Being an American living overseas is always an interesting experience. Regardless of your political affiliations you find yourself having to defend U.S. Policies, be they foreign , domestic, economic, or what have you on a regular basis. This is most often due to the fact that you are usually the only American in the room. So by default you become the voice of America, whether you want to be or not.
This past week however, was one of those rare occasions where I found myself defending the United Kingdom from disparaging comments from fellow American Expatriates.
Earlier in the week, Eric and I found ourselves at a pre-election kick off reception for Democrats Abroad. the event was held at a well known American style restaurant called The Texas Embassy. It was odd to be in a room full of so many Americans in the center of London. Eric got a kick out of trying to place the different American accents he was hearing.
For me, it was nice to be in a room full of Americans who share most of my political beliefs. We all were greatly amused by the complete circus that the Republican Presidential Primary process has been. Everyone there was fairly confident in the re-electability of President Obama, when put up against any of the potential GOP nominees, and the desire to increase Democratic voter turn out among the expat community clearly is aimed at helping with the much less certain race to control Congress in 2013.
Yet I will be honest, it was hard to get excited about the whole thing. It was hard to tell, but from where we were sitting, it appeared that Eric and I were the only same-sex couple there. The upside to that was a number of people, including the chairman of the UK chapter of Democrats abroad, were very deliberate in coming up to us, welcoming us to the event, and making it clear they were very happy to see us there.
Yet as the speeches started, touting the successes of the Obama-Biden first term, I couldn't help feeling a little bit annoyed. I have written at length about my disappointment with President Obama, on the issue of the Defence of Marriage Act, and all the related issues connected to that. Mainly, in our case, the right to sponsor a legal spouse for immigration to the United States. A bill was introduced in 2009 that would correct this injustice, but since its introduction, the bill has gone nowhere.
Yes President Obama has worked wonders pulling America out of deep dank hole that 8 years of Republican rule had dug. Yet for couples like us, the key issues that impact our lives have remain largely untouched. When pressed on the issue of Marriage Equality, the best answer the first African American President of the United States can come back with, is how he "struggles" with the issue and that his position is still "evolving", and then goes on to say his baseline position basically amounts to the same "separate but equal" argument that was used to support racial segregation 50 years ago.
Meanwhile, here in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron speaking at his party's annual conference. (The British equivalent of the American GOP National Convention, ) had this to say on the subject of Marriage Equality here in the UK.
Which brings us to last night. Eric and I had the great good fortune to spend the evening with some of our most amazing friends. Our friends Peter and Simon who live quite close to us here in London, ( but we don't see nearly enough of,) had us over for dinner at their flat. Also with us, was our dear friend Daniel from New York, who was visiting us for the weekend, on his way home from a business trip in Paris.
Also there, were Mike and Mark, two friends of Peter and Simon. Who like us, are a bi-national same sex couple, where one partner is British, and the other American. Who also like Eric and myself, moved to the UK to be together, rather than stay in a long-distance relationship waiting for DOMA to be repealed. Where we did our civil partnership here in London, then applied for a spousal visa, they were married in Massachusetts, which was then recognized by the British government for immigration purposes.
The American half of this couple is an interesting fellow. Originally from Boston, he has lived here in the UK about a year longer than I have. From all appearances, he and his husband have a pretty good life. Good careers, great friends and the civil equality that living in the UK affords to couples like them, and like us. Yet he had almost nothing good to say about life in the United Kingdom.
No matter the topic of conversation, in his opinion, everything here is pretty much inferior when compared to the United States. As the evening went on, seated next to this person at dinner, I found myself aggressively defending my adopted country from the mostly inaccurate aspersions from a countryman from my homeland.
Yes, there are significant differences between life in the US and life in the UK. Yes, there are many things here I find odd, frustrating, and even down right ridiculous at times. But when all is said and done, in both our cases, the United States essentially told us that our marriages didn't count, didn't even exist as far as the federal government was concerned. The United States, tells thousands of American citizens just like the two us, that we are something less than equal, and if we want to spend our lives with our spouses, we have to do it some place else.
That some place else is, in both our cases the United Kingdom. This quirky, imperfect, cramped, damp, foggy island in the North Atlantic has proven to be more free than the country that claims to be "the land of the free". Yes America has better food, but England has better laws. Yes Hollywood makes better movies, but London has much better theatre. Yes America gave the world Star Trek, but England gave it Doctor Who. Yes, I may have left part of my heart in San Francisco, but it was London, not "liberal SF" , that said; "Welcome! You have the SAME right to live with the person you love, as anyone else does. Make yourself at home."
Yet as the evening went on, I realized at least to some degree, why my new friend felt as he did. It really has nothing to do living in the United Kingdom, but instead, has everything to do with the inability to live in the United States. As a fellow "DOMA Exile", I too struggle with feelings of bitterness at not even having had the option to live in my own country with my spouse. As President Obama likes to say; "Let me be clear." I love London, but I did not choose to live here. The bigotry and inequality of the laws in the United States made that choice for me.
So, if it sounds like I prefer the UK to the US, you would be wrong. I am an American. I have no desire to be a citizen of any other nation on Earth. The sight of the American Flag fluttering in the breeze over Grosvenor Square, gives me a tug at the heartstrings every time I see it.
Yet the hard truth is, it is England that has said I should never have to choose between the Person I'm married to, and the country I live in. My own country is quite willing to force me, and thousands of my fellow Americans to make that exact choice.
So say what you want about tube strikes, and baked beans on toast for breakfast. The fact remains that until United States grows up and stops using minority rights as a political football, it is England, that is living the ideals of Liberty and Justice for All, that America (for now), still only talks about.