This article was written by Ms Judy Rickard (an american living in exile with her partner) and posted on Saiorelief.
Today I am something I never dreamed I would be - a love exile. Why? Because I am a lesbian. My partner is not a U.S. citizen. American law does not allow lesbians and gay men to sponsor their partners for immigration to the U.S. - but there is no such restriction for men and women who fall in love with opposite sex partners from other countries.
Worse, my country is NOT one of 19 in the world that does allow same sex marriages/civil unions/welcome to same sex partners for reasons of immigration. America - home of the brave and land of the free - has a blind spot when it comes to same sex binational couples.
I cursed the Statue of Liberty as we left the harbor November 5 to cross the Atlantic for six months. Just like the pledge of allegiance to the flag does not really include me and my partner in its liberty and justice for all statement, the full promise of America stops at the door of lesbian and gay couples, especially those with non-citizen partners.
I am writing this from Europe, not from my American home where my partner and I would like to be. For us, this issue has changed our lives dramatically and there is no real end in sight yet. Legislation has been introduced. Senators and Members of Congress have signed on in support. Even President Obama has declared that immigration needs to be fixed. But to date, tens of thousands of couples like us languish in overseas - not American - homes, or live separated from each other in two countries far apart, or have decided to make the hard decision to terminate their relationships - something straight couples don’t have to do.
Please understand this in no way takes away from legitimate immigration issues other people face. There are lots of families separated, lots of spouses waiting in other countries to be united with husbands or wives in America. Even lots of children wait to be united with mothers or fathers in America. But for same sex bi-national couples, the law does not even offer a solution until it is drastically changed - and our issue faces lots of competition from some people and lots of just plain ignorance from most. I am ashamed to say I didn’t really know much about the issue until it became mine.
No American citizen should have to choose between country and partner.
No American citizen should have to choose between country and family.
No American citizen should have to choose between country and career.
Yet I have had to do all three. I chose my partner over my family and career. I have left behind family in my hometown, family in other parts of California and family in other states, including aging parents in Oregon.
I took early retirement from my job of almost 30 years, making me receive a reduced pension each month now because I did not reach optimum retirement age. So now, at a time when my partner and I have increased living expenses, we have reduced income.
The journey to this place in my life has taken twists and turns. It has called me to think about what matters and determine solutions for myself, my relationship and my future. What I have come to understand, more deeply now - in exile - is that where we are in the world does not matter as much in the long run as who we are, what we are and how we are in the world. I believe this now with all my being and I have been sharing it with those I share my soul with, and now with you. But I still would like to be in charge of my own destiny when it comes to where I live and how I live with my partner.
In my case, leaving behind family has been harder than anticipated. Why? Because I have more family now than I used to and I have closer family now than I used to. Even though my parents have been gone for years, I now have new parents. I was adopted as a baby. From 1948 to 1992 I enjoyed a wonderful life with a sister and then her growing family and with my parents, who I cherished. My mother was taken first, with a return of cancer after ten years of so-called remission. Devastated by that, I found that I needed to - and was successful at - creating a new relationship with my father, who I was not as intimate with all my life. He was just very different about personal things than Mom.
From 1992 - 2003 my life with my family took on a new twist - my Dad and I learned to love each other and act with each other in a whole new way and it became a joy in my life. My sister, off on her own journey with her husband, his family and their daughter born to them late in their marriage, was not involved with me much and the new involvement with my father became a huge part of my life - an unexpected treasure that dashed my assumptions about how things would be after Mom died.
But Dad’s life was dealt very unhappy turns with an unanticipated triple bypass, a leg amputation and then blindness and finally three years of bedridden immobility in a nursing facility. Through those years I learned to be there for him in a way that mattered and it became a lifeline for both of us. When he died at the very end of 2003 my life was very different very quickly.
Friends were there - even new friends who became very close friends - and I moved on the path of my life without a partner and without my parents and in many ways without my family. I was trying to shed grief at the same time I was trying to move on. My feet were in jello much longer than I realized.
After some time I began to be more of the person I always thought I was and things seemed brighter. Then I started socializing and enjoyed it. But dating was still not my area of expertise.
Through curiosity and a series of events that could not be accidents, I found out who my birth father was. I took a risk and pursued him. I located him in Oregon, where I had been born, and met him in August, 2004. What a magical thing that was!
First, he wanted to meet me - after not knowing at all of my existence. He took a risk and we met. He looked like me, he acted like me, he wanted to see me a second time after our first meeting. He told me my mother (who does not want to meet me, I learned) was the love of his life. He says I look like her. He never knew she was pregnant. He couldn’t find her when he returned to his hometown after months of logging in the Klamath Falls area. He lost his chance at love with her. And now I have lost my chance to be with him as often as I have in the past. I am exiled from love when it comes to my new family and my original family, as well as my broader family.
That was more than enough excitement for anyone in that year, but two months later, I met my partner Karin (also not an accident, but it seemed so at the time) on a lesbian dating site. We corresponded, talked on the phone, met in person and began our exploration of each other and a future together.
She was British by passport, but German by birth. She had lived in Germany first, then England, Spain, Scotland and France, as well as Florida and was visiting in Oregon when we met. She explained the visa issue she faced and we agreed to abide by her regulations and trust that we could be together.
She continued to leave the U.S. and return to visit. I went to the UK to visit. In 2008 and 2009 we were apart the longest, precipitating our decision for me to retire early. Karin had been told she was visiting too often and would have to leave for more than six months. After living apart for eight months (with me visiting for one month in December/January) we knew that we had to do what was necessary to be together. I became exiled for love with Karin and we are dealing with those consequences now and will be for a long time.
In late 2008 and early 2009 I began working with one, then a second organization to find answers for the same sex binational couple immigration issue. Through them Immigration Equality and Out4Immigration.orgI have met brave men and women who challenged the issue, convinced legislators to help and kept the message in front of the public. I learned of the work of Senator Patrick Leahy and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, who had been reintroducing their Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) legislation for 11 years. Karin and I went to the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on that bill in Washington, D.C. in June, 2009 - the bill’s first big step toward consideration for passage in all those years.
I began to help too. I wrote letters to legislators explaining the problem and sharing my story. I went to meetings and panels on immigration reform and made sure that same sex binational couples were included in the discussion. I met with a U.S. Representative in my hometown who had a pivotal role on the issue because of her committee position. Several of us who face this issue were there. I have known her for years because of my work with LGBT issues in my community.
I met with my local U.S. Representative and told him my story. He and I had known each other a long time and had worked on LGBT issues in the community over the years. Now I had brought him a new problem, a much more personal problem. He acted on it and included same sex binational couples in his legislation called Reuniting Families Act (RFA). Karin and I were there in Washington, D.C. in June, 2009 when he had a press briefing to announce our issue as part of his bill.
Now, I help as much as I can, I continue to wait and hope - from Europe. I watch the online press daily for news of some move for true equality for lesbian and gay couples like mine. I hope that the promise to work on it as part of comprehensive immigration reform in early 2010 is accurate. I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I continue to write letters, post information, ask family and friends to keep the issue in peoples’ minds and donate what little bit of my pension I can for the cause.
Mostly what I hope for is that CIR - comprehensive immigration reform - will include all the fixes that the U.S. needs and will not mire down into a horrible face-off over illegal immigrants and same sex binational couples. In today’s political climate in America, that’s a recipe for disaster, I believe. I do not want any special rights. I am an American citizen. I want what other American citizens who fall in love with a non-citizen have - the chance to sponsor their spouse for immigration. It’s simple - but so hard for us with today’s laws. Karin is not illegal. She has not broken the law. She just wants what I want - to be together and live in our American home. If we choose to go elsewhere, that should be our choice, not the government’s. Let’s hope we see that solution to our current dilemma and we can be with our loved ones whenever and wherever we want. I want to get rid of the word exile from my vocabulary!