Thursday, November 12, 2009

About my friend Madison Reed

By Christopher Worth

It's a spring morning. The room is drafty with the chill of a slowly disappearing winter. The servants move like ants scattered across the floor in rhythmic preparation. At first glance, all seems chaotic...and then slowly down the corridor a name rises up in whispers. van Eyck is here. The artist briskly enters the wedding chamber of Arnolfini, an Italian merchant. Van Eyck has been called to literally mark an occasion that signifies the merging of two powerful Italian families. The portrait to come out of this event is not just something attractive as a point of commemoration. Van Eyck's painting literally documents the wedding of these two individuals and will stand as legally binding, with all the symbolism of the time that is to be shared between a couple. This wedding did not occur in a grand chapel. It did not require the blessing of an esteemed pope. All that was required to bond these two individuals in legal matrimony was a third party- a witness- and in this case, his signed documentation which is the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait. The year was 1434, and the country was Italy.

Now, in the present day, there are groups of people (groups identified by their gender and sexuality) that are being denied the happiness of marriage that we see in the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait. What is gender? The Oxford English Dictionary says that gender, "In mod[ern] (esp. feminist) use, [is] a euphemism for the sex of a human being, often intended to emphasize the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes." Furthermore, what is sex? The OED has this to say: "Either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions." To call myself gay is to signify yet another subculture that I don't so neatly fit into. The questions that fuel this response have more to do with social rights; though I am gay, does one who calls him or herself "gay" have the right to legally join in matrimony? My initial, gut response would be, "Who would ever want to get married?" Of course, I'm being humorous. I believe that everyone should have the right to marry no matter what subculture they belong to. There was a time even here in America, in fact, that my primary physical identification as a person with a physical challenge would have discouraged anyone from encouraging me to reproduce due to the facts of my physical challenges. The overwhelming assumption by so many is that marriage is tied directly to reproduction. In my mind, that is a heinous and archaic association. Can you imagine what Arnolfini's wife was thinking as the artist skilfully plumped her out, giving the illusion that she was already pregnant to signify her fertility in his recording? The role of any woman at that time was seen as being that of baby maker and housewife. So is the modern woman's position the same as it once was?

There have been homosexuals in the historical record from time immemorial. The identifying labels given to my community have changed over time to become more discriminatory. One is not an artist, a son, a daughter, but is instead their identifying gender/sexuality. This pigeonholes the subculture and from my perspective has caused many young men and women to pigeonhole themselves into the extremes of whatever their gender or sexuality identifier calls for. They are responding, as we all are responding, as though gender and sexuality are brands- as if we can label ourselves as Abercrombie and Fitch or Gucci. When pushed to extremes, people respond in the extreme, and although the "character" of homosexuality is more widely accepted in mass culture than ever before, I equate it to the singing and dancing of the African American during one of their highest points of exploitation: the 1920's and 30's, with the advent of jazz and the wide use of blackface in entertainment. So the question is, "Where is the shackle the tightest around the body of this subculture and what will break this shackle?" A place to begin is giving my people legal rights possessed by all other people in the United States.

Questions about what legally binds two individuals are alive with fervour in the halls of wherever Americans gather. On their lips is conversation about gay marriage. The idea of this kind of union is close to my heart in that I am a part of this community being discussed. Being questioned is the validity of marriage within constitutional right. Homosexual unions are not recognised by the majority of states in this country. This past week, in fact, voters have overturned the right for gay marriage in Maine. For what it's worth, this article is my two cents on the matter. For those who argue that marriage is a sacrament governed by the church, I simply say that it isn't exactly true. In this day and age, as it hasn't always been true even in the most dogmatically Catholic countries of the past, one does not have to be in a church to be considered married. There has long been the fact that one can get married in the eyes of the state, in front of the justice of the peace, and even legally be considered married after the passing of time in many states in the Union. So, the sanctity of marriage is bound only by a single very thin thread of truth. I encourage all people to support our forefathers at the foundation of this country when they said "Separation of Church and State." One cannot govern the other, but of course we all know it does. That brings me to the story of Madison Reed.

Madison Reed and his partner deserve the same legal rights as any other American. Tragically, these two men are separated by oceans of distance and culture. I have known Madison for 7 years. We met while I was a student at Marshall University here in Huntington. Madison immediately opened up to me and became a mentor in a time where I was defining so many things about myself. He is a proud man. This pride has to do with the fact that he has seen oppression and has come out on top. He has taught me to look for the building blocks of my pride in an ability to show understanding to all people, even those who may not even try to understand me. Madison has run a business, been a mentor, and in that a positive force in Huntington. He deserves to be united with his partner, Dzmitry, not through just some political or economic union. For Madison, relationships have nothing to do with those two things, but they have everything to do with the spiritual landscape of our society; and for him, Dzmitry is a unifying force and when they are finally brought together, it will be adding fuel to an already dynamic spirit in Madison Reed.

The problem is this: Under current federal law, gay or lesbian American citizens or permanent residents like Madison who have foreign same-gender life partners or spouses are given no legal mechanism to bring their partners to the United States to live together as a family unit, since they cannot marry, and cannot therefore meet the overriding federal definition of marriage, which states that a marriage must be between "one man and one woman." Under U.S. immigration law it is only an American who is legally MARRIED to a foreign spouse according to the federal definition, or intends to marry within 90 days after the arrival on U.S. soil of the fiancé, who can petition to the U.S. Immigration authorities on behalf of his relative, for the issuance of a family-based visa for his spouse or fiancé to enter the United States. Since the family-based immigration visa benefit is tied to whether a marriage or family relationship exists between the American applicant and his foreign beneficiary, bi-national couples of the same gender fail to meet this qualification, and cannot receive a family uniting immigration visa. Being married in a state that has legal same-sex marriage will not help, because to receive the federally conveyed immigration benefit, the couple must meet the federal, not state, definition of marriage. So Gays and Lesbians are left out in the cold with absolutely no possible way to live in the United States with their legal spouses or life partners. Even if they are legally married, the foreign spouses must leave the United States after their student visas or tourist visas expire. Their relationships are invisible, non-existent, to the federal government. These Americans are hopelessly barred from any means to sponsor their partners to receive an immigration visa. They are forced to spend their lives apart in two countries, go into exile into a third country, or give up and abandon their relationships. This has never been true for heterosexuals. Federal immigration law has always allowed any straight American citizen or permanent resident to sponsor his foreign partner to move to the United States, get a green card, and get married and live happily as a couple.

The Uniting American Families Act of 2009 (H.R. 1024, S. 424) is a bill in Congress that makes an exception in U.S. immigration law to allow Americans in same-gender bi-national relationships to bring their foreign partners to the United States to live with them as heterosexual Americans can do for their foreign spouses or fiancees. Americans like Madison, in bi-national relationships with their foreign partners, need our U.S. representatives in Congress to throw their support behind The Uniting American Families Act. The bill currently has 137 sponsors in the House, and 95 in the Senate. To date, there are no sponsors of the bill from West Virginia.

Comparatively, we have made great strides when weighed against times past, except that we are living in the now and we have so much opportunity within the fabric of our changing American landscape to make swift, strong, historical changes which will reunite what at one time made people breathless with wonder when they took in the great experiment called America. The homosexual community is not going away. We are here to stay and stand strong, and in our community we still hear Liberty as she cries "bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free..." Until next week!

Original story from

The stories of bi-national same-gender couples from


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