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Saturday, July 13, 2013

First world problems: Introducing Bob and Paddington

After the euphoria of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling (see below), reality must be setting in for a lot of couples. Here in London, for example, there are many binational couples--one partner from the U.S.A., the other British or from a third country. We have made our homes outside the U.S.; we have lives here. Some of the Americans, though, must always have been waiting to go "home," and will be making plans to take their partners with them.

This is not very romantic (and devil's-advocate) of me, but I imagine not every non-U.S. partner is thrilled about this. Immigration in Western industrialized nations always seems based on the premise that everyone on earth would like to live there. So at the U.S. border, every foreigner is treated as a suspected immigrant, the more so if s/he is from the "global south" (i.e., not the industrialized West). And it seems assumed that all Americans with foreign partners are only living abroad, in "exile," because outdated U.S. law forced them to.

Were there not British (or Canadian or other "first world") partners who said over the years, "Sure, honey, I'd move to America with you, but I CAN'T"? Suppose this is the case for our hypothetical (male) couple: a U.S. citizen named Bob Caygeon, and his British partner, Paddington Bear (as in Bear with me). Is not Paddington saying silently to himself now, "Oh, sh*t. I didn't really mean it"?

Equality only means we now have all the same complications as opposite-sex binational couples. It does not solve the problem of where the jobs are, how far we live from our families, or what degree of cultural difference we are willing to put up with.

If Bob has gotten used to a healthcare system, or a low level of gun violence, or a generous allowance of vacation time, he may not be interested in moving to the U.S. now. If, on the other hand, he doesn't get to see his young (or old) family members often enough, or he's never really adapted to life overseas, he now has the job of convincing Paddington to make the same sacrifices that he has made all these years.

In a way, this is a nice problem to have. It means we are free and equal. It means we will have the same opportunities, and the same risks, as straight people who have fallen in love with someone from another country. We can visit the U.S. as a family and be ourselves at the border. It still doesn't mean we might not have a bad experience or someone who hassles our partner, but it won't be because they're the same sex--it will be because they are foreign.

And, importantly, it will depend on how foreign they are. Does Paddington, for example, look Peruvian, or was he born in Peru? Citizens of the global south, let us never forget, have a harder time doing pretty much everything. Even if they get the chance to travel, it must be hard to be looked at so often with suspicion, of trying to overstay a visa or commit a crime or heaven knows what.

"First world problems" are defined as problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that "third worlders" would probably roll their eyes at. For those Americans, and our families, now debating which privileged country is best to live in, we are blessed to have such a first world problem.

There are over two hundred countries on earth, and most don't recognize same-sex partnerships at all, or even criminalize them. The change in U.S. law is a first world problem for some of us. For other families, it is lifesaving.

Paddington and Bob will appear in a future episode of The Discreet Traveler. Stay tuned!

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