Brian Plumridge - Winner, 2013 Award for Excellence & the Best Achievement in Radio & Online Journalism, Liverpool Hope University.

Runner Up, BBC Postgraduate Student Journalism Innovation Award 2012


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Civil rights on trial in divided America


Michael Roach
This is a story of inequality in the United States. Inequality that has weighed anchor and sailed into British waters. This is a story that took me to Parliament and to Capitol Hill looking for answers. This is a story that starts with just one man's suffering, and unfolds to reveal thousands of British citizens at risk in America.

My story begins on the banks of the Mersey. Michael Roach is an ordinary man from Liverpool. He is an actor and directs stage productions. He has caring family and friends. He doesn't break the law. A-level educated, Michael Roach is your everyday twenty year old man going about his life. But since 2011 Michael Roach is no longer allowed into the United States. Why? Well, Michael thinks it's because he's gay.

The Defence of Marriage Act - often simply known by the acronym DOMA - is the law Michael Roach believes is preventing him from visiting his partner in the US. DOMA is a federal law that refuses to recognise gay relationships. Michael thinks that intolerance has found it's way into immigration policy to stand between gay couples.

Crossing the Atlantic

Britain and America have an agreement over travel. The Visa Waiver Programme allows citizens of both countries to travel across the Atlantic and holiday for up to 90 days without a visa. As long as you don't spend more time abroad than at home, you can travel freely between the two countries as often as you like. And that's what Michael Roach was doing.

In the two years running up to August 2011 Michael obeyed all US immigration rules and was able to visit America seven times, spending seven months in the States with the man he loves, Carl Barlow. Carl is a 30 year old medical student living in Tennessee.

With his reasonably generous student loan, whatever money Michael can save from doing work in the UK, and with the support of his family, the couple can live within their means without being any burden on the US taxpayer for the duration of Michaels stay.
Together - Michael Roach and Carl Barlow

Carl is working towards qualification as an anaesthetist, and coupled with his commitment as a parent he has limited opportunity to visit the UK.

So, why wont US immigration let Michael visit Carl? On his last trip to the US in August 2011 Michael was told - even though he had not broken any immigration law - that the number of trips he was making was excessive under the waiver scheme. In order to visit again he would need a visitors visa.

That visa application cost Michael a total of £150 as it needed to be submitted to the US Embassy in London, where every applicant is required to be personally interviewed by a Consular Officer. Following his application and the interview - in which it was made clear he intended to visit his partner Carl - the visa was denied.

Michael maintains that the unofficial reason he was given was that federal law doesn't recognise his relationship with Carl, and that there is no prospect of any person in the US having a same sex relationship formally recognised. Put simply, if Michael was in a straight relationship he argues the concept of co-dependence would be recognised, and he would be allowed a visitors visa or a fiancé visa.

Michael Roach explains why he feels he is the victim of discrimination


Distressingly, having been denied a visitors visa, Michael is not allowed to fall back on the waiver scheme and is barred from entering the United States. His only hope is paying the visa fee again and again, and visiting the US Embassy repeatedly, where another Consular Officer will make another decision that is based on the same facts he has already presented. A decision that will in any case be clouded with suspicion that federal law is influencing visa decisions and leading to discrimination.

Michael's appeals to the Department of Homeland Security have been met with a singular response - apply again for a visitors visa. But that advice has also been coupled with the suggestion that he should perhaps leave re-applying for a year while he gets a permanent job, credit card, enrol in college, even a wife and child. In short, give the immigration people evidence to believe Michael will only be a visitor to the US and not an illegal immigrant.

DOMA exists to define marriage and to oppose recognition of gay relationships in law. That law prevents immigration officials from entertaining any possibility of a allowing a gay person to enter America to settle and live with their partner as a legal resident. If such a law exists, is it too far fetched to believe Michael, and to believe that even as a visitor he wouldn't be welcome?

It was a big mistake for Michael to reveal details of his sexuality

I spoke to other gay people and asked for their reaction to Michaels predicament. Posing questions on Twitter, I heard from nervous people who are continually engaged in an immigration game of cat and mouse to see their partners in America. Afraid to be identified, they say it was a big mistake for Michael to reveal details of his sexuality and to be honest about his reasons for travelling to the US. But that's not the full picture. I've also been told the opposite by gay people such as Karin Bogliolo. I heard how she had been allowed into America but is having to fight for the right to remain. However, one thing that I have consistently heard from US and British citizens I've spoken to is that the law in America regarding gay couples is not fair.

With unanswered questions and a mixture of experiences shared with me, I approached the US Embassy in London to ask them directly about Michael Roach's visa application. I also wanted to know if DOMA was influencing their decisions and preventing gay people from travelling to America. The embassy press office replied, saying "I cannot comment directly on Mr Roach and Mr Barlow's case. We are never able to comment on individual cases." However they did agree to an interview to talk about visa policy.

I was told that entry to the US would not be denied simply because of sexuality, and that consul staff look at an individuals circumstances, with particular focus on the applicants links to their home country. The extent of those links is then used to determine whether there is a risk of someone remaining in the States illegally. I told the US Embassy 'the perception of the gay community is that they need to be careful not to say that they are gay, they fear that if they say that on visa applications it will be held against them.' Visas Branch Chief William Laidlaw responded to say he hoped that more could be done to convince people this was not the case. The parts of our interview relating to visa policy can be listened to here. Mr Laidlaw was unable to comment on matters of law that would require a statement from Congress.

William Laidlaw, Visa's Branch Chief, US Embassy London talks about visa policy

 
The Defence of Marriage Act - DOMA

DOMA, the law that I'd been hearing in conversation time and again since first speaking to Michael Roach, dates back to 1996 during President Bill Clinton's administration. Section 3 of this legislation sets out the federal position that they will not recognise gay marriage saying "the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

Fast & furious - DOMA explained in 90 seconds


Whether Michael and Carl intend to marry right now is not the issue. The greater issue is that in federal law gay couples cannot enter into a permanent relationship that is legally recognised.  If Carl and Michael decided tomorrow that they wanted to go beyond being partners who occasionally visit each other, and commit to living together in the US as a couple that would not be possible.

Carl & Michael relaxing on holiday
While the federal government says it wont recognise gay couples as a singular legal entity, individual states have decided to give their legal blessing to gay marriage, creating mounting political conflict. At the moment seven US states have passed law to allow gay marriage. New York is one of them. So, for example if you live in New York you can get married, but the federal government wont afford you any rights to benefits and pensions that are automatic in a heterosexual marriage. More alarmingly, the government wont recognise you as next of kin if your partner dies. If there are any children in your marriage the federal government wont recognise you as having any parental rights in respect of step children. Health insurance and pension benefits from employers are also denied.

16,000 British citizens affected

Looking beyond Michael Roach's case and whether or not DOMA is having an impact on visa policy I started to see a pattern of gay British citizens either living in the US or hoping to make a life there with American partners. It didn't take long to work out that if there's hundreds of thousands of British people living in America then there will be a sizeable gay British population living in the US. In fact that population is in the region of 16,000 people**.

Not just an American issue. The US is home for many British citizens*
Those thousands of Britons are sandwiched between prominent opponents and supporters of DOMA. The most notable opponent and critic of Proposition 8 - the law created to outlaw gay marriage -  include President Obama. In 2009 the President said of Proposition 8 "When you start playing with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that's not what America's about. Usually our constitutions expand liberties, they don't contract them."

Democrats and Republicans divided

Critics of any amendment to DOMA tend to come from the Republican side of the political divide. They argue that no state should be forced to recognise gay relationships and that DOMA protects individual states from having a federal position on gay marriage forced upon them. The Republican position also embraces the concept of protecting morality and tradition, with presidential hopeful Ron Paul stating in February 2011 "The Defence of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 to stop Big Government in Washington from re-defining marriage and forcing its definition on the States. I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and must be protected."

Since February 2011 the Obama administration has stated that DOMA is unconstitutional and that they will not seek to defend it in court. But the President doesn't have the power to repeal, so DOMA remains law and it continues to be perceived as unfair and legitimate in varying weights and measures.

In April 2011, Democrat opponents of DOMA attempted to introduce the first in a number of Acts designed to amend the existing law. The Uniting American Families Act if enacted would create the concept of a 'permanent partner'. Basically, that would give gay couples the same rights as straight ones.

The struggle between modern Democrats & traditional Republicans
The first step was to get judicial approval, and in April 2011 the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 8 in favour of the Act. However, there is something important to note about the Judicial Committee process- all those in favour on the Committee were Democrats. All those against were Republicans. This is a difference of political opinion that extends into the House of Representatives where Republicans hold a sizeable majority.

Once a bill is presented to the House of Representatives successfully, changing law needs a two thirds majority in any vote. But as mentioned, the House of Representatives is dominated by Republicans who have fifty more seats than the Democrats. Therefore, even though DOMA has been described by judges and the President as unconstitutional the chance of either the Uniting American Families Act, or the immigration policy reforming Reuniting Families Act being passed into law without a Democrat majority are slim.

DOMA on trial

In addition to the political debate, the judiciary is becoming increasingly involved. In February 2012, in the case of Golinski v OPM, Judge Jeffrey S White made the point that just because law has been passed, it doesn't make it acceptable if that law is based on prejudice. In finding for Golinski in respect of rights to shared federal health benefits, Judge White stated that article 3 of DOMA - the part that deals with same sex marriage - is unconstitutional, adding "Prejudice, we are beginning to understand, rises not from malice or hostile animus alone. It may result as well from insensitivity caused by simple want of careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves."

In the absence of a political solution and with a growing tendency for individual cases to be settled in court, it occurred to me that there could perhaps never be a political answer with the courtroom being the only place to resolve conflict. I asked Professor Bill Jones of Liverpool Hope University whether that was a possibility, and he feared that could indeed be the case.

Professor Bill Jones offers an insight into US politics and the forces at play in the legal process

 
Rarely has an issue so deeply divided Congress, with Democrats and Republicans standing fast in their trenches with no common ground in the bleak no man's land that lies between them. Both sides have laid claim to the moral high ground. The President stands at the head of his Democrat legions knowing he needs numerical superiority to defeat the massed ranks of Republicans. Come November, Obama may have those troops as the Presidential election promises a shift in Congress to redraw the political battle lines in favour of the victorious incumbent. Some will say this could be Obama's finest hour and a chance to stand alongside the nations greatest advocates of civil rights. Others will warn this is a crusade that could be described as a charge of the enlightened brigade. Nothing more than an ill advised attempt to undermine the will of the people that will be rightly punished on polling day. Watching the presidential campaign unfold gay couples have learnt to be patient and optimistic. 

Britain to intervene

However, patience and optimism don't guarantee that law will change or that politicians will enter into meaningful discussions to find that common ground. Whether change is appropriate in America is for the people and their elected representatives at Congress to decide. However, as British citizens are affected here and in the US, dialogue needs to be opened and the impact on our citizens needs to considered. With that in mind I approached Michael Roach's Member of Parliament Stephen Twigg MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education. I presented the facts of his case, spoke of his fears and revealed the bigger picture regarding the gay British population in the US and how their rights needed to be considered.

Mr Twigg has various concerns regarding US policy and the British governments role in ensuring this country protects and advances the rights of the 16,000 British gay residents. Answering questions about US foreign policy he highlighted how the current administration is demanding a better record in respect of sexual equality from countries that hope to receive aid and development support from America. That's a position that Stephen Twigg considers to be contradictory when compared to the USA's current stance in respect of gay couples in their own country.

Whilst acknowledging the challenges of immigration policy, Mr Twigg believes the US is overreacting in Michael Roach's case, as he is only asking to visit America, not to live there. Michael's case is now going to be raised with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and with the US Ambassador. Looking at the bigger issue of protecting the UK ex-patriot gay population in America, Stephen Twigg said 'An important part of the responsibility of the British government is to look after the interests of British citizens wherever they are around the world, so I think its absolutely right to say that the thousands of gay British citizens who live in America should be afforded protection by the British government. They should also be afforded protection by the American government.'

Stephen Twigg MP, gives his opinion on DOMA and the impact on British citizens


The issue of DOMA and equal rights is no longer a matter solely for the United States. Now the British Government will be examining Michael Roach's case and looking to America for some answers about the way they are treating not only him, but the 16,000 gay British nationals living in their country.

British and gay in America

One of those sixteen thousand people is Karin Bogliolo. Karin is married and lives with her wife Judy in California. Before finding a new life in the US six years ago Karin's roots spread wide across England's green and pleasant land. As a child and then teenager she called Devon and Northamptonshire home, finally moving north of the border to Scotland as an adult, where she remained in the fragrant shade of hawthorn blossom for over twenty five years. A lifetime away from the tranquillity of the Highlands, in March 2012 a test case green card application has been submitted to US Immigration requesting residency for Karin and federal acceptance that she is legally married to Judy. Encouraged by their attorney, the prominent gay rights litigator Lavi Soloway, if Karin is granted residency it will be a landmark decision. However Judy and Karin fear they will be rejected with DOMA and federal law again being cited as the immovable object that bars their way.

Remaining optimistic regardless of the outcome, Karin Bogliolo told me about her struggle to remain in America, being detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and how as a British citizen abroad it hadn't occurred to her that she could expect any support from the British government.

Karin Bogliolo - one of the thousands of British citizens living in the USA


From the comfort of my own sofa, armed with coffee, scraps of paper and a calculator I flicked through facts, figures and research to create the demographic dilemma that is the 16,000 British gay nationals living in America in an unequal society. Speaking to one person caught up in this transatlantic tale of love, politics and law has become a lesson in social orienteering. Plotting a route from one couple to the next, faceless statistics have become people with stories to tell. Many of the people I found aren't like Karin Bogliolo. They're not part of the 16,000 ex patriot gay community. They are part of a dark mass of countless couples who remain divided, unable to live with their partners in America.

DOMA: the number of British and US nationals kept apart is unclear
The lack of political support from the British government, or knowledge that they could do anything to help them was a theme that was echoed by all the couples I spoke to. However, the idea that Britain could have some say in shaping law in America was met with some hope. Phillipa, whose partner Inger lives in Colorado, told me 'I think it could be fruitful for the British government to step up the pressure on the US to make their equal rights laws come into line with the UK.' 

Other couples told me about their hopes and fears, allowing me to share them with you. Where requested, I have used false names to protect the identity of people who would rather not be identified

Claire in Cambridgeshire has been married to Carrie in California for six years. She lives in fear that she will be prevented from entering the US now Carrie has been told she can't visit the UK again. That happened after only two trips. Even if Carrie could live in the UK, having a daughter in the US ties her to America. With infrequent visits the only way to make sure she isn't refused entry to the US Claire is having to come to terms with barely knowing her wife's child. Looking to Westminster Carrie wants to see the government 'stand up for rights of their citizens, publicly denouncing DOMA and the undue hardship it creates.'

Katie and Gina are from Northamptonshire and California respectively. Gina was detained for 24 hours and deported on her last visit to the UK. Immigration told her that - at 37 - she was too old to be in a long distance relationship. Rather than continuing to visit each other raising the suspicions of border agents, the couple decided settling in Britain would provide the best escape route from DOMA. That option has been prevented because they cant prove that they were a couple in America, where they lived together for two years. During those two years in the States Katie was a student, and was not allowed to have joint bank accounts or other ties that UK immigration need to see as proof that a genuine relationship exists. Katie is now worried she could be stopped from visiting the US and the difficulties they have experienced over the last five years will escalate. Describing the British government as 'not helpful' Gina holds faint hope of any political intervention by the UK to influence the DOMA debate, adding  'Its difficult to believe that the British government would be able to do anything directly to help a UK citizen in America.’

Coming full circle from starting this story with Michael Roach in Liverpool, I found another Liverpudlian  - 'CJ' - who is in a relationship with Tammy from North Carolina. As with other travelling partners CJ has encountered warnings about the frequency of her trips to the US. Echoing the concerns of other couples I had heard CJ thinks 'the UK government needs to push the US to respect its citizens.' Tammy, an IT professional, summed up her dismay saying 'the US government punishes it’s own law abiding hard working gay citizens for having fallen in love with someone from another country.’ 

CJ promised to put me in touch with other couples in the same situation. Other British citizens who claim to be unfairly treated by America. She remains sceptical and has 'severe doubt' that the UK government will do anything to help Britain's here or in the US.

Graham and Nick left their life in Florida behind and returned to the UK so they could live as a couple, and enter into a civil partnership after being 'forced into exile by DOMA'. Six years later and with no change in the law Graham welcomes the idea of the British government intervening now - 'We had no idea that contacting the British Government would help us in any way. If we were able to find any help that would assist us in returning home to the US, then we would gladly ask.'

The Home Office states that it is the duty of the government to use its influence globally 'to change culture and attitudes and promote equality'. This is an opportunity for that sentiment to be tested and for the extent of that influence to be gauged by the British citizens who have made America their home, and by those wanting to be with the partners they love living peacefully in the land of the free.

I never want anyone to be torn apart from their loved ones

Congressman Mike Honda
Looking to the US one last time Congressman Mike Honda shared his thoughts with me. Talking about his youth and the hardship of being from a Japanese family in WWII America, he explained how he is committed to helping his own constituents -Karin Bogliolo and Judy Rickard - as well as supporting change that would benefit thousands of gay British citizens affected by US law. 

"As a person who was separated from family members in internment camps during my childhood, I never want anyone to be torn apart from their loved ones just on the basis of who they are. I proudly sponsored H.R. 1796, the Reuniting Families Act, because it not only reunites same-sex couples, but also protects the civil rights of LGBT individuals and ensures that they are treated equitably within our broken immigration system. No matter how difficult it will be to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, I know that one day we'll be able to reunite couples like Judy and Karin, and countless other British LGBT individuals separated from their loved ones."

Congressman Honda didn't say 'I have a dream'. I half expected him to. I'm guessing he would have been embarrassed for me to suggest that choice of words. But privately, sitting here, writing the last few words of my article and pondering the contents, I couldn't help but wonder if like me, they'd crossed his mind too.

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What do you think? Should the British government be lobbying the US for change? Do you support Democrat demands for reform, or do you believe Republicans are protecting tradition and the sovereignty of states? Add your comments here and join the debate on social media site Pinterest by clicking on the image below.

http://www.pinterest.com/brianaplumridge/gay-rights-an-issue-for-the-us-and-uk/


*Statistics from the following sources - National Survey of Sexual Attitudes And Lifestyles (NATSAL) 2001, Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Public Policy 2011, Institute for Public Policy Research 2006, The US Census Bureau 2012, US Census figures 2000.

** 16,000- the number of gay British nationals living in the United States. In 2006 the Institute of Public Policy Research stated 678,000 British citizens lived in the USA. Of that 10% were up to 24 years old. That group includes not only young adults, but babies and children too. Therefore, ignoring that 10% I was left with 610,200 adults. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) surveyed 11,000 people in 2001 and found 2.6% of men and women in Britain had been in a same sex relationship in the last 5 years. Therefore, based on that it is reasonable to say that 2.6% - 15,865.2 people - out of 610,200 British adults in the US, are gay people. Having ignored a sizeable percentage of adults under 24 to avoid also counting babies and children it is reasonable to round this figure up to16,000. It is generally held that there are more gay people than statistics show, because people are reluctant to tell the truth about their sexuality for fear of discrimination and the like. However I preferred to underplay the numbers than to be open to criticism that I was exaggerating.

Photographs of Carl Barlow and Michael Roach together (c) have been used with their permission.

US Embassy logo used with required credit - 'U.S. Embassy London image'

Official portrait of Congressman Mike Honda (c) reproduced with permission and with the appropriate credit  from Flickr congressman_honda

All other photographs, graphics and the animation are (c) of Brian Plumridge.

28 comments:

  1. Things will get better but I don't forsee it happening before 2013. We need Obama re-elected with a Dem congress and then I believe the Respect for Marriage Act will pass, repealing DOMA in it's entirety. The other option is the Supreme Court. If they take the prop 8 case and rule Doma section 3 unconstitutional, this would allow same sex immigration if couples were married. However, it deals only with sec 3, not sec 2, the full faith and credit clause so no-one quite knows what will happen in states that currently ban same sex marriage. The full faith and credit clause forces states to recognise marriages that were performed in another state but are outside of that states rules on marriage, such as the marriage of first cousins. After Loving vs Virginia, it forced states to recognise interracial marriages even if the law forbidding it was still on their statutes.

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  2. Excellent contribution Cathy. Thanks for adding some good quality information. Feel free to stop by any time and add other comment, and hey, ask your friends, family, and anyone you know to do the same.

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  3. Mike I still cannot believe the so called "land of the free" where people moved to escape persecution and discrimination are still doing this. They are a hypocritical joke and it needs sorting out. I can not forsee any change in the near future mate. I am sorry.

    To quote the last two lines of their national anthem,

    "And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

    They should live by their virtues, yet they do not. While Britian welcomes anyone with open arms the US will ignore their own original beliefs.

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  4. Hi Paul, thanks for your contribution. I will be adding to this article over time so check back every now and then. Today, I've added some statistics about the population of the USA. Still working on getting Congressman Jerry Nadler to talk to me and always looking for contributors to have their say.

    Regards,

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  5. Still working on getting a Congressman to talk to me from the States, but today Mike's Member of Parliament, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Stephen Twigg (Labour, West Derby, Liverpool) has agreed to an interview on 23rd March.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  6. As you will have noticed the interviews with Stephen Twigg Member of Parliament for West Derby, Liverpool, and William Laidlaw from the US Embassy are online.

    I'm now considering using some other info about how this subject matter is now overspilling into popular culture, literature and art...

    Also, still working on getting a big interview with Congressman Jerry Nadler...

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  7. I totally understand the hypocrisy of the U.S. when they want to point fingers at other countries that discriminate against gays and say.. no no, no no, you shouldn't treat people like that, they have their rights too.. all the while turning a blind eye to the discrimination and pain it is causing in the lives of it's own citizens. Indeed, this is supposed to be the land of the free, but obviously they don't mean EVERYONE, just those that fit a certain criteria. The great hope I have is that less and less youth are seeing it the same way as the older generation and are less discriminatory. And in this day and age, it is mostly the older generation that is trying tooth and nail to hold on to their old ways of thinking. It is taking time, but eventually I know with near 100% certainty that the scales will shift and we will one day be saying... remember when gays were so discriminated against... and of course as with blacks, there will still be a pocket here and there of discrimination, but for the most part, we will win. I'm claiming that. And I'm standing firm on that hope.

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    1. P.S. I also realize that people tend to use religion to keep the government from changing its laws. I recall a legislator openly saying once in new york that he didn't vote for the right for gays to marry in NY because his religion forbade it. The same as Santorum who says his religion is a reason for this or that... we are to keep religion and state separate, but that only counts if it affects them personally I guess. Not everyone is Catholic.. you know. Perhaps it is time we started calling them on the fact that state and religion should be kept separate. And if they can't abide by this, they should not run for office. They say we are pushing the gay agenda on them, all they while they spout their religious beliefs on us in the name of politics.

      Delete
  8. Thanks for your comment (on Apr 2 - 04:53 pm)....If any people don't agree with change and aren't in favour of reform your opinions are equally valid. If you have something constructive to add please feel free to enter the debate and have your say. All perspectives respected. If you prefer, visit my board on the social network site 'Pinterest' by clicking on the 'I want your opinion' graphic at the end of my article.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  9. I totally understand your pain and frustration. I am American. My partner is Mexican. We have been together for over 4 years, living in Mexico the entire time. My partner recently (last month) went to the US embassy to apply for a visa. We decided to be honest about things. His interview lasted 2 minutes. After finding out he was going with me to visit family they told him his visa was denied. I called the embassy, I went to the embassy, and of course they refused to any anything. Other couples here told us we should have lied, while others said tell the truth and they will understand. I know the reason is because we are two men in a relationship. Money was not the issue, they did not even check his bank statements, work letters, etc.

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  10. Roger, thankyou very much for your comment and sharing your experience, it's much appreciated.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  11. I have now submitted this piece to the BBC for the Postgraduate student journalism innovation award. Fingers crossed....

    For those of you interested in the developments in this story, I have today spoken to the office of Stephen Twigg MP.

    I have been advised that Mr Twigg is still waiting for a response from the Foreign Secretary and the US Ambassador in respect of visa policy and the issues affecting the British community in America.

    I will of course update my blog once anything else comes to light.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  12. I've received an update from the office of Stephen Twigg MP. The latest news is -

    "Stephen has written to the Foreign Secretary and is waiting for his response before contacting the US ambassador.If we have not received a response by next week I will chase up and be sure to keep you informed."

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  13. I'm due to return to the US (I'm from the UK) at the end of the month to visit my partner. It will only have been 4 weeks since I left. Should I tell immigration that I'm visiting my partner or should I lie? My partner has a proposed civil partnership visa in place from July so I could explain that he'll be moving over here and that I've got no intention of staying in the US. Also, I have a job and property in the UK. This will be my 6th visit to the US in the last year. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Andrew

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  14. Hi Andrew,

    I wouldn't want to offer you advice that gets you into trouble. The penalties for lying to border agencies can be severe, so I can't tell you to do that.

    I do sympathise with your position, and President Obama has said today he supports gay marriage. That may not force a conservative Congress to change the law overnight, but coupled with polls in the US that point to 50% support for reform for the first time, change may now be on the agenda in the run up to the Presidential election.

    My story hyperlinks to some of the main issues and main players in the debate in the US. You may find people like Lavi Soloway and his website helpful. It's called 'The DOMA Project' and will at least give you access to shared opinion and experience, if not giving you a definitive answer as to what you should do. Click on the link in my article or go to -

    http://stopthedeportations.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/congressman-rush-holt-to-secretary.html

    I wish you good luck with your struggle Andrew. Please feel free to come back to me and share your continuing experience.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  15. The BBC have shortlisted this piece for their annual postgraduate innovation in journalism award.

    This is a prestigious national competition run by one of the worlds great news agencies, so as you can imagine, I'm thrilled. I will update my blog once I know more.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  16. Thank you for your comments and feedback.

    I have to say, this is an excellent article that offers a clear, concise and accurate picture of what's been happening. I've been following the 'movement' for some time now and the issues that we are faced with. It's difficult to comprehend the full situation with so much going on. I've been trying to find an article that gives you a detailed outlook of the full picture in one place.

    You should give yourself a strong pat on the back!

    Andrew

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    1. Hello Andrew,

      Thats very kind of you to say. It was my intention to get a lot in one place but keep it to the point, varied in content, interesting, and with visual impact. Easy to get lost with a big story, or worse still, lose your audience!

      Thanks again.

      Brian Plumridge
      Blue Suburban Skies

      Delete
  17. I've been in touch with Stephen Twigg MP again today, asking if he has heard from the Foreign Secretary, following the letter he sent to him about my article and the statistics I have produced.

    I'm waiting on a reply. I will keep chasing this to make sure the British government fully consider the impact on our citizens in the US, and what they can do to protect the rights of the thousands of gay British nationals living in America.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  18. Here's the latest update from the office of Stephen Twigg MP today (regarding the Foreign Secretary / US Ambassador's response) -

    "We did have a response last week from Alistair Burt MP however the response stated that “US immigration decisions area matter for the US authorities and not an area where we are able to interfere, just as we would expect them to respect the decisions made by our own border agency.” Stephen has now written to the US Ambassador relating the details of Michael’s case. We have made Michael aware of the letter received from the Foreign Office and next steps we are taking."

    I have replied to Mr Twiggs office today, saying -

    "I was hoping for an answer regarding the 16,000 gay British nationals living in the US with inequality. Unable to enter into civil partnerships, with no legal recognition of their relationships, and inequality in relation to pensions, health care, and tax. Stephen(Twigg MP) did agree that the Foreign Office has a duty to protect and advance the rights of British citizens no matter where they live. Michael's visa issue is part of this debate, but these other issues need to be addressed."

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    As usual I will update you regarding any developments,

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  19. I discovered your web site via Google while looking for a related subject, lucky for me your web site came up, its a great website. I have bookmarked it in my Google bookmarks. You really are a phenomenal person with a brilliant mind!

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    1. Thankyou for such a great compliment. I'm still working on this story, and have again asked for the Foreign Secretary to look at the whole issue..will keep you posted on any news.

      Brian Plumridge
      Blue Suburban Skies

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  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. This comment has been removed because it provided a link to a business with a recommendation to use it's service. That kind of comment is not allowed here, no matter how innocent or sincere it's intention.

      Brian Plumridge - Blue Suburban Skies

      Delete
  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  22. Again, this post by Global has been removed because it links to a company I can't vouch for. I don't allow posts that in any way promote services, even if well intended, because I don't want any readers to think I'm recommending a service - particularly not a Visa service with all those complications.

    Global, please don't post the link again. I will keep removing it.

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

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  23. The decision to expand the visa waiver program would do a lot for the tourism of America. The more people that would be permitted to enter the country, the more tourists the country would have. In effect, there would be an increase in revenue, and foreign investments coming in, for hotels, restaurants, taxis, and resorts.

    US Visa Waiver Program

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  24. Thanks for your contribution..

    Regards,

    Brian Plumridge
    Blue Suburban Skies

    ReplyDelete