“I can take my dog back to the United States but I can’t take my wife.” It might sound like a comedian’s punch-line but for American Martha McDevitt-Pugh it’s no laughing matter. She married her partner Lin on May 4, 2001, just a month after The Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage. The couple live in Amsterdam because the US neither recognizes their marriage nor allows the immigration of unmarried partners. This is a double bind faced by many same-sex couples and their families. It’s why McDevitt-Pugh set up the Love Exiles Foundation..
“I didn’t choose to be this far away, to abandon my family,” says the native Californian. “I started Love Exiles because I realized that my almost certain future was to pretend to the outside world that I was happy, covering up the frustration and anger at being an exile from my home. Once I realized this, I saw that I could accept my situation and work to change it. I learned to love my life in the Netherlands, and I share with others my situation as a love exile, which connects me with my community.”
Love Exiles is for all bi-national couples and also has chapters in Germany, the UK and Canada. “People contact us from many countries – Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, as well as the US, Switzerland, Italy – because they lack the right to live in their own country with their partner and children.” Only 16 countries in the world allow their own citizens to sponsor a same-sex partner or spouse as legal immigrants. In the other 176 countries in the world, gay and lesbian citizens have no right to live legally together with their foreign partners and are for all intents and purposes “legal strangers.”
Love Exiles not only offers a community form of support to couples who chose, or are considering, exile in order to be together. It also helps educate the public by bringing the issues out into the open since visibility is a major difficulty. That’s why McDevitt-Pugh decided to join 46 other activists, supporters and friends on the Marriage Equality Express – a bus which travelled from San Francisco to Washington DC in early October. It was organized by Davina Katulski, author of “Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage.”
Each day had a theme and on October 7 it was Immigration. A sea of Immigration Equality t-shirts moved McDevitt-Pugh to tears when she spoke at the Gill Foundation in Denver with other bi-national couples.
“I feel like I’m still on the bus,” said McDevitt-Pugh a few days after arriving back in Amsterdam, still exhilarated from the eight-day journey across the heartland of America. “It was amazing to be constantly confronted with my fellow riders who had immigration issues, or had a partner they were not allowed to visit in hospital, or who were not allowed access to the children they had raised. By the end of the trip we all knew each other’s stories and could share them with others. Plus, I have a whole new group of friends who are fighting hard to create a different world.”
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl