I’ve banged on rather a lot about equal marriage. About the importance of having the right to use that word, of having the right to stand up before your friends and family – and God, if you believe – and affirm your love to Mr or Mrs Right, whoever you are. But it’s about more than that. This is the real story of why equal marriage matters.
Some of you may already have been following the story of Wilfried Knight and Jerry Enriquez. Knight was Franco-German, Enriquez was American. They met in London and fell in love. Knight moved to America on a student visa and they shared a house, a life, for six years. In Knight’s own words; Jerry was an amazing partner who i could live with, sleep with, imagining getting old together without fear of aging.
Then his visa ran out. After six years together, he faced deportation. Any heterosexual couple in that position have a very simple way of resolving the problem – they get married. But even if their home state allowed and recognised gay marriages, thanks to DOMA the US federal government does not. And the marriage needs to be recognised on a federal level in order for a spouse to gain residence.
They couldn’t move to France because under French law the foreign partner must be a prior resident of the country, which Enriquez was not. They looked north, to Canada. Foreign nationals – including same-sex couples – can marry in Canada, but won’t be granted permission to live there for that reason alone. Enriquez managed to secure a job in Vancouver and they moved there and got married so Knight could also live in the country under a spousal visa. As Knight explained:
Sadly that is the way you have to think if you do not want to be split up. We basically had to leave the USA like if we were some kind of criminals looking for asylum when in fact we only were a happy couple with a dog just trying to be happy.
When Enriquez lost his job, both their visas were revoked. After almost nine years together, they were about to be split up and unable to find employment elsewhere in Vancouver, Enriquez hanged himself.
To compound the tragedy, he didn’t leave a will. That meant that outside Canada, Knight was a legal stranger to him. Their property and possessions in the US, where they had lived for six years, went to Enriquez’s family. Knight got nothing.
Two weeks after Enriquez’s death, Knight took his own life.
This isn’t an isolated tale. All over the world there are couples being forcibly separated because they’re same-sex. All over the world there are grieving widow(er)s who are neither recognised nor protected by the law under which they live. We’re not talking about Iran or Russia or the back of fundamentalist beyond here, but in the West, in nations that are supposed to be shining a light to lead the rest of the world.
A comment on Knight’s blog perfectly highlighted that, from a Canadian – Mark – with an American fiance who is in the military. He writes that his partner brings up often that possiblity that I may get a knock on our door that he is never coming home from the war. But what legal protection would they have? What rights would Mark have as a partner, a spouse, a husband, were his soldier to die?
The answer is very few fucking rights.
The only way to secure any kind of legal protection is to pay for it. Get living wills, get power of attorney, get trusts set up to protect your property and investments. Spend a bleeding fortune trying to secure all the loopholes that a simple marriage certificate would giftwrap for you. And even if you do go through all of that, there’s still no saying a family with dollars on the brain won’t spend years dragging you through the courts to get their hands on everything you’ve scrimped and saved for anyway.
But none of that will help you if you’re of different nationalities to begin with.
The world is shrinking: anyone who spends any amount of time online these days will know people overseas that they count as friends. More and more, people are falling in love with those they meet on the internet; people who could live on the opposite side of the world. And currently, for most same-sex couples, there is no recourse if they want to live together.
For too long, gay men and women in the west have lived in a political no-man’s-land – our relationships aren’t illegal, but neither are they protected by law in the same ways that heterosexual relationships are. And that simply isn’t acceptable.
This story happens over and over. But one man recently stood up and made a stand. His name is Shane Bitney Crone and this is the story of what happened when he lost the man he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with.
Shane and Tom’s story has now been made into a film. Bridegroom is headlining the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and I for one can’t wait to see it.
This is why equal marriage matters. This is why we need equal relationship recognition. And this is why we need it now.