with that.

In 1776 it was Great Britain that treated the original "tea party patriots" as second class citizens. How ironic that in 2011, it is the new "tea party" that will fight with all it has, to keep the United States LESS free than Great Britain, whose citizens are treated far more equally under their laws, than Americans are treated here under ours.

So as we celebrate the ending of one journey and the beginning of another, our life together. Eric and I do hope that someday The United States will grow up. But in the meantime, to our friends, and our family, we look forward to you visiting us at home, in London.

Dave and  Eric


Dan & Kay GAtzke said...

Dave & Eric....Our congratulations to you both.Your love for each other has endured many challenges and is greatly strengthened by them. May you finally find the peace and acceptance you both so richly deserve! We hope you can take a vacation to the US during one of the camping weekends so we can share in your happiness. Dan & Kay

Biki said...

I'm so very glad that at long last you two can live in the same country! But I whole heartly agree with you, how sad is it that once again we lag behind the rest of the modern world. And if the tea baggers and the religious right have their way, things will get much much worse here for lgbt. Count your blessings that you are in a more free country than ours is currently.