Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Events Leading Up to My Exile de Facto

Today I am sitting in the yard of my house, on the deck I’ve made and typing in this blog. I’m still undecided as to whether this is an appropriate use of the last Sunday afternoon I’ll spend at my home in Michigan.

You see, some people don’t believe that same-sex couples should be able to marry. That belief has caused all of the stress, anguish, and unhappiness I’m experiencing, and the uncertainty I’ve been experiencing for years. This prevalent belief of my fellow Americans has led to my upcoming exile de facto. Let me explain.

First, a couple of disclaimers for those of you considering continuing to read on.

  • I will not mince words. I am not afraid of being labeled “anti-American” or “unpatriotic.” I’m certainly not anti-American, but I guess I am not a patriotic American under the circumstances, and I doubt you would be either in my situation, which you will soon see.

  • I will not defend my sexual orientation nor will I engage in a debate about whether this is a biological trait or a choice. I will say this—everything you do is a choice, a choice based on feelings. I could choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle at any time just as my heterosexual friends could choose to live a homosexual lifestyle at any time. However, most people cannot be happy unless they follow their feelings. Anyway, this blog is about my CHOICE to leave the United States due to factors that are beyond my control.

  • I will refrain from profanity as much as possible, however, this blog is as much therapy for me as it is a way to educate others on my situation. You will probably see strong language at some points, but nothing more than you’d see on network television after 9 pm. Get over it or leave the site.

  • I love Canada, and I am eternally grateful that Sarah and I are able to make a home there. We are determined to contribute as much as we can as members of society there. Don’t misinterpret my anger at having to leave the US as a reluctance to move to Canada. My anger is an anger about having to choose between my spouse and my home country.

  • I am not soliciting or accepting feedback from readers. I already know what types of feedback I would get, and I’m already experiencing enough hurt and pain. I don’t have the time or energy for hateful people.

Okay, back to my story. Here is the shortest summary I can write of the past ten years of my life.

In 1997, I was 24 years old. I had just completed my masters’ degree, and was trying to get permanent, full-time employment. I also started spending a lot of time thinking about my future, in terms of finding the right person to be with for the rest of my life. You could definitely call it a quarter-life crisis. I had a lot of experience dating guys, and the majority of the guys I dated were wonderful. They were smart, attentive, handsome, and fun. However, no matter how long I dated someone, or how much their personality matched my desired characteristics, I just could not fall in love with them. We would go on dates and I’d have fun, but by the end of the night, I was just ready to go home and be on my own (kind of like the feeling you have after going out with your friends). I then started to think back and think hard, trying to figure out what was wrong with me—why couldn’t I be truly happy with anyone I had dated?

I began to feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness. I felt as though I would easily fall in the trap of settling for some guy, getting married, and never really experiencing love or being happy. I was dreading the rest of my life, because being on my own was not a particularly appealing though either.

The more I thought, the more I started to realize something was amiss—I had been in love before, several times. Yes, I was sure, thinking back, I’d been in love while in high school, three more times while in college, and again when I was in grad school. All of these people I had been in love with were female!

After a lot more reflection and discussions with strangers on the Internet, I realized I was probably gay. I decided I needed to carefully investigate. I started making online friends. One of the friends I made was through a matchmaking site in England. I wasn’t looking for a trans-Atlantic romance, but I did love soccer, British history, and British literature, so I thought this would be a jolly good opportunity for me to have a friend.

After a month of exchanging e-mail messages and then another month of online chatting with my new English friend Sarah, I realized I was falling in love. It was the same old familiar feeling. I had never even met her in person, but two to three hours a night on chat really help you to get to know someone. And, this was not sex chat or online sex—it was genuine conversation. She was in the same situation I was—never having been with a girl intimately, but always in love with girls. And, like me, she had many boyfriends in her life and had even been engaged at one point.

She came to visit me in the US in April of 1998, and spending time with each other in person led us to see that we were truly in love. In December of 1998, after a long summer and fall of hours of phone conversations and nights spent in chat, I went to visit her in England. We knew we wanted our relationship to be something more permanent, so we decided, due to the thriving economy in the US at the time, that she would move to the US rather than me move to England.

She moved to Michigan in March of 1999. Within a couple of weeks, she had found a full-time job and our quest for a visa began. She was able to get a J-1 training visa that was good for 18 months. We believed that at the end of the 18 months, we could get her another visa. After all, she was very employable, having a degree in business and some experience. However, we couldn’t plan more than 18 months ahead, because we didn’t know what the future would hold or if we would be able to stay in the US long term.

In April of 2000, we traveled to Washington DC for the Millenium March for gay rights. We were married there in a ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, April 29. The next day, we marched in the parade with the immigration equality group holding signs that said “STOP DEPORTING OUR PARTNERS.” We met so many people that day who were separated from their partners who could not get US citizenship.

In 2001, as the first visa was about to expire, we hired an immigration attorney to attempt to get her a three-year H1B visa. This attempt failed, due to shoddy work on the application (confirmed by several attorneys who looked at the application later). We were extremely distraught, not knowing what the future would hold. Sarah’s company wanted to keep her in their employ, and so hired their own attorney. Her application was submitted to the US government in late August, 2001.

These visa applications usually take six months to a year. However, certain events took place in September of 2001 that really ground the US government, and in particular, the immigration system, to a halt.

Since Sarah did not have a valid visa, she had to fly in and out of the country as a visitor and could not work. Not only were the plane tickets expensive, but she was not working or bringing in income. It was extremely difficult living on my salary alone.

By December of 2001, with her visa expired and no money, Sarah went back to England to wait to see if her newest application would be approved. We did not know how long this would take or if it would be approved at all. When I drove her to the airport that day in December, it was one of the worst moments of my life, watching her walk away, not knowing how long it would be before I would see her again.

I lived with just our dog Cody for several months, and in May of 2002, I finally had enough money together to visit her in England for a couple of weeks. In August of 2002, 364 days after her visa application had been submitted, it was approved, so she moved back to the US and resumed working for her US employer. We knew the visa was good for three years and that it could be renewed for another three. We bought a house and started really making a life together, always knowing in the back of our minds that it could all end in three or six years.

As the first three years of the visa started to come to a close, we thought we’d better come up with a backup plan if it didn’t come through. We knew that I could go to the British embassy in Chicago and apply for permanent residency in Britian as Sarah’s partner. But, we were concerned about the difficulties associated with moving all of our stuff and our (now) two dogs there. Canada was recognizing same-sex partnerships and was just three hours’ drive from our home in Michigan. We decided to apply for Canadian residency as a backup plan.

We hired a Canadian lawyer and compiled all of our paperwork, including lots of documents and evidence showing that we were in a committed long-term relationship. We had the deed to our house, the titles to our cars, records showing each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, joint bank accounts, etc. We also had to qualify for Canadian immigration based on other conditions such as our job experience, language abilities, sound health, and educational levels. We were both accepted to be permanent Canadian residents in February of 2005.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s company had their lawyer working on getting her US visa renewed. In April of 2005, it was renewed for another three years. However, we continued taking whatever action was necessary to make sure we kept our Canadian residency valid, because we knew we might need it after another three years. We became landed immigrants in Canada in October of 2005 but we did not move there.

In 2006, same-sex marriage was becoming law throughout Canada. We traveled to Windsor, Ontario and were married there on April 28, 2006, one day short of the six-year anniversary of our original wedding in Washington, D.C.

In January of 2008, Sarah’s company, aware that her visa would expire in April and could not be renewed, asked their attorney to look at sponsoring her for permanent residency, However, due to the state of the economy in the US at that time, and in Michigan in particular, they could not, as required, prove that there were no Americans who could take her job. They had to abandon the application.

So, with great sadness and apprehension, we began our exodus to Canada.

About a month ago, Sarah moved to Canada and began a new job. Our dogs have also moved there and now I am preparing to leave this coming weekend. We still have not sold our house (due to the horrendous housing market in Michigan). I still do not know if I have a job in Canada. All I know is that life is too short to be apart from the person you love, and I miss her and our dogs horribly. I also know that if we don’t move to Canada as soon as possible, we will lose our right of permanent residency there.

I want to document here my last few days in the United States and my first few weeks in Canada. I hope that those who read this will have sympathy for our situation and realize that there are very real economic and emotional hardships endured by bi-national same-sex couples. If Sarah and I were a heterosexual couple, we would have been married long ago and Sarah would be a US citizen by now.

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