Why we chose to live outside the US as gays

2012-05-26 10:05

People here often are surprised when I tell them that even though I am American, I do not have the right to sponsor my South African partner, Keith, to live with me in the US.

Many ask: “But aren’t gay marriages performed in your home state of Massachusetts?”

Even though I pay the same taxes and have the same responsibilities as heterosexual Americans, I explain that I, along with millions of other gay Americans, am treated as a second-class citizen.

As many South Africans experienced first-hand what it meant to be a second-class citizen, most are surprised to learn that since 1996, the American government has codified discrimination against its gay and lesbian citizens.

Less than six months before the South African Constitution became the first in the world to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act, also known as Doma.

Doma is a federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. This means that for matters of federal jurisdiction, such as immigration, taxes and social security, only opposite-sex marriages are recognised.

Although opposite-sex marriages performed in one state are recognised in the other 49 states, Doma allows states in which same-sex marriage is illegal to not recognise those performed in the few states in which it is permitted.

I am one of thousands of gay Americans forced to live outside my country in order to live with my foreign national partner.

When I met my partner two years ago, I knew that, unlike my heterosexual friends who fell in love with foreigners, I would never be able to bring him home to live with me in the US.

In general, binational same-sex couples have three options if they wish to stay together:
» To live outside the US in a country that recognises same-sex partnerships;

» The foreign spouse enters into a disingenuous marriage with an opposite-sex American to obtain a Green Card – a serious criminal offence; and

» The foreign spouse lives in the US on a temporary student or tourist visa, but is thus deprived of the right to work and cannot stay indefinitely.

When forced to choose between living in my country and living with the person I love, I chose the latter.

Because I happened to have fallen in love with a South African, Keith and I are able to be together. As it happens, South Africa is one of only 10 countries in the world that recognises same-sex marriage.

We have many Americans friends here and elsewhere who would love to live closer to family and friends, but are forced to live abroad until Doma is repealed.

President Barack Obama’s personal endorsement two weeks ago of same-sex marriage is a step in the right direction, as were his administration’s decisions to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to discontinue federal funding of hospitals that deny visitation rights to same-sex partners.

After hearing President Obama’s remarks, I believe that there is a very good chance that Doma will be repealed if he is granted a second term in office.

Despite the great religious and political divide among Americans, 51% support the president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage.

At his recent commencement address at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a heartfelt reminder to graduates that “each and every generation has removed some barrier to full participation in the American Dream” and that North Carolina’s recent decision to ban same-sex marriage “shows just how much more work needs to be done to ensure freedom and equality for all people”.

I hope that Keith and I will soon have the choice of living in both South Africa and the US, and that other same-sex binational couples will never again be forced to choose between their loyalty to the US and their desire to live with
their partner.

»
Brotman lives in Cape Town. Follow him on Twitter at @DGBrotman

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