June 03, 2008
Sullivan on the "Gay Diaspora"
Posted by: Kevin
Urged on by what one reader called a "gaping hole" in the New York Times' coverage of the same-sex marriage issue in New York, Andrew Sullivan has been sharing reader mail on how the California marriage decision, and subsequent actions by New York Gov. David Paterson on gay marriage, has raised the hopes and inflamed the anguish of families affected by bi-national gay relationships that are denied U.S. federal legal recognition of any kind by the Defense of Marriage Act. (As is well-known to readers of this blog, Chris and I fall into that category of families as well, as we both were forced to move to Brazil to be with our partners.)
Heterosexual citizens have the right to marry foreign partners and bring them legally into the country with the right to live and work and even seek citizenship. Homosexual citizens don't have that right; they must either choose another citizen as a partner or leave the country in order to be with their foreign partners. I know this issue intimately because both my children have foreign partners. My heterosexual daughter was able to marry and give her foreign partner the right to live here. My homosexual son can't do that, and his partner isn't even allowed to enter the U.S., so he has no choice but to live in his partner's country. The people who claim to be protecting families are not doing anything to protect mine. Instead, they've torn it apart. I wish the Times would cover that aspect of the gay marriage issue because there are thousands of American families affected by it," - a mother of a gay son, commenting on the story on Governor David Paterson's decision to treat gay citizens married in other states no differently than straight ones.
I've written about this on my own blog, and Chris has championed the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign born partners to immigrate legally to the United States. We do what we can. But once you make the decision to spend your life with someone (i.e. marry them, whether it's recognized or not as legal), you jump with both feet off the curb and you don't look back. Sometimes I feel that if I put too much energy into fighting to change the policies of the United States, I'd not be tending to my life as it is today, and my relationship would suffer needlessly. You end up putting your life first; it's why you did all this in the first place. And it makes you an inconvenient player in the political realm.
Reading the excerpts of Andrew's reader mail has been an emotional experience. It's mostly because (and I'm surprised to realize this) most of us who live this life in exile don't spend a lot of time talking to each other about how hard it can be at times being separated from home. We tend to focus on adapting to life out here instead. You do your best when you're on the phone (or on Skype) with family and friends back in the U.S. to focus on the good stuff, and share the good news. You try to buck yourself up and focus on the adventure of it all, living abroad and adapting to a new culture and a new way of life. You also wake up to the aspects of life in the United States that are actually not so great after all- simply because (A) you can see them from far away, and (B) you want to do everything you can to avoid missing home too much. When you live abroad, you live abroad. Life in your new home affects you. You're not who you were before.
But you can't help but hear in the voices of those closest to you back in the U.S. that there is a lingering hope that something will happen that will allow you to come back. It's part of being loved. It's part of being in a family. It's always floating around the phone call, or in-between the lines of the email.
Some of us don't have much family at home, or a family that has disowned our sexuality and, therefore, our relationship. That rarely makes the move any easier, because gay Americans often have a "chosen" family, a support network of friends that become vital to our happiness and emotional well-being. I can say that Chris and I, and many of the Americans I know in love-exile around the world, are incredibly privileged and lucky that we have the resources to go home to visit even once a year. Many immigrants to the United States often don't have that option. Both of my parents are in good health, and have visited me here once. I could imagine what this life would be like if one of them was ill when I had to make my decision. In any case, when you go home to visit your friends or your family, there is this distinct sense you get with every trip that life has just gone on without you, and you're really not part of that world anymore. It's unsettling, but you have to accept it.
The policy implications of all this are quite obvious, as Andrew's postings point out so well. Families and lives are being terribly impacted, but love is still winning out. John McCain is a strong supporter of immigration reform and has shown a willingness to buck his party's hardliners on the subject. If a Democratic Congress were to send him a reform bill with UAFA inserted into it, I have to wonder whether he'd sign it. I hope he would. Two recent television appearances only muddied the waters.
It's no comfort that Senator Hillary Clinton has not lifted a finger on this issue in the Senate, nor seems ready to do so when she limps back there in tatters from her loss to Barack Obama in the nomination fight. So much for all that gay money. And Obama has said he opposes UAFA because it would open the door to immigration fraud, betraying a stupefying ignorance of the issue. He should read Andrew's blog. He should talk to my mom.
But no matter what happens back home, we live our lives out here. And the longer the United States retains the Defense of Marriage Act as law, the more likely that time will end up healing over the wound we got in the split with our native country, I'm afraid, and much of what we have to offer the world will largely, and happily, find its way to other horizons.
I, like many, refuse to regret the greatest thing to ever happen to me, no matter what it cost me. (Am I supposed to wake up in tears every morning in order to please some activists back home?) It doesn't mean I am not a patriot, or that it isn't really hard to be separated from the whole life I knew until a year ago. My grandfather was Irish to the core until his death, but when he arrived on American shores he never set foot on Irish soil again. It was the Irish condition that sent him away, simply put. He didn't live long enough to see things change. Did he think this to be a tragedy in 1975 when he lay on his deathbed? I think not. How will I feel on mine? Who knows. I refuse to decide now.
It is, however, up to the United States to decide whether it will regret losing all of us.
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