Monday, May 9, 2011
I'm one of the lucky ones. I live in a country, Sweden, where as the American half of a binational gay couple, I was welcomed with open arms and got a green card with a minimum of fuss nearly 12 years ago. So my husband, Francisco, and I haven't had to suffer any separation from each other except for the few months it took to process my papers back in 1998. Sweden has had a partnership law since 1995 which in 2009 was merged into the marriage law, erasing any distinction between gays and straights. And while just being part of a gay couple got me my green card, after three years of officially being a couple, I was entitled to citizenship, which I applied for and received.
But while Francisco and I have a good life in Sweden, our marriage isn't recognized in the United States because of the Defense of Marriage Act. That means that we do not actually have a choice but to live in Sweden. While we recognize our good fortune that we at least have the right to live together here, it can't be denied that we were forced to live here by discriminatory American laws.
And we're not accorded the respect that straight couples get. For instance, when we go through passport control each time we pass through O'Hare on our yearly visits to the U.S., it's always a minor trauma. Our worst experience was several years ago when we had the audacity to go up as a couple and present our passports together. The young woman behind the counter - she couldn't have been more than 25 - looked quizzically at our two passports and asked "Why are you up here together?" To which we replied, "We're married, we're family." Which was obviously not what she wanted to hear. She became visibly upset, turning red and angrily telling us "don't you ever come up together again. You're not married here, we don't allow that in this country." Shaken, we walked to the baggage claim to get our bags. "And they call America the home of the free?" Francisco said to me. "I don't think I want to come back again."
And while it may seem like merely an insult and a minor convenience, it's actually more than that. Immigration control officers are the police, and they have an extraordinary amount of power when it comes to dealing with non-Americans entering the country. Francisco essentially has no rights or legal connection to the U.S., and one certainly gets the feeling that merely complaining about being humiliated at passport control could get him sent packing back to Sweden on the next plane. There is no reason we should ever be treated this way while each year thousands of green cards are given to the spouses of American citizens. Francisco and I want to be free to decide to live in the United States at some point in the future. As an American citizen, if I choose to return, I believe Francisco should have the right to live in the U.S. as my spouse, just like any straight couple. This is a simple matter of human rights. This is just one reason why the Defense of Marriage Act has to go. It treats some married American citizens different than others. That has to end.
at 9:02 PM