Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We Have Huge News.

Last week, on March 29, I received an e-mail from Immigration Equality, the immigration arm of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the US. I have been on their mailing list for many years, even before they were part of the HRC. Usually their e-mails would be something to the effect of “Today the Permanent Partners Immigration Act was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives for the thirty-fifth time. . .” After I moved to Canada, I really kind of only skimmed any e-mails they sent, as their news wasn’t particularly relevant to me in my new situation. But, the e-mail I received last week, with the subject line of “We have huge news.” got my attention. Apparently the news was not huge enough to warrant an exclamation point, but I decided to read the e-mail anyway. It began:

“Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced that it will allow LGBT couples to apply for green cards while courts consider the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. This is a major step forward for our families, and the first domino to fall for LGBT Americans with foreign national spouses. . . .”

If I would have received such an e-mail three years ago (which, I know, would not have been possible as Obama was not president then), I would have felt my heart stop for a moment and then cried. Instead, I felt my heart stop for a moment and then almost cried.

Turns out “huge news” was a bit of an understatement. Never before in US history have US citizens been allowed to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for permanent residency. My first thought, actually, was “Oh, God, I hope my mom doesn’t see this,” knowing she would immediately expect, if not demand, that I sponsor Sarah for a US green card and return, post haste, to Michigan. Then I read it again, let out an extended sigh, closed the e-mail, and just sat in stunned silence.

What would have once been the best news I could have heard was now leaving me feeling very confused. I could sense my blood pressure had gone up, and I had a bit of an empty and hollow spot in my stomach.

Before I continue, let me explain the significance of this announcement for my Canadian friends who have been a bit baffled by the terminology. In 1996, the US legislature passed a law, in direct response to some U.S. states extending marriage rights to same sex couples, which basically made it illegal for the federal government to recognize any marriage that was not between one man and one woman, nor could the federal government require any state to recognize such marriages. This law is commonly referred to as DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act. This was not a change to the US Constitution, but a federal law. As immigration (and other many important aspects of life including some taxes and retirement benefits) are regulated by the federal government, this law has been a significant impediment, and to this point, an insurmountable obstacle, to same-sex bi-national immigration. In recent years, the law has been challenged in a series of ever-escalating court cases. The Obama administration initially required that the U.S. Justice Department fight to uphold this law in a federal court, where it was being challenged. I’m guessing that when “the Obama administration” realized that GLBT people in the US were feeling ignored and even betrayed and about to break ranks with the Democratic Party, the story was suddenly changed and the Attorney General was then told to stop defending DOMA. So, while this federal case is being argued, the status of DOMA is in limbo. This is why the Obama Administration is now allowing GLBT US citizens to sponsor their foreign partners for “green cards,” which is just a slang term for “US permanent residency status.”

When Sarah and I moved to Canada, we vowed that this would be our only international move. We made a decision that Canada would be our new permanent home. Now, here I am, for the first time, faced with an actual option of returning to the USA.

I was also faced with extreme conflicting emotions. I didn’t really know, and still don’t know, what I have been feeling since learning of this landmark change. Obviously, if I have no plans to move back to the US, it should be a meaningless announcement to me. But, I think I was mostly angry. Angry that this was happening too late to help us. Angry that we had already given up so much by leaving. Angry that I am still feeling the career, social, and financial implications of what has essentially been a restart to my adult life.

I will not return to the USA, though, even if these new developments do work out in favor of the LGBT bi-national couples. First, I have no desire to take another hit, another setback, socially, career-wise, or financially by moving back to Michigan. Moving back there would not give me back everything I’ve lost. In fact, I would be taking another further step backwards. Second, I am finally getting to the point where Canada feels like home. I have, finally, established friendships. I have started to make my mark in my job. Sarah just got a new job with a famous and well-respected Canadian company that she loves. We have taken on leadership roles on our soccer teams and with our hockey league. We are only months away now from being eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship. Canada gave us hope when we had none—this is a gift that will never be forgotten, and a I gift I doubt that Sarah and I can ever fully repay, though we will try until we die. I know where my devotion lies, and it is not with a country that still, current events notwithstanding, views me as a second-class citizen.

Furthermore, these events in the US will not change the bigoted mindsets of the many Americans who would, in all probability, prefer I stay in Canada. Just yesterday, I had to pick up a rental car to use while my car is being repaired. At the rental car office, I went through the normal stomach-churning discomfort of waiting for an opportunity to tell the agent that I needed my spouse to be listed as a driver on the rental car. When it was revealed that my spouse was, like me, a female, I was the only one in the place who was feeling any discomfort. I can recount numerous incidents renting vehicles in the US where the routine exercise of renting a car included humiliating interrogations and seconds of uncomfortable silence. Of course I am not so naive to believe that all Canadians are ok with same-sex couples. However, if I have encountered any Canadians who do have a discomfort, they’ve hidden it well.

I believe that when I moved to Canada, I was so busy with life in general, setting up a home, finding a job, getting a drivers’ license, starting a bank account, getting healthcare, etc., that I never really had time to deal with all the anger I had about having to leave my home country. Perhaps this is why I now feel so much anger. Yet, I truly am happy for those LGBT bi-national couples that will most likely not have to go through the pain and hardship that Sarah and I did.


MSEH said...

Outstanding post. You explain very clearly, for those who might wonder, why it's not just, "Oh, let's go back."

Fredericton said...

It's not an either/or situation. First, the decision to allow LGBT immigration is great news, but it could be easily reversed by new legislation or a court decision. So you can't rely on it. Nonetheless you could go ahead with the application in case it does go through.

Second, there's no reason why you shouldn't also file for Canadian citizenship. You're only three months away. Do it. Once you get your Cdn citizenship, you can live in the States if you want to, or live in Canada. In the long term, it's not an either/or situation. Like you said, it has more to do with the expense involve than the legalities.

(me: 9 mos. to go for citizenship; fingers crossed.)

MJB said...


You're right, and I do plan to apply for my Canadian citizenship as soon as I've met the residency requirement (actually seven months away now). I found a really neat calculator on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website. You can even create a calculation and save it. Plus, I think you're required to attach a printout of the calculation to your application for citizenship.

Can't wait to become a citizen of Canada, but you're right--there's no reason not to be a dual US/Canadian citizen if I can. The more options I have open, the better. But right now, my heart and my life is in Canada.

clp said...

can you be a dual citizen? i have been told that you are not allowed by the US to have dual citizenship after the age of 18. a friends dad moved from canada to the US as a kid and was forced by the US to denounce one or the other upon turning 18. :(

MJB said...

CLP, I wouldn't be surprised if the US made those moving from Canada renounce their Canadian citizenship, but I don't know. I know the Canadians don't make US citizens renounce the US status upon becoming Canadian citizens. And, remember that "dual citizenship" is not actually recognized by any government. It's just a way to describe someone who has managed to maintain two separate citizenships.

marnie said...

MJB - I am currently a law student writing a comment for my school's law journal. My topic is actually the USA-to-Canada expatriation effect that DOMA has on bi-national same-sex couples. I was wondering if I could have permission to use a few excerpts from your blog? Thank you for your consideration, and I wish you the best of luck with your life in Canada [there is nowhere to get poutine down here!!!]

MJB said...

Marnie, no problem, quote as much as you like, and I would be happy to give you any other information you'd like. Obviously, not all the hardships we went through are in my blog. You can contact me at soccerlemon {at} gmail {dot} com if you need further info.