Monday, March 12, 2012

ExPat Moments....

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.


Dan G said...

At the park we go to in Arizona during the winter, the Tuesday park meeting starts with the Pledge of Allegiance. I almost got tossed out because I refuse to recite it. I'll stand and place my hand over my heart, but will not say the words. One day, after the meeting, I was questioned - polite term - by a gentleman -also polite term - why I said nothing during the Pledge. My reply was that I was not and would do every thing I possibly could do to never be a hypocrite. There then ensued a rather lengthy and heated discussion about civil rights, semantics, religion, politics and finally parentage. The way the current batch of politicians - read that mostly Republicans - are leading the country, we won't have to read history books to see what it was like to live in the 50s and 60s, 'cause we'll be living the same way. Deja vu all over again.

Anonymous said...

You made me think. Good article.