Love exiles take on unfair immigration laws

25th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

Holland championed equal rights with the introduction of same-sex marriages, but when it comes to immigration law, many countries still treat gay and lesbian couples as "legal strangers". Love Exiles is a new foundation in the Netherlands which campaigns for immigration rights for sex-same couples.

Many countries still treat gay and lesbian couples as "legal strangers"

It's a sunny Sunday and about 30 people have gathered to talk and exchange experiences all around one topic; immigration rights of same-sex couples.

There are very few countries where the rights of a same-sex partner are recognised. In the rest of the world "committed partners are for all intents and purposes legal strangers," according to Love Exiles.

In a world where homosexuality is still illegal in many countries, this is unfortunately not a surprise.

The Love Exiles Foundation was set up by Martha McDevitt-Pugh to address the discrimination faced by same-sex couples and their families, especially in the area of immigration.

"I started Love Exiles when I was doing a course on self-expression and leadership," explains McDevitt-Pugh.

"We looked at our lives; what worked and what didn't. I suddenly saw that the fact that I couldn't choose to live in my own country didn't work for me. I was angry about having to choose between my job/home/family/friends and being with my partner. I felt rejected by my own country. I saw that if I didn't do something about it my future was to become a resigned and bitter person."

Love Exiles offers a community form of support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bi-national couples who have had to chose, or are considering, exile in order to live together as a couple.

The foundation also helps to educate the public by bringing the issues facing these couples and their families into the media as often as possible as well as run a comprehensive website with tables of the legal situation for many of the EU countries and links to help organisations.

Martha and Lin celebrate their big day in Amsterdam Photo: Gon Buurman

Some sobering statistics: In the Netherlands, same-sex couples can marry, in nine other EU countries some steps are being taken to open up civil marriage or registered partnership, 16 countries allow their own citizens to sponsor their same-sex partner or spouse as legal immigrants, in 176 countries same-sex couples have no rights to live legally with their partners.

And to complicate things further, even in the US where some states have chosen to allow same-sex marriages, the laws governing immigration are federal – so no luck there either.

Even within the relatively advanced EU, there are five different forms of legal marriage or partnerships; each with differing levels of rights, making the whole process for bi-national same-sex couples a minefield.

Take Jane and Diana, a long-standing US/UK couple who wanted to live together in the UK. In the UK you have to be able to show you have lived together for two years to be considered a registered partner and for immigration purposes. The US was not an option, so where do you go?

"We had to move to Argentina for two years so we could go to the UK," Jane says, laughing. "Being gay taught us Spanish, it could have been Greenland, but they wanted women for different reasons."

The ironic, humorous twist to most of the tales belies some serious heartache and anger.

"I met Lin 22 years ago in Amsterdam," says founder McDevitt-Pugh.

"We were friends for 16 years before we fell in love in 1998. I gave up my job as a senior manager at a software company in Silicon Valley, California, to move to the Netherlands in 2000. I have a big family, my 75-year-old mother, a sister, two brothers, and lots of nieces and nephew in California. I miss them terribly. It rips me up inside not to be able to be with my mom when she goes to the doctor, to drop in for a cup of tea, to hear about her aches and pains and hold her hand."

Another member of the Love Exiles Foundation has a similar story; Kirsten Anderson fell in love with her wife Jacqueline during the Gay Games in Amsterdam in 1998.

Countries that allow their citizens to sponsor their same-sex partner for immigration: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden,
"When my vacation in the Netherlands was over, I had no idea if it would ever work but I knew that I loved Jacqueline and wanted to spend more time with her," says Kirsten. 

"For the next year, we tried to visit each other as often as possible. At the end of September 1999, I decided to take a risk, leave my job as a staff attorney for the Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco and spend three months with Jacqueline in Amsterdam as a trial period.

"Because Holland's immigration policy allowed Jacqueline to sponsor me to live and work in the Netherlands as long as we live together and the United States does not allow its citizens to sponsor their partners, we had no choice where we would live.

"The year after I moved to the Netherlands, the Netherlands government enacted a law authorising same sex marriage. The year I left California, a law was passed stating that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  While I have had my qualms about marriage, I began to see it not only as an expression of my love and commitment to Jacqueline but as a political act."

Love Exiles is for all bi-national couples and operates in Germany, the Netherlands, UK and Canada.

The politics have not escaped McDevitt-Pugh; "It's scandalous that the US doesn't recognise our families and forces us take our talent and education out of the country. The brain drain of same-sex bi-national couples from the US to Canada right now is huge. People from many countries: Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, as well as the USA, UK, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy, contact us because they lack the right to live with their partner and children in their own country."

Jacqueline and Kirsten did marry, as did McDevitt-Pugh with her wife, Lin. Yet all is not happily-ever-after even in this relative haven where an estimated 1,000 love exiles had immigrated over the past 25 years.

"Just travel in Europe for a vacation, and you'll find that your registered partnership, samenlevingscontract, or marriage is not recognised," points out McDevitt-Pugh. "You buy a vacation home in France and you can't inherit as a spouse, you have to pay taxes if your partner dies.

"Will an Italian hospital recognise you as next of kin and allow you to make crucial life-saving medical decisions for your partner? There is no recognition of same-sex relationships in Italy. You can't take your non-EU partner with you to Austria, or your Dutch partner to Mexico, if your company transfers you there. A patchwork of protections is in place, different in each country, and it's a pretty thin blanket in most places."

For more information on the legal situation, contact Love Exiles Foundation/ Stichting Love Exiles at

25 June 2004


[Copyright Expatica 2004 and Mindy Ran]

Subject: Gay, Lesbian couples and immigration

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