Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Lady in the Wheelchair

by Melanie Nathan

I was born and raised in South Africa (from 1956 to 1985) and practiced law there during the apartheid era and when I immigrated to the USA, around the time of sanctions, I truly believed that there was no discrimination of any kind in the United States of America.

Safely seated in my US citizenship, I had no reason to doubt that I would have the right to pursue my happiness and that I would be treated as full citizen in every respect of the law. At the time I was thankful to the US for introducing the sanctions that in essence brought the apartheid government to its knees resulting in the release of Madiba Mandela and the end of Apartheid.

Now my once anti-apartheid stance has come full circle in the US, as twenty four years after immigrating, South Africa has not only ditched apartheid, but now boasts a constitution that specifically protects all its citizens, forbidding discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation; while in that same time period America has introduced the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA, ) and DADT – and has had the gall to resist ENDA and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill, failed to secure equality for its LGBT citizens; indeed a sad irony.

Since the enactment of legislation Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that specifically serves to exclude same sex partners from rights that different- gender spouses have, the US has in fact institutionalized discrimination in a manner that stinks very much like apartheid. President Clinton’s stamp of approval will forever emblazon DOMA and so now that we have President Obama and a Democratic majority, something has to be done to right this wrong.

My fellow activists would probably shoot me down for saying this, but if it is not possible to rid us of DOMA, quickly or per se, there must, at the very least be legislation that seeks to remedy its impact. Immigration is the one area where this cannot happen quickly enough; our ‘de facto (existence) is begging for its de jure (validation.)

Of the 1,138 federal rights and benefits that the LGBT community is denied, the worst (I am biased having suffered this particular form of discrimination) is the one that denies us two fundamental prerequisites to our basic freedoms and happiness:

1. The right to fall in love and live with whomever we choose from wherever we choose;
without impacting -

2. Our right to remain in our homes and Country.

This is the plight of our Binational families; – I estimate now with the increasing use of web based social interaction, at least 54,000 – 90,000 couples impacted by this great, where spouses of the same gender are unable to Petition for the a partner who is not a US citizen or legal resident to remain with him/her or join the other in the USA.

On the lips of every Binational I know and I am sure on the lips of those I do not know, is “How can my Country, the United States of America, in all its glory, allow this to happen to its own citizens?” Our country is in effect causing its citizens to go into exile when “in pursuit of happiness” in flagrant disregard of our own constitution and while we are preaching human rights to the rest of the World we are so grossly at fault within.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act provides a privilege to the foreigner when issuing a visa, a green card or conveying citizenship. It is a dispensation and even an indulgence if you will – meaning that there is no ‘constitutional’ obligation until such time as the immigrant receives the benefit. On the other hand, inherent in the ACT is a RIGHT conveyed to the American Spouse to petition for the foreigner.

The fight for equality under the Immigration Law in the United States, is not about the privilege for the foreigner, but rather about the RIGHT denied the American[i] same sex spouse/ partner. It is therefore clearly an Equality issue more than it is an immigration issue per se.

I write regularly on this topic and am probably being somewhat repetitive in my posts, but I cannot let my thoughts dissolve, only to haunt me the following minute, as it tends to day after day. What bothers me is the inaction, the inaction and also the inaction – the fact that days go by, people age ; and while that happens there are those who are either unable to be with their loved one, their spouse, their partner – unable to be with an ageing or ill parent, living where they do not want to live, leaving their homes, careers for foreign shores, and too many hardships to mention in this short post. These are our American family….

Today on TV (Highlighted by Keith Olberman) I saw a woman who was seriously disabled, trying to express her needs regarding health care reform at a town hall meeting. She was heckled and treated in the most disgusting fashion, by her fellow Americans. For some reason it served as a metaphor for my article today; to my way of thinking omission and inaction is as bad as a bad action. Those hecklers overt in their abuse stand in the same row as those of us who refuse to notice the hardship and pain and suffering of our fellows – we are all catalysts and protagonists for each other’s well being and keeping quiet is tantamount to yelling at the woman sitting in the wheelchair.

We need all of our EQUALITY – all of our rights. Although I usually advocate specifically for UAFA (Uniting American Families ACT,) which seeks to include same sex permanent partners in the IMMIGRATION Law, I would be remiss if I did not note that sweeping legislation – a catch all for equality, an Amendment to Civil Rights Act, the repeal of DOMA is the only real way we will truly classify as fully equal. I pray for that day – but in the meantime must continue with the piecemeal Brigade.
[i] When referring to “American Spouse or Partner” – I include US Citizen and Lawful US resident.

*Blogged by MELANIE NATHAN, CEO of Private Courts, Inc. Consulting, mediation & private advocacy; motivated by injustice, I blog about family law/mediation, politics, news and LGBT equality and anything that ‘tickles my fancy.’ Otherwise blogging as O-blog-dee-o-blog-da. Websites and blogs include:;;

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