Gays find a struggle bringing partners into U.S.
As the nation debates proposed legal changes, gays and lesbians with foreign partners say their relationships should get equal treatment.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Immigration Equality: http://www.immigrationequality.org/
After a trip 14 years ago to Thailand, where he met the man he would eventually marry, Bruce MacDonald began searching for a way — any way — for them to be together.
A student visa offered no permanent solution for Suratin Rianpracha, then 27, to live in the U.S., and the possibility of sponsorship by a U.S. employer seemed remote, at best, for someone in the shrimping industry.
MacDonald, who is in his 50s, briefly considered moving to Thailand but knew he wouldn't earn enough as a medical social worker to live there comfortably.
So seven years ago, he relocated to Canada, which granted visas to both men, and they settled in Vancouver's west end.
"I was forced to leave my country but by great good fortune I got to a better place," MacDonald said in a telephone conversation last week.
"I see myself as a Canadian now."
Immigration Equality: http://www.immigrationequality.org/
Largely unheard in the loud, public immigration debate about reuniting families and legitimizing illegal immigrants are the stories of nearly 36,000 gays and lesbians in partnerships with people from foreign countries — couples in an uphill battle for their own form of immigration reform.
Washington state is home to about 700 such couples, putting it among the top 10 states nationwide.
The federal government doesn't recognize their unions, even among those who have legally married in Massachusetts and other countries, because the federal Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
A bill in Congress would permit those who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to petition to bring their partners to this country legally, in the same way straight citizens can petition for spouses who are from another country. Like straight binational couples, they would have to demonstrate the permanency of their relationships — in essence, prove the relationship is real.
But in the past seven years, the bill has been introduced five times and seems to have little chance of passing.
"We refer to them as love exiles," said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a gay-rights advocacy group. "These are not fly-by-night relationships. These folks are buying homes and making careers."
Some 46 percent of them are raising children, she said, citing census data.
So, couples who can't find another way for the foreign partner to be in the U.S. legally — say through a petition from a family member or an employer — say they are left with very few choices.
Some do what MacDonald did, making a life for themselves in a country foreign to them both.
Others relocate to the foreign partner's country, especially when that country has laws favorable to gays, Tiven said.
Film tells story of some
Some live with uncertain status, like Aileen Diaz and Suzie Sayan, whose story is part of a documentary, "Through Thick & Thin," that chronicles the lives of binational gays and lesbians struggling with immigration. There has been no screening of the film in the Seattle area.
The lesbian couple, who at the time the documentary was filmed lived in Seattle's Alki area, have since relocated to Tampa, Fla., which is where their original petition was filed. The only hope for Sayan, a Peruvian native, to avoid deportation to Peru lies in an appeal of her asylum case.
Katharine Ebensteiner of Renton and her partner, Fabienne "Fei" Ruttimann, who lives in Switzerland, don't see any good options for them to live together in the United States.
The women met in 2004 when both were enrolled in a studies-abroad program in Japan.
On the walls of Ebensteiner's apartment are numerous photographs of Ruttimann and of the two women together.
Ebensteiner, 25, who works as a staff technician with a geotech engineering firm, said the relationship is the first real one she's had, and she knows that Ruttimann, 26, who will graduate from college in Switzerland next year, is the woman she wants to spend her life with.
But the two have spent the past two years trying to figure out how to make that happen. "We get no training in high school about how to get your partner into the country," she said.
They are trying their luck with the immigration lottery, a long-shot, luck-of-the-draw system for awarding 55,000 green cards out of some 6 million applications worldwide each year. Ultimately, they believe, they'll have to relocate to Canada.
In the ongoing debate over immigration, she's been surprised to find cases like hers have received no attention. "Whenever I hear a report about immigration on the radio, on TV, I listen closely. ... "There's never any mention of this. It's pretty frustrating."
Living in Vancouver, B.C., these days, Bruce MacDonald pays attention to gay-rights politics unfolding in the U.S. because he wants to — not because he needs to.
He has no plans to return to the U.S. to live.
"I don't feel trapped here," he said. "I have citizenship for both countries and I can go back and forth just fine."
In 2003 when Canada granted gays and lesbians the right to marry, MacDonald and Rianpracha made their bond legal. They are both now Canadian citizens and travel to Seattle three or four times a year to visit friends.
"Vancouver is not that much different from Seattle," MacDonald said. "I miss my mom in Massachusetts the same way I did when I lived in Seattle."
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