Death, Taxes, the Green Card Lottery and Amendment One

May 28, 2013

Katherine Thompson writes for LOTL on her experience living under DOMA. Find her earlier experiences here

This spring has been one of several poignant anniversaries for me, and of annual traditions that remind me of the fact that while all animals may be created equal, some animals are more equal than others.

Day 1: April 15, Tax Day

The Ides of April are nobody’s favorite day, but for same-sex couples, the injury of taxes comes with the insult of unrecognized status. It’s not much fun when TurboTax asks whether I was married or single on December 31st, 2012, and then advises me that I “may need to choose ‘single’ on this screen” because my marriage is a “different type of legally recognized relationship.” Ugh. My kindergarten self was onto something when she screamed about life not being fair.

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Different Types of Legally Recognized Relationships - TurboTax® SupportSo I am being advised to lie on my taxes. And then sign them saying that everything is true and correct under penalty of perjury. Till death do us part, with the exception of those times when the government requires us to say we are single. The sanctity of marriage is definitely being protected by not federally recognizing my marriage. Definitely.

Day 2: May 1, Green Card Lottery Check Day

This date may not be as familiar to most readers (and to those of you for whom it is familiar, bless your hearts). But this is the day that Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery entrants can check whether they have “been selected for further processing.” Like so much sausage. For Jodi, for the last ten years, the answer has always been no. So, we’re no longer very surprised when we type in her confirmation details and see this screen:

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But it’s still a letdown. Given that the “green card lottery” is the ONLY path to a green card available to Jodi at the moment, it’s too bad there are only 50,000 per year to go around and about 8 million entries. But since there are quotas by country and by geographic region (no country is allowed to receive more than 7% of awarded visas), she still has a better chance, being from Australia, than being from many other places. In 2013, she was competing with 18,117 other Australians for 1,035 visas that were eventually awarded (5.7%). This is still way better than being from Ghana (1,056,032 applicants, 5,105 awarded, 0.5%), or the Ukraine, with similar figures. I still lie awake sometimes and think about the 22,000 people in 2011 who were told they had won, only to have the status rescinded due to a computer error at the State Department, which regretted any inconvenience it may have caused. Oh yes, I imagine they say, it was inconvenient to have all my dreams dashed at the doorstep of America. I accept your apology, because I accept the things I cannot change. Like being born in the nation where I was born, or with the sexual orientation my genes determined. I’m grateful for the green card lottery—it’s our only hope, if the laws stay as they are—but the nature of lotteries is that most people never win.

Days 3 and 4: May 8, One Year Since Amendment One and May 30, One Year Since My Dad’s Death

It was rough, watching the news last May 8th as I learned that 61% of my fellow North Carolinians had chosen to define  marriage in the state constitution as between one man and one woman (and ban any other type of domestic legal union), denying me a right that would not have affected their own rights in any way. (Same-sex marriage was already illegal in North Carolina, but Amendment One added the ban to the state constitution.) I knew that same-sex marriage referenda had never gone favorably for my cause before, but I still hoped … I always defend North Carolina, wherever I go; I call it beautiful, I describe it as a diverse and in some places progressive bastion within the South that preserves many of the great things about Southern heritage while working hard at dispensing with the worst. But it does not always succeed at banishing bigotry and hate, as I saw firsthand last year.

I was living in Charlotte with my family, caring for my father who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I had already moved to Australia due to U.S. immigration woes, but came back when he was diagnosed. Jodi came with me, lucky to be let in on a tourist visa. When I would walk the dog at night, I would pass so many blue “Vote No” signs and my heart would hiccup with hope. But there was one neighbor who had a “Vote Yes” sign. I would stop in front of their house, imagining the letter I should put in their mailbox (Hi, I live just up the street from you and I just wanted to let you know that my father is dying, my partner’s visa runs out in two weeks, and it would be so cool if you would just vote no on Amendment One because I’m a human being just like you … ), but always moving on. And driving outside my neighborhood was always more sobering—Baptist churches with marquees urging passersby to vote Yes with God, “Vote Yes” signs peppering many more lawns. Probably 61% of lawns, in hindsight.

My dad came out to vote with me against the amendment. It was the last election he ever voted in, and one of the last times he ever went out in public. A few days later we celebrated his 67th birthday. A week after that, Jodi and I left the country for a week for visa reasons. Five days after we returned from the Cayman Islands, my father passed away. It turned out the State Department’s little forced vacation came at a pretty bad time for us. But as always—it could have been worse. It could have been five days later.

One year on, I think about where I am now, and what has changed. Unfortunately, not much seems to have changed politically, environmentally, or in the service of a more just world. My dad would be grumbling about the stonewalling of gun reform, the Keystone pipeline, the Race to the Top. But he would still be teaching, researching, planting trees, doing his part. I’m heartened when I see other states passing marriage equality, and when I see efforts by people who do the opposite of those who voted for Amendment One.  Amendment One’s sponsors and supporters used their power to harm others when there was no affect on themselves, but there are others who put time and effort toward justice that doesn’t directly result in their personal gain. I’m thinking of my friend Adam, who has launched a video project in honor of the anniversary of the Amendment One vote, so that people who voted against it can leave a record of why—a sort of right-side-of-history time capsule. I’m thinking of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who has worked for years on the passage of the Uniting American Families Act, a provision for immigration reform that would allow same-sex partner immigration even when marriage is not recognized. He keeps pushing for it, the lone voice in our representative government who seems to be listening to our small but desperate cohort of same-sex bi-national couples, even when his own legacy as a politician is at stake, even when the Southern Baptists threaten to impede any immigration legislation that “confuse[s] the issue of immigration reform with the issue of so-called gay rights” and even when the Supreme Court can get away with cautioning against equal rights for everyone because the concept is apparently “newer than cell phones and the internet.” I don’t see anyone waiting fifty years to buy a cell phone just to wait and see if everyone else gets brain tumors first. I also don’t think that 10% of the population marrying someone of the same sex will result in 90% of the population getting brain tumors. But maybe we should wait 50 years just to run a few more tests.

Until then—you know where to find me. And it’s not in America. And that’s not by choice.