Friday, March 22, 2013

Thoughts from DOMA Exile...

The past two weeks have been fairly busy.    Eric and I recently attended  two separate events sponsored by the London chapter of the group  Immigration Equality.    (From their Facebook page)

Immigration Equality is an organization that works to end discrimination in U.S. immigration law, to reduce the negative impact of that law on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive people, and to help obtain asylum for those persecuted in their home country based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity or HIV-status. Through education, outreach, advocacy, and the maintenance of a nationwide network of resources, we provide information and support to advocates, attorneys, politicians and those who are threatened by persecution or the discriminatory impact of the law.

The first event was a lecture and Q&A  by  Professor Joeseph Landau of the Fordham Law School,  on the upcoming US Supreme cases dealing with the issue of Marriage Equality.   The two cases of course, are the Perry Case, challenging  California's Proposition 8, and  the  Windsor Case, which challenges the  Federal Defense of Marriage Act..

The second event was last night here in Central London.  We attended a special screening of the soon to be released movie  "I Do".  The movie  tells the  story about Jack, a Gay British  man living in New York, where has been since he was student. After his brother is killed in a traffic accident, he cares for his Brother's American widow and daughter.  When his visa runs out, he is forced – by discrimination – to  enter into a sham marriage with Ali, his Lesbian best friend to get a Green Card  so he can remain in the US to care for his family.

Things  are complicated when  Jack  falls for Mano, a handsome Spaniard  who happens to be an American citizen.  For Jack,  balancing his responsibilities as a surrogate dad, being a "green card” husband, and beginning a new relationship, becomes too much for him.

After Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain and interview Ali and Jack, Ali realizes she’s in over her head and files for divorce. Mano, ready for a commitment and believing since he can legally marry Jack in New York,   he can keep him in the country and  proposes. Their immigration attorney, however, informs them that even though Mano is an American citizen, immigration is a Federal level right not afforded to gay marriage on the State level. Therefore, their getting married won’t make any difference. Jack will be deported unless he marries another woman.

The film which is making the rounds on the film festival circuit,  powerfully shows the very real impact DOMA has. What’s left in the balance are families and couples often split apart, especially those with bi-national makeups. Immigration, which most heterosexual couples take for granted as a given, complicates same-sex relationships, even in states where marriage is now legal.

Both events were attended by a number of couples like us. Bi-national same sex couples where the American partner had to leave the United States in order to be with their legal spouse.  There were  even some couples who like us,  had  been featured on other pro-immigration equality websites,  such as  The DOMA Project,  profiling their stories.

In talking with the other couples,  we discovered that  all of us  had come away from both events with two basic reactions,    The first, was a greater appreciation of how lucky we are to live where we do.  The United Kingdom, like most of the European Union, gives same sex couples all the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.   Even if, like here in the UK, it is not called "marriage". (Here the official term is "Civil Partnership".)   We can have a long debate over  what's in a name, and I have blogged on that topic in past.  But,  from the point  of view of  many here, since  the rights are the same, the rest is just semantics.

The second  thing we found, was that the other couples we met all shared the same frustration we struggle with.   The fact that  we had no choice but the  leave  the US and become "DOMA Exiles".   The question  we all get asked a lot is;  "So,  if the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and you could  move back to America with your spouse, would you?"    That is a very complicated question, that  frankly doesn't  have a simple Yes or No answer.

For most  Americans living  in  DOMA Exile,  having been forced to make the choice between Love or Country was both deeply emotional, and logistically difficult.  Leaving, friends,  family, jobs and basically everything  else you have known behind, simply to be with the person you love is an exhausting experience. Also one that is naturally is tinged with a certain degree of  resentment  at your own country,   for treating you as a second class citizen, and for treating your legal spouse as something even less than that.

Like many bi-national couples here in London,  the idea of  packing up our lives (again) and moving across the world after having done so once, is a daunting prospect.  So  for us,   it's not so much  about waiting with our bags half-packed, in  breathless anticipation  for DOMA to be struck down so we can jump on a plane and move back the the U.S.  It's more about being treated equally under the law,  and thus having the option to move back to America.  An option that thanks to the blatant  discrimination  of DOMA, we don't current have.

Yet like many of our fellow DOMA Exiles, and  those couples in the United States who are facing  DOMA induced separations, we will be watching  carefully next week when  oral arguments in both the Perry and Windsor cases  begin  at the U.S. Supreme Court.  

So, next week, when you hear  self-proclaimed "Defenders of Marriage" say how striking down  laws like  CA Prop 8,  and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is "an attack" on "traditional marriage",  realize that the truth is, the  Tony Perkins', Brian Browns' and  Bryan Fishers' of the world have no interest in defending anything other than their own bigotry.

What's more you will hear  these mouthpieces of hate, all next week spew their bile of how the  idea that  all Americans should have equal rights under the law, is  somehow an attack on them.

It is very difficult to predict how the rulings will go  when they are handed down in June.   But  we are excited and hopeful that the court will see this is a moment that history will remember.    It is for moments like this that America's founding fathers  created  the separation of the Judiciary from the Legislative and the Executive branches.      Just like with decisions past, such as  Dred Scott,  Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade,  for those nine justices, this fork in  the road of American history is clearly marked.

We can more forward, or  we can stumble back, and history is watching...

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