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 (http://www.immigrationequality.org/), 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…