This article, which appeared in 1999, was my last column for the Advocate, the gay newsmagazine to which I had contributed regularly for several years.
|A Place We Can Both Call Home
The last time you saw me in this space I was explaining why I was in Amsterdam. Not to confuse you or anything, but I'm now living in Oslo, Norway.
Why? Well, my partner is Norwegian. We met in the autumn of 1997, and the following spring he came to New York City and stayed for the three months allowed by his tourist visa. From there we headed to Amsterdam for a few months. But where could we live together, legally, long-term? Had we been a straight couple, of course we could have married, enabling him to reside and work in the United States. As a gay couple, however, we had no such option.
What long-term legal options did we have? Only one: to register as partners in Norway, where I, as the spouse of a Norwegian national, could presumably obtain residency. When the time came to leave Amsterdam, then, we flew not to New York but to Oslo.
I fretted endlessly over our partnership plans. Deep down, I couldn't believe Norway would let us do it. My better half was mystified by my worries. And indeed it all proved stunningly simple. One day in April we picked up a form at the Oslo courthouse. We filled it out, secured the necessary supporting documents, and within a few days were scheduled for a ceremony.
On May 7 we presented ourselves at the door of a courthouse chamber used exclusively for same-sex and opposite-sex nuptials. A woman met us, shook our hands cordially, escorted us into the room — a large, elegant space with high windows and royal red curtains — and introduced us to a handsome white-haired magistrate in an impressive black robe. He too shook our hands with a smile, then led us to a table covered with something resembling an altar cloth and lit white candles. Facing us across the table, his expression solemn, he read the words of the ceremony slowly and with dignity. They focused on the gravity of our commitment and on our responsibilities to each other and to society. When it was over we all signed the papers and shook hands yet again as they offered congratulations.
It boggled my mind to realize that my partner and I were now, in the eyes of the kingdom of Norway (though not, needless to say, Uncle Sam), a family. (And they didn't even charge us a fee.)
Is this full-fledged matrimony or merely second-class partnership? True, Norwegian uses different words to denote heterosexual wedlock (ekteskap) and its gay counterpart (partnerskap). And, yes, we're denied two rights accorded straight couples: We can't adopt or demand a wedding in the state church (though activists seek to erase these inequities). Otherwise, however, partnerskap is legally identical to ekteskap. On the dotted line, we are not ugift (single) — we are gift (married).
And I'm still not over it. How could I be? I grew up in a society that told me over and over that I didn't deserve this. For me, our experience at the courthouse underscored how vital it is that young gay Americans be able to grow up taking for granted their right to call their lifemates family.
Obviously my partner and I are far luckier than most international gay couples. His homeland recognizes same-sex unions, and I have a job I can do anywhere. Nonetheless, the stresses — and expenses — we've endured in order to live together legally would have torn many couples apart. The logic underlying civil recognition of marriage is that it strengthens social stability; U.S. immigration policy would seem to be driven by a sadistic zeal to destabilize gay families.
In previous columns I've discussed my desire to live abroad. Yet I never meant to stay away forever. If my partner and I were a straight couple, we could move to the United States at any time. We would welcome that option. I'm an American; I love my country; the consistent preoccupation of my writing has been with American culture and society. I don't want to spend my life as an expatriate. Yet current U.S. law offers no choice. I'm determined to do what I can to help change that. In the meantime, I'm grateful that Norway has provided my partner and me with a place we can both call home.
THE ADVOCATE, 20 July 1999