Security can mean so many different things to different people, but I think it’s always near to emotion of fear. Security protects you from fear, and from worry. Security means different things to me at different times. In August of 2008 Nick proposed to me in Miami, I was over the moon. I began to come back down to the ground realizing the types of hurdles we faced in our future. For one thing, we had just been skating by on immigration law because Nick was on a visitor visa waiver, but we were running out of time. Each time he came to visit that year, there was always the fear that he would be turned away. The fear I’d feel each time I’d head to the airport and it would disappear the second he came through the gate, and I’d forget about it until the next trip to the airport. Then came the time I visited him in England and I was almost turned back to America, and I just wanted to know we could be together without fear.
Except after the engagement I knew we’d have a new definition of security. I thought, we’ll get married and we’ll never have to worry again! Huzzah! Except, that isn’t really how it works, because you worry where the money will come from for your immigration fees, if you’ll be approved, if you’ll be deported for a speeding ticket, if you’ll forget when you have to re-submit, which countries have the best school system, whose immigration fees/wait times/approval lengths are the best, who has the best health care, the most job opportunities, where to get pregnant. The list seriously never ends.
We have at least the illusion of security, the self imposed mantra of “if we pay the money, and wait long enough – we’ll be okay”. So many couples don’t have that and I get so upset when I hear about bi-national homosexual couples and the tough decisions they have to face. Getting a visa is hard, SO HARD. The easiest way is to marry a citizen, and if you’ve followed this blog then you know that that “easy process” is anything but. So imagine, you’re in a country where you have no legal bond to your partner (likely the reason you’re in this country), and your status still depends on the whim of an immigration officer. Your entire life can be ripped away by a stamp.
When I saw this post I asked twochicksnest if I could repost it. I hope you read this post with an open heart, and to place yourself in this couples shoes. It broke my heart to read their words, because I know only a fraction of an ounce of their fear and their desire for security.
It Puts our Kids in Jeopardy
Steve Boullianne is a U.S. citizen, Olivier De Wulf Belgian. “Of the twelve years we have been together,” Olivier told us when we interviewed them in their San Francisco home, “about eight have been full of questions.”
Where are we going to live, what are we going to do? I need to wake up and know this is my bed, this is where I live. I am isolating myself from the threat now-living for today and trying not to think too far. But I know there is something ahead. There is school for the kids-Laurent starts kindergarten next year. And if we are to move, it is better to do it before he starts school than when he is in fifth or sixth grade.
Olivier and Steve had adopted two young children-Laurent, five, and Patrice, four-jointly under California law. However, they faced a crisis with the looming expiration of Olivier’s work visa, due to run out in 2006. Olivier feared it would never be renewed; after September 11, he came to Homeland Security’s suddenly intensified attention, because of an old and inadvertent overstay from the 1990s which had remained in government records. “Each time I leave the country, I am not sure what is going to happen,” he says. “I am not sure I can re-enter without a problem.”
The two considered moving to Belgium, which at first seemed entirely welcoming-it had opened marriage to same-sex couples in 2003. But then they discovered the catch-a Kafkaesque twist that meant their relationship might be safe, but their children endangered. “We could marry in Belgium,” Olivier explains,
But Belgium allowed marriage with an exception: it did not allow same-sex couples to adopt. So our adoption of the kids will not be recognized in Belgium. If we took our children to Belgium, in ninety days they would become illegal there. They could be deported after that.
This was two years ago. We talked to a Belgian lawyer, and with the lawyer we met the parchet, the institution that tries to figure out how a law will be interpreted. He told us: there is no way to read the law in a way that will allow the kids to be interpreted as yours.
For Steve it is different, he is American and American law should apply. So the children would be his under American law. But Belgium could say they do not want to recognize the birth certificate because there are two men. There is a Belgian law that says that a birth certificate cannot have more than one man or more than one woman on it. If it does, it is nullified, without value. This is to ensure that adoption by gay parents should not be recognized.
Olivier is in the United States on an investor’s visa, having started his own firm. In 2002, he returned to Belgium for what was supposed to be a routine renewal, but because the business had shrunk in the Bay Area’s economic crisis, the U.S. consulate denied the visa on a technicality. Although it was eventually renewed, Steve remembers this as a crisis that forced them to confront their relationship’s fragility:
When we were in Belgium-I guess there are a few pivotal moments in my life, but this was one-I was walking down the street and Olivier calls me from the American consulate and says, “They’ve revoked my visa.” It didn’t even hit me-I said, are we still leaving in ten days, or do we have to wait a few more days? He said, “No, revoked is revoked, they’ve told me I cannot get back into the United States.” I hung up and said, What is this? We’d lived here years, had kids, a house, friends, jobs, an established life; and he said, “We’re going to have to move to Europe.” And I said, does this mean I have to go back to San Francisco and raise the kids and he visits every so often and we live apart, or does it mean I move to Brussels and start my life over? It means a lot to me. To us. And what about the kids? Maybe changing your life and moving to another place might be fun. But it’s not something you want to have forced on you. Or on your kids.
“My lawyer here told me,” Olivier adds, “that at the [U.S.] consulate, I could never mention that my kids were here.” And Steve continues,
That’s the point of the story. The reason you want to stay here-you have a family, kids, a partner-you can’t describe that. All you can say is, I want to work and pay your country’s taxes. Whereas if you’re straight and have kids all you have to do is say you’re straight and you have kids and a partner. And they support that.
Almost a year after we spoke, the catch-22 dissipated. After tense debate, Belgium’s parliament narrowly voted to allow gay couples to adopt. The family still faced having to leave their U.S. life, though, because their relationship remained unacknowledged there. Steve said bitterly:
I think the last time we checked we had spent $30,000 on Olivier’s visas, including flying, and the lawyers’ fees, and all the court costs, just to stay together … I would love for our family to receive the support, the simple recognition, that heterosexual couples do. Instead of having lawyers and accountants fill in the gap for us. But that’s not a possibility for us now.
Olivier concludes, “It teaches hypocrisy to our kids. We tell them a lot about family, responsibility-and then we have to confront them with the reality: our marriage is not recognized here, our adoption is not recognized in Belgium; the world says differently. And the world’s values are not the ones we want to teach our kids.
From a Human Rights Watch interview with Steve Boullianne and Olivier De Wulf, San Francisco, January 31, 2005.
“Now just to clarify, this interview was from 2005. Since then Belgium has changed it’s archaic adoption laws. However, there are still many countries (e.g. France) that don’t allow gay couples to adopt so this story is not so unusual. For more info on adoption laws and gay couples, go here.”
ps. Just wanted to remind you that multiple studies have shown that was is best for children is a stable two parent household regardless of gender.