Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Standing on the Side of Love

Earlier today, I shared my story at a rally organized by the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign. The event brought together two issues that may not be clearly related to most, but is all too real for my husband and me and so many other binational gay couples. These issues often intersect: immigration and equality for LGBT people. I am grateful for the opportunity.

Like most immigrants, I came to the United States with my American dream. I was going to take advantage of all the opportunities available, work hard, improve my lot and give back. As a young gay man, I was going to live openly and with integrity. I was also going to fall in love, settle down and have my own family.

I think that for the most part, I have been fortunate and have done well. I have put myself through grad school and I am now pursuing a doctorate degree while working as a researcher. I volunteer and help out when I can. I am doing what I love and believe that in my small way I am making a difference. I have always been myself – out and proud. Best of all, I have fallen in love, settled down and started a family with a man with whom I share the same faith and core values.

John and I have been together for eleven and a half years. We have been committed to one another all this time and though we have lived, for all intents and purposes, like a married couple, we have been denied the legal right to marry, that is until last month. Until then, we did our best to get whatever legal protections we could for same-sex couples. While living in New York, we registered as domestic partners. Upon relocating to Washington two and half years ago, we also signed up as domestic partners. When same-sex marriage was legalized in the District, we didn’t wait long to get a marriage license. Last week, we had our civil wedding ceremony at the Moultrie Courthouse.

Although no one can deny the fact that we are now a married couple and that he is my husband, the hard reality is that our D.C. marriage license isn’t worth much outside the jurisdiction. When we next visit my in-laws in Charlotte, we will still feel the need to have our living wills and health care proxies on hand in case of an emergency. We both dread the thought of not being able to be by the side of the one injured and hospitalized. Worse, not being able to make the life and death decisions only a spouse should make.

We resent the fact that even though we have been paying our taxes and contributing to the social security system, neither of us will be entitled to the other’s benefits. We find it unfair that anything we give or leave to each other – property, money and other material possessions – will be taxed. The list goes on. Married heterosexual couples enjoy over 1,100 benefits, protections and privileges denied couples like us only because we happen to be gay.

When I told my mom that John and I were getting married, she congratulated us and said “Great, so he should be able to sponsor you.” See, thanks to the vagaries of the U.S. immigration system, I still do not have a green card. Even though I consider the United States my home, have lived here legally for several years, and in my heart know that I am as American as my native born cousins, I have no recourse but to wait for my mother’s sponsorship to come through which will take many more years unless the immigration system is reformed. I explained to my mom that because immigration is a federal matter, John will not be able to sponsor me for legal permanent residency. Our D.C. same-sex union is not recognized by the U.S. government. However, if we were a different-sex couple, then I could count on a green card before the year is over. But I cannot.

We are not asking for special rights; we are only asking for equal rights. I ask Congress to please stand on the side of love with my family by passing comprehensive immigration reform and provide equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Thank you.

Photo by Bill Kotsatos

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