Tuesday, December 06, 2011

No Place Like Home for the Holidays?

The old song goes; “There’s no place like home for the holidays...” For many Americans living overseas, that means getting on planes and trekking across the globe to spend the holidays back in the good ‘old U.S. of A. Nothing could be finer, right?

Well in theory, yes. This year, Eric and I will travel to Madison, Wisconsin to spend Christmas, New Years, and my Parents 50th wedding anniversary with my family. THAT part of the trip, actually “being home” for the holidays is fine. We both are really looking forward to time with family and friends back in the United States. That’s not the problem.
It’s the “going “ there that is the issue.  Not the travel itself.  British Airways will get us from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare non-stop with their usual decent service, moderately edible food, and passable in-flight movie options. 
Then after a 2 hour layover, American Eagle airlines will  take us the final 40 minute or so hop from Chicago to Madison with little effort. No, the problem is what happens during the lay over between these two flights.
As a married couple, one would think the process of entering the United States would be simple. Right? After all, for the vast majority of bi-national married couples, (couples where one spouse is an American citizen and the other is not...) entering the United States is a pretty straight forward exercise. As long as you have all the right spousal visas etc. The non-citizen spouse should have little or no delay joining you on the other side of the little booths over at baggage claim.    Guess again.

For bi-national married couples who happen to be of the same gender, Immigration and Passport control at any major American airport, is for lack of a better metaphor, something of a crap shoot, all depending on the mood of the homeland security passport control agent you encounter.
For both Eric and I this is the most stressful part of the entire trip. To such a extent, that were it not also my parent’s golden wedding anniversary, we probably would have opted not to come at all.
Because of the ridiculously mis-named “Defence of Marriage Act” (or DOMA) , the Federal Government is barred from recognizing Eric as my Spouse, despite the fact that we are legally married in the United Kingdom. So the Department of Homeland Security must  treat Eric not as part of my family, but instead as just some non-American guy who is travelling with me. 
 So after an 8 hour transatlantic flight, we will stagger into the international arrivals hall and then (thanks to DOMA) have to split up into different lines to get through passport control. Eric who has a valid multiple entry tourist visa, will go the non-US Citizen line, while I go through the line for Americans and US Permanent Residents .

Eric will get to the little booth and hand his landing card and passport to the Agent. Now, let me explain why both of us tend to get very stressed  at this point.    Eric is  a Malaysian Citizen permanently living in the UK. He isn’t British, but is travelling from Britain,  his passport is Malaysian (an Islamic country) but he isn't Malay or Muslim.  He is Chinese, and  Buddhist. His landing card says he is visiting the United States to see his in-laws in Wisconsin.  But he isn’t in the US Citizen / Permanent Resident line with his “spouse”.   All of this, often  will  mystify and confuse the  US border agent.

Eric will then be subjected to a barrage of  more than slightly  aggressive  questions.  Such as  "So who is it  you are  travelling with, what is your relationship with this person,  and where are they now?"  All in spite of having a VALID multiple entry  tourist visa.  He will patiently answer  all the questions  (usually  three or more times).  At this point, the  TSA Border agent's brain completely fails to  grasp the concept of two men travelling together as married couple.  As a result , Eric is  “pulled aside” for additional screening that has at times, lasted more than four hours, where he is asked  the exact  same questions all over again.  

All because the U.S. Federal Government (which happily taxes me to support the Dept. of Homeland Security,) can’t treat us the way the British Government, treats us, as a married couple. Thanks to DOMA

In the past it has gotten so ridiculous that once I stood outside the international arrivals gate at the San Francisco Airport, loudly threatening to call all my members of congress and every single media outlet in Northern California if they didn’t let Eric through NOW!  (Thankfully at that point, they did...)  Mind you that was in San Francisco, a city where the concept of a same-sex couple travelling together was hardly unusual. This trip it will be Chicago O’Hare that will once more, put our faith in the Department of Homeland Security to the test.

How would you feel if; 1) In order to even be with, let alone marry the person you love, you had to move overseas. Then; 2) every time you wanted to visit your family,  it was entirely possible that  based on nothing more than a border agent’s mood, (not for any logical reason, evidence or probable cause), your husband or wife could be detained for hours, or even barred from entering the country.

All for no other reason, than the basic legal protections other married couples enjoy, we are denied, because the Republican Party needs to keep Gay and Lesbian Americans as the one group they can still legally hate, and discriminate against.

Welcome to our world, Happy Holidays. To our friends and family back in the States, we are looking forward to (hopefully) seeing you soon.

Dave & Eric

1 comment:

Dan /Kay said...

Dave and Eric - We hope to be able get to the party both to celebrate with your folks and also to see and talk to you two again. The only possible drawback is that your folks probably won't have a big screen TV available and I'll have to miss the Donald's debate lol!!!!! Safe trip!