Legalities Practicalities

Immigration status–for better or for worse?

Forbes map, as of August 2011

Many of you know that after 5 years in the U.K., I am in the midst of applying for my permanent residency (aka Indefinite Leave to Remain). This is the equivalent of a U.S. green card, which will allow me to enter the U.K. at will, and to live and work here as well. As of right now, I’m still without my passport, which was delivered to the solicitors’ office last week but I hope everything will get settled sometime next week.

It turns out that it is a good thing that I am getting permanent residency, as the UK does require proof that I am able to stay in the U.K. as a condition of granting a civil partnership license. I would have otherwise have had to file special paperwork that would, after the civil union was completed, allow me to apply for a spousal visa to stay in the U.K. Anyways, either way, I am sorted, here in the U.K. at least, since civil partnerships carry all the weight, rights, and privileges as marriage in this country (in all but name, but that’s a story for another day).

However, things are quite different with the U.S. government and I did some investigating recently to see how Chris’s status may change once we get civilly partnered. Interestingly, if I was not a U.S. national, the U.S. federal government does have a pathway that allows the live-in partner of a temporary foreign worker who is seconded to the U.S. to live and work in the U.S. as well. Obviously, for political reasons, this is not publicized. But it does allow for a non-U.S. couple married or civilly partnered (or just co-habitating, even) to be together in the U.S., as long as both partners are not U.S. nationals.

Things get complicated when one of us is American, as will be the case with Chris and me. Immigration Equality (, a U.S. legal organization that works to support immigration equality for LGBT and HIV-positive people, suggests that there are some detriments to reporting for Chris to declare his status as “married” or civilly partnered to a U.S. national when visiting the U.S. A tourist visa is just a tourist visa, but if the immigration authorities catch wind that a foreigner is coming to the U.S. to visit a spouse, the visitor can be tagged as having “immigration intent”, which means that the visitor can be denied entry while travelling under a tourist visa, because the assumption is that Chris would be trying to get into the U.S. to become an illegal immigrant. So the current recommendation is to be vague if interrogated about the reason for a visit, but to not lie if asked a direct question. Sounds to me like the U.S. government wants gay couples to “play nice” by staying closeted about their relationship status. Married heterosexual couples, however, face no such restrictions or extra levels of scrutiny when entering the U.S., and there is a pathway that exists for the U.S. half of the couple to sponsor a green card for his or her foreign half, which will allow for permanent residency (and eventually a path to citizenship).

So what about getting married in a state that allows gay marriage, such as New York or Massachusetts? Still no dice. While the individual state governments do not report to the Federal authorities about same-sex marriages (i.e., they won’t snitch on you), the borders of the United States are controlled by the federal government; the individual states have no jurisdiction over the immigration and border control queues at the airport. And so, while getting married in Massachusetts would allow you to file a joint tax return and give a few benefits (such as for inheritance and hospital visitation), it doesn’t allow a bi-national same-sex couple the rights to live together in the U.S. In the eyes of the federal government, Chris and I would be no more than strangers to one another.

And it is for this reason that everyone should be against the odious Defense of Marriage Act (a legacy of the Clinton administration) and Proposition 8–the only purpose of these measures was to prevent same-sex couples from sharing the same basic rights that married heterosexual couples take for granted.

So for the time being, I am glad to be living in the much more sensible environment of the U.K. (and Europe in general, where most countries have same-sex marriages or civil partnerships) and I will happy accept my permanent residency once the solicitors and the Home Office are done with their paperwork. And here’s to hoping for a brighter future for the U.S., where sad scenes like this one will be a thing of the past: Woman in same-sex couple faces deportation despite being married in Vermont. Otherwise, if I take everything at face value, it almost sounds like Chris and I would be better off if I didn’t have any ties to the U.S…


An Inspirational Walk Around Islington

London Weddings
Please consult your mortgage adviser before considering the above

London is awesome – I am a massive fan. However, there are certain disadvantages of living here: one of which is that it has an unusually high concentration of very rich people. This becomes a problem when it comes to looking for nice places to have a wedding.

You see, any particularly lovely venues in London where it’s possible to hold a wedding reception know that they can get away with charging an arm and a leg as there are plenty of people in London who would be willing to pay it.

So if we were planning a small wedding of, say, 30 people we might look at a cost of £80-£90 a guest and think we can maybe make that work. It would end up being around £2,500. That’s OK. But when you’re initial idea of guest numbers is around 4 times that, the costs start getting pretty eye-watering!

What are the options then? Well, Plan A was to find a cool and interesting venue that doesn’t cost a fortune and dress it up for wedding fabulousness. We thought we had maybe struck gold with Islington Central Library which has a lovely hall we could have gotten for about a grand:

Islington Central Library

Nice right?

Yesterday morning we set off in high spirits to check out the hall and see if we could make it work. However, as soon as we set foot in it, we got rather deflated. It’s actually a bit tatty around the edges, plus our guests would have to enter through a nasty 70s library entrance in order to get to the hall. I’m all for saving money, but this is supposed to be a wedding and not an after-school club.

So Plan A was out the window.

Undaunted we decided to go for a wander into Angel and see if we could find any inspiration. First stop was the Town Hall. We knew there was a strong likelihood we’d end up probably doing the actual Civil Partnership here, so we thought we’d see if there was a chance to look round their uninspiring range of small and functional rooms. What we weren’t prepared for was this:

Council Chamber


It’s an incredible room that can accommodate all our guests and even has a balcony in case…. well….


(Just a thought!)

What it also means is that we could do a really nice service there and get all those sort of ceremony bits done before getting as quickly as possible to the part where everyone eats (the best part of any wedding). Rather than needing a wedding venue that could accommodate a ceremony as well as food – we could actually just take over a restaurant or pub for the day and use that as our reception space. And there are loads more options for that than there are for larger hall-type venues.

So now the search is on for an interesting pub or restaurant that can seat about 120 comfortably and not cost all the money in the world.

Being forced to try out pubs and restaurants around London?

Now THAT’s my kind of wedding planning!


Everyone loves a bargain

Everyone loves a bargain. I certainly do. I’ve lost count of the number of things I have purchased off of Groupon and other related sites. And whenever I am in a shop, I always head straight for the clearance section first. So it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that one of my mottos is to “never pay full price for anything”. However, now I am left scratching my head as I try to figure out if this axiom can also be applied to weddings.

Weddings are expensive. A friend told me that his ceremony and reception in Canada cost nearly $25K. And an article I read recently said that the average UK wedding costs in the neighborhood of £20K. That’s a lot of money. It’s the price of a nice car, or a good chunk of a downpayment for a house. Kim Kardashian’s short-lived wedding cost a reported $10 million, but supposedly they got a lot of things “donated” to them in return for the publicity and they may have even ended up net positive after selling exclusive photography rights to the media. But not being Kardashians, Chris and I aren’t going to be that lucky.

So this opens up yet another part of the planning that is unpleasant, but which needs to be done: the budget. The budget is of course tied directly to the other practicalities: size, location, time of year of the ceremony, etc. And neither Chris nor I are prepared to go into debt for what, at the end of the day, amounts to being just a big party.

However, weddings are big money-making opportunities and this fact is not lost on anyone who works directly or indirectly with the industry. Even the local council has a large menu of fees and charges in addition to the fee for the marriage license. If you want to walk down the aisle at the local registry office, Islington will charge you an extra £50. If you want the registrars to come to your venue of choice, that’ll be another £500 please. Sigh.

So I was excited to come across this web page that detailed some cost-saving tips for weddings and civil partnerships: Quite a few of the suggestions were spot on, and affirmed our mutual value systems (and echoed the few cautionary tales from the parents that didn’t fall on deaf ears). If you have to go into debt, it’s probably not worth it. To avoid a trebling of costs, try not to mention the “W” word until after you have received a price from the vendor. See if you have friends who are keen photographers or flower arrangers.

However, a few of the suggestions were really quite ghetto, and offended even my bargain-hunting sensibilities: Book a free makeup session at Boots for the morning of your ceremony. Buy a spongecake from the supermarket and decorate it yourself. Buy fake flowers to use as boutonnieres. I think we can do better than to resort to these options.

So the challenge that we are facing is to do something classy and nice that suits our individual style, but which doesn’t break the bank. We are open to any and all suggestions (and help from any friends who are photographers, bakers, musicians, florists, registrars, stationers, venue landlords, vintners).  🙂




The Traditional Gay Wedding


Over the years I have been to countless traditional weddings where everything follows the set pattern of service, champagne, photos, food, speeches, dancing (in that order). Sometimes it seems that the bride and groom just have to turn up wearing the correct outfits – everything else is taken care of.

I will admit there is something quite tempting about this – everyone involved knows what’s expected and it essentially means your day arrives as a kit with a few pre-arranged personalisations here and there.  Even most of the gay weddings I’ve been to follow this pattern. And they’ve been great – don’t get me wrong – but surely a gay wedding gives you an opportunity to break the pattern? After all, whereas hetero weddings have followed a similar format for a couple of hundred years, gay weddings are a new phenomenon. Can’t we create our own new traditions?

Our friends Simon and Nick had a great moment in their wedding service where everyone stood around them and reached out their hands towards them. It was a Christian symbol of blessing and support, but even Donny recognised there was something quite cool about having ones friends and family making such a visual show of support and affirmation.  Alex and Dave did something similar – asking everyone to bring a stone with them, which were put into a glass jar during the service. Again, it was a symbol of their community of friends and family, and it provided a really great focus for the rest of the day.

It’s these moments of creativity and individuality which tend to stick in the memory long after the rest of the day has faded away. But how far can you push it before a day goes from ‘imaginative and individual’ to ‘just a bit weird’? One service I went to had everyone sitting around coffee tables eating take-away food during the reception – which was fine, I guess, in they wanted their wedding to feel like an informal evening together, but a lot of people didn’t quite get it (including me). Also, some of the more extreme Christian weddings I’ve been to have featured an altar call during the sermon – encouraging friends and family of the bride and groom to come and meet Jesus. Things like that can stick in the mind for the wrong reasons.

I guess the perfect balance is to have enough traditional elements so that people feel comfortable. After all, for many of our guests it will be crazy enough to have two guys tying the knot without us descending from the ceilings on abseil ropes (although that would be quite cool…) But equally we want enough new, creative content so that it feels like OUR day, and it couldn’t have been anyone else’s.

I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

Family Uncategorized

Gay penguins lead the way in China

They’re penguins and they are gay. What’s not to love?


Names Practicalities

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate? That is the question.


I’ll post my thoughts about family issues as they happen, but I don’t want to make this into a blog of woe. I’ve already done that in the past when I documented the end stages of my 14-year relationship with my ex (with whom I am still friends, in case you were wondering). But in this blog I want to be able to share all the interesting things that happen and fun thoughts that go through my head as Chris and I embark on this journey.

So one thought that I had recently, is whether or not we should hyphenate our surnames.

It has become a running joke with some of our friends regarding how awful some double-barrelled names can sound. It’s quite a common thing for posh people in the UK to hyphenate their surnames and the practice came about as a means to preserve the family name when their daughters were married off. But because it is something posh people do, it ends up looking and sounding like people are trying too hard to sound posh when they hyphenate their names, which in turn makes it into something slightly cheap and tawdry, or as they would say out here, “naff”.

That’s not to say that all double-barrelled last names are bad. I personally think they only sound good when you have some level of alliteration. In fact, we are are friends with such notable couples as the Hagger-Holts and Plummer-Powells. But you see, their names work because of the alliteration.

So I was greatly amused when our friends Alex and Dave gave us a card addressed to the “Wong-Dickens”. I tried that name out in my mind, like you would try out a wedding dress or a ring the first time you get it home from a shop. It didn’t exactly roll off the tip of my tongue.


To be fair, it wasn’t bad, despite the lack of alliteration. And it was certainly more genteel than the reverse configuration (“Dicken-Wong”), which just sounds like a punchline to a rude joke. However, it also wasn’t quite “me”, if that makes any sense.

Although I am fully aware that a marriage is like a corporate merger of sorts, I am leery of losing my individual identity. Whereas I am fullly committed to becoming one half of a new unit, I think it is equally important to maintain my own identity as an individual, in part to make sure that I do not forget my past or my roots.

However, the jury is still out; I am leaning one way but can possibly be swayed in another. Maybe some of you can share your thoughts on the pros and cons of double-barrelling?


Family choices and crossing chasms

I am writing this now after having one of the more difficult conversations with my mom that I have ever had. For the past week, the air has been filled with congratulatory overtones from all the friends and acquaintances with whom we have shared the good news of our engagement. Even my brother and sister-in-law, who are fairly religious, were happy to hear the good news that I shared with them today. All has been good in the Wong-Dicken world.

Yet the one black cloud has been with my parents. I first broke the news of our engagement to my mom last week. She had been on my side throughout most of my previous relationship. All 14 years of it. And she was one of the first people I told when that relationship came to an end. Likewise, she was one of the first people I told when I had the offer to move to London with my company. Over the years, our relationship had morphed away from the mother-son model and more towards a strong adult friendship. I was her confidant. And in many ways, she was mine. This is quite unusual in Asian families, but for us it kind of works.

So I received quite a surprise when I shared the news of our engagement with her last week. Instead of happiness or excitement from my mom, what I got instead was a rather cold pragmatic set of comments and questions: “Getting married will make everything more complicated when you split up.” “And what about when one of you gets a horrible disease and dies?” Optimist, she is not. Offensive? Yes, but of course in the most well-meaning and motherly of ways.

Today’s conversation with my mom started off like most of my conversations have ever started off. Ever since the age of 17, when I first left San Francisco to go to college in Boston, I have been in the habit of calling my mom every Sunday evening. It is never a chore, and I usually look forward to hearing her voice. The conversations always start with a little chatter about the weather. And then segues to a discussion about how busy work is. Oftentimes, I’m told some gossip or news about things happening with some of her friends or relatives. And on some rare occasions, there is a little bit of drama too. Last week, the big drama was that there was a mouse in her house. (And I learned this week that a strategically placed gluetrap had done the mouse in one night).

However, this week, I found it odd that the big elephant in the room wasn’t being brought up. So after the usual banter, I asked if she had shared the news with my father. And the response was yes. But barely before she finished the “yes” came the stock response, that while they congratulated me on the nuptials, that they would not be able to come to the wedding because…and here is the kicker…because then the extended relatives might find out that I am gay. I was simultaneously flabbergasted and crestfallen.

Instantly I was brought back to a similar episode over a decade ago, when my brother was getting married. While they recognized my relationship with my (now ex) partner, they were not able to extend an invitation to him for the wedding because…and this was the kicker back then…because then the extended relatives might find out that I am gay. When that comment was first made over a decade ago, I was instantly reminded of where I and my big fat gay relationship stood in the hierarchy of their world. And with the comment from this week’s phone call, again I was instantaneously reminded of where I stood.

The date of the big event hasn’t even yet been decided, but they have already chosen to not attend. Not out of fear of flying (which my mom does have), or even out of homophobia. But because “the relatives might find out.” My first reaction was to give them a big F-U. But of course I couldn’t say that to my mom. So I ended up saying something worse. Something far worse:

“So is this your decision or Dad’s decision?”

My comment of course started a round of the blame game. But I was having none of that. So we ended the conversation with some choice words from me. I told her I didn’t really care whose decision it was. As far as I am concerned, it is their joint decision. And the ramification of their choice is not only that they would miss their younger son’s wedding, but that they have chosen to not respect me, and to not treat my brother and me as equals.

“You have a son who is married, and who has produced two grandsons that you can parade around. And you have chosen to treat your other son like a set of rags that you wear only around the house. You say you love and support me, and only want me to be happy. Those words are so nice and sweet. But when one of the few major milestones in my life comes up, your true feelings become exposed. I am no better than a set of dirty rags to you.”

And with that came a terse “goodbye.” Who knows what kind of drama will come next week?


Initial Plan of Attack

The plan of attack at the moment is:

  1. Figure out how many people we want to invite
  2. Find a venue (or venues) we like that will work for that number
  3. Find a date when the venue is available
  4. Plan some sort of wedding, I guess

We are lucky in that we have no time pressures so we can wait for all the Olympics hoopla to be out of the way before we can do the deed. Currently, the vague idea is autumn 2012 at the earliest.

Key Events

The Proposal

Night Jungle

As we start to tell people our news, we can’t help but notice that all our male friends tend towards hearty hugs and offers of congratulations, but our female friends tend to go in for squealing and an instant demand for details.

So in order to satisfy the requirement for details, here they are:

I’ve been quite up for the idea of marriage for ages, and I have been dropping the occasional unsubtle hint which had generally been met with horrified looks from Donny and accusations of being a Bridezilla. In honest truth (although Donny probably won’t believe me) I had put the idea out of my mind. Especially as if we did go through the whole process of marriage and then decided to move to the US, our marriage would mean precisely nothing in the eyes of the INS.

But then when we were on holiday in Thailand, something amazing happened.

Let me set the scene:

We were outside our little hut which had a balcony that had a view through the jungle out to the sea, above which the moon had just started to rise. We had just finished off the last of a bottle of duty-free scotch we had brought with us (I hasten to point out this was now the fourth night there) and I was just thinking about turning in when BAM! – Donny gets down on one knee and asks me to marry him.

As you can imagine – my answer was a massive yes!

After the necessary hugs and such two thoughts occurred to me:

First: I really hoped we had a similar idea about what this meant.

As it turns out, we do – phew.

Second: What on earth was Donny’s family going to say?

Yeah… you’ll read about that in the next article.

So currently all we know is we want to get married in London (and maybe also do some sort of thing in the States) and we want it to include just enough standard wedding stuff so people feel comfortable, but enough imagination to actually make it memorable.

And the release of a flock of doves – obviously.

Dawn, as seen from Koh Naka Yai