MY COUNTRY OR MY SPOUSE
By Andrew Jason
My name is (not) Andrew Jason, and my partner’s name is (not) Antonio. Such is the state of America, even in 2007, that if I used my own name, Antonio could lose his job and be deported.
We are registered domestic partners in New York. I was born here, but Antonio is from South America. He’s an accomplished software developer recruited to come here years ago by an American consulting company.
If we were straight, we would have married and, as my spouse, Antonio would have been more or less routinely granted permanent residency. Because we are gay, it’s not so simple. Even if we were married in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, the U.S. government would not allow me to sponsor Antonio’s immigration.
Antonio’s application for an employment-based green card has been mired in our country’s notorious immigration bureaucracy ever since he got here. He’s just gotten the last available extension of his work visa. If there’s no green card by September, he’ll have to leave. I’ll have to abandon my home, friends, and relatives at the age of 63, or abandon the love of my life. Of course, I’ll go with him.
I’ve had two previous relationships. First, I was married for 17 years to a wonderful woman, and we have a delightful 29-year-old daughter. Our marriage ended when I could no longer repress my gay identity. It was a tough time for us, but we got through it and remain very close. After the divorce, I came out, and five years later met a great guy. He and I were together for 12 years, but we grew apart.
And then I found Antonio. For me, our relationship has been a dream come true.
Unlike me, Antonio realized he was gay when he was in high school. He attended a technical college and began working as a software developer. He quickly became proficient and his earnings grew, but he was painfully aware that his career could only really blossom in a First World country like the U.S. So he studied English, to be ready if an opportunity ever presented itself.
Opportunity knocked in 2001 when a small, well-regarded American consulting company made him an offer. He quickly received a work visa and moved to New York. He wasn’t sure how well the company would accept his being gay, so he kept that part of his life private. He’s now glad he did, because it’s become clear that there’s considerable homophobia within his company. If they discover he’s gay, it’s quite possible he will lose his job, and with it, his last chance for a green card.
Antonio was ending a difficult relationship, and I had been alone for two years, when we met online and started chatting. After several months, we met in person. We dated for about a year, and sparks flew. We realized we were in love, and began living together in a committed relationship. Last year, unable to marry, we registered our domestic partnership. We’ve been building a happy, comfortable and permanent life together. Because I retired not too long ago (also from software development), I do all the cooking and most of the laundry and housecleaning. On the other hand, at 41, Antonio is still pursuing his career. We read a lot, go to the movies often, and try to take as much advantage as possible of living in New York. We occasionally visit my sister in L.A., and friends in Palm Springs and Florida. My daughter and her boyfriend live in Boston, and visit us every so often. We’d like to travel more than we do, but Antonio’s work schedule is demanding and somewhat unpredictable.
And now we face deportation.
I know some will say we should just leave – and good riddance to us. But we’re good members of the community. Antonio is a highly skilled professional. I believe I am as worthy a retiree as any other. I looked back over our recent taxes and proudly found that we have paid about $400,000 in the last five years. And even if we hadn’t – how would Thomas Jefferson have felt about allowing us life and liberty, but not the pursuit of our quiet, loving happiness?
There are thousands of couples in our situation – or worse. For many, it would be much more difficult for the American partner to just pick up and leave the country. I’m ashamed and angry that my country lags behind at least 17 others on this issue. Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom all recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes.
There is a possible remedy. The “Uniting American Families Act“ would enable American citizens in same-sex relationships to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration. It failed to pass in the last Congress, but we’re hoping for a better result now that the gavel has changed hands.
If you believe all Americans deserve equal rights and a chance for happiness, I hope you’ll approve when your elected representatives support this bill.
And I hope they’ll hurry. Antonio and I are running out of time.
☞ The bill currently has about 115 sponsors in the House. Under its provisions, same-sex couples would be subject to the same evaluations that straight couples go through to verify authenticity of a relationship.
Which would you choose: love or country?