The Asterisk

By:  Matthew Nathan

I could hear the anxiety in Adrian’s voice as soon as I answered the phone.

“I just got my birth certificate from Spain,” he said. “They’ve amended it to say we’re married.”

We’re all about shattering stereotypes. Even though half my bloodline is so New England WASP that I practically bleed maple syrup, I’m the one with the more stereotypically Mediterranean disposition (okay, maybe because the other side is Jewish, which is Mediterranean, at least in ultimate origin). I’m louder, I curse at cars, and often yell at the TV when Republicans come on, which scares the dog and makes him fart. Meanwhile, Adrian was born close enough to the Mediterranean itself to toss olive pits in the waves, but drives like my grandmother and internalizes much of what upsets him. Which is why, when he’s visibly agitated, I pay attention. I also try not to yell at Michele Bachmann on TV because it makes the room smell bad.

“The immigration attorneys have already told me to put ‘single’ on all the forms. What do I do now?”

Two years ago, as same-sex couples all across California rushed to the altar (or city hall or the house of that guy down the street who got certified to perform marriages on the internet) before Prop 8 slammed the window shut again, Adrian and I married in his hometown of Alicante. We weren’t expecting the California Supreme Court to rule when it did; in fact, we had been planning the wedding for more than a year. About 15 of our friends and family made the trek from the States in spite of the worst airfares and exchange rate in years, and we were also joined by 45 of his family members and friends from Spain. Spain became, in 2005, the third country (after the Netherlands and Belgium) to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, and the vast majority of the population didn’t blink when the law changed. Still, we were worried about the legality of our marriage back home.

The California Legislature took care of that for us in 2009, passing a law stating that any same-sex couple married out-of-state would be recognized, as long as you married before voters approved Prop 8. That means, as far as the state is concerned, we have all the rights of any married couple – aside from the ones we lose because we live with my mom. But that’s a topic for another post.

Unfortunately, what we need most is federal recognition. We’re what’s called a “bi-national couple,” meaning we didn’t have the sense to fall in love with someone of the same nationality. For a straight couple, this isn’t much of an inconvenience – the whole process, from green card to citizenship, is expedited. For gay and lesbian couples – not so much. Adrian is fortunate that his employer, a major L.A. university, is sponsoring him – but we have to foot the bill. Since he’s single according to the federal government and therefore I can’t sponsor him as the Yank he’s married to, the bill amounts to thousands of dollars in fees both to attorneys and the government (part of the reason we live with my mom… again, a topic for another post).

For the past year, Adrian has filled out form after form and dutifully listed his marital status as ‘single,’ however insulting it felt. We have no idea why the registro civil, the equivalent to a stateside hall of records, noted our marriage on his birth certificate, but there it was: a reminder that our perfectly average lives are anything but controversial in some corners of the world.

I told him to refrain from panicking until he spoke with his attorneys. And lo! -the solution they came up with was one beloved by the legal profession everywhere: footnotes. The line for marital status now read “married*” (with an asterisk). Yes, the application now stated that, while he may indeed be married in, among other places, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, Massachusetts, and even California – we’re really not asking the federal government to recognize us so that, you know, we can live together as a couple. So off the forms went in a certified envelope with me and our seven years together as a footnote.

Really, though, we realize we’re exceptionally lucky. Many of the estimated 36,000 bi-national couples face deportation or move overseas to avoid it. Others live with their non-American partner here illegally, virtually in hiding. A bill languishing before Congress, the Uniting American Families Act, would help, but any action will come too late for us.

And if all else fails, my Spanish is good and it’s not like moving to Spain would be a hardship.

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