Marriage Equality and the Expat Problem


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Partner-in-Crime and I wore white knotted ribbons when we got married. Our wedding was fun – a little kooky and unhinged, but fun – but, the one part that irked me was that we were required by Australian law to have the celebrant say that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” I thought that was a gross thing to say, and we had the celebrant add an addendum after the legal bit that said we “hoped that one day soon all people would be allowed to marry.” Yeah, we got a little activist at our wedding, but truthfully,  it was never far from my mind on that day that I had many friends who did not have the same rights as I’d been afforded.

I cried all morning when I learned of the Supreme Court ruling making all marriages legal across the United States. I cried for the many, many gay friends of mine who must have just felt a little bit more included, a little bit more welcomed. Some of the tears were for friends who are already married but face so many logistical difficulties having to do with being in a marriage that isn’t recognized in every state. And, honestly, I cried the most thinking of my little daughter who will never remember a U.S. where some people are not welcome to the marriage party. I like that U.S. for her. I’d like that Australia for her equally as much.

There is one story that has always stuck with me when I thought about the importance of legal marriage in all states. A playwright I worked with and got to know a bit – a lovely woman, writer, and mother named Karen Hartman – wrote an essay in The New York Times detailing her nightmare scenario of marrying her female partner, then some time later – as many people do – deciding to divorce. Only, she couldn’t because she didn’t live in a state that recognized gay marriage, and the state she married in had a residency requirement for divorce. Her life was moving on, yet she was stuck in a historical marriage contract. From yesterday, this problem is resolved across the United States.

But, what if she’d moved to Australia?

With an increasing number of countries making all marriages legal, marriage equality is now an expat issue. I asked a lawyer friend what the law said about someone in a legal gay marriage coming into Australia. This is what he quoted me:

Pursuant to section 5(1) of the Marriage Act a marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Whilst many couples hold the mistaken belief that they can avoid adherence to Australia’s laws disallowing same-sex marriage, by marrying in a foreign country, s 88EA of the Marriage Act states that a union solemnised in a foreign country between a man and another man or a woman and another woman must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

In other words – no go.
(He also mentioned a bill introduced by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young which called for the recognition of overseas gay marriages, which never went anywhere).

I started thinking about all the problems that would come with being married, but not recognized to be married, and I realized that it would be much the same as it has been for people in the U.S. married in one state then residing in or moving to a state that (previously) didn’t recognize gay marriage. My friend Rebecca has been in just that situation, and this is what she told me:

We got married long before it was legal anywhere here, then made it legal in December of last year. Hassles? Had to file two sets of taxes (joint Federal, single state). Before I could change my drivers license, I had to change my passport, so six months after we were married I still haven’t updated all my accounts with my correct name. We still had to have power of attorney and durable power of attorney paperwork because if it came down to it, someone could deny us rights to make decisions, etc. for each other. Couldn’t even contemplate adoption/foster care because we weren’t single and weren’t married in Georgia.

Not to mention, massive “imposter syndrome” every time I said I was married. Some people were incredulous that we weren’t recognized here, some were openly UGLY about my being married to a woman.

There’s a multitude of paperwork problems that being married, but “not,” brings about. And, frankly, it’s just crap to be married and then made to feel that you’re not. Really, just sit with that thought for a moment.

This world is too global for marriage equality to not transcend borders. Expats need to be able to move freely with the same basic human rights. Denying legal marriages is going to be an increasingly difficult and frustrating endeavor for countries, particularly so-called progressive ones like Australia.

The expat issue is just another on the list of reasons why Australia ought to be next in legalizing gay marriage. I’m talking to you, Tony Abbott. Get on the right side of history, or get out of the way of the global world. The rainbows are taking over.


3 thoughts on “Marriage Equality and the Expat Problem

  1. Kirstie

    I’ve been so very emotional since the decision was announced! It’s amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time, and I have no doubt that Australia will catch up soon. ♥

    1. Cristin Post author

      I know, just a few years ago I could not have even imagined this day, and I’m surprised how swiftly it became reality. Australia is going to have to get in on the party soon, I believe.

  2. Erin of TexErin-in-SydneyLand

    My partner and I were married at the NSW Registry office. My legal witness is a bisexual who is currently in a lesbian de facto relationship. They’ve been together four years. What a terrible thing that this special friend of mine was legally representing me in my union, but by Australian law, has to hear that only a man and a woman is a recognized marriage. For once, the US got something very, very right (finally). I hope Australia will follow.

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