READER REPORT:

Why NZ is better than the US

VALERIE LOVE
Last updated 12:00 01/07/2013
Valerie Love
TRUE EQUALITY: Valerie Love and her partner Laura.

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OPINION: In just over a month, I'll be celebrating my two-year anniversary of living in New Zealand. 

In 2011, I left a prestigious and well-paying job in the United States. I found a new home for my cat, sold my car, and donated everything I owned that didn't fit into three suitcases. And then I got on a plane and moved 14,000 kilometres away from home to the other side of the world.

Why?

Because of Doma, the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1996. 

Doma allowed states the right to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages performed in other states and barred the federal government from extending marriage benefits to same-sex married couples. Among those 1,138 federal marriage benefits are immigration rights for same-sex partners.

My partner Laura is a Wellingtonian, born and bred. She and I met at a friend's barbecue in Island Bay in 2010 while I was on holiday in New Zealand. 

The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew my whole life was about to change. She felt that same spark and immediate connection as well, and we stayed in touch after I returned to the States. A few months later, she came to visit me in the States and we formalised our relationship together.

I've lived in six states in the US, and each of those places had very different rights (or lack there of) for LGBT people. 

But with Doma in place, and the discrimination that it legislated, there was nowhere where LGBT people truly had equality, even in the most progressive of states. Imagine crossing the ferry to Picton, and suddenly your marriage isn't considered legal any more. But that's a reality for so many couples in the US, where 35 out of 50 states don't recognise same-sex marriages.

When I lived in Memphis, Tennessee, I could have been fired from my job simply for being gay, and would have had no protection or recourse under the law. While 13 states and Washington DC now allow same-sex marriage, it's been a long, slow journey to get there, with a lot of anxiety and heartache along the way. 

In 2008, voters in California were allowed to overturn 18,000 legal same-sex marriages. Only now, five years later, has the Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional.

At the time I met Laura, I was living in Connecticut, a state which offers greater protections for LGBT citizens than most. Connecticut has recognised civil unions since 2005 and in 2008 became the second state to offer marriage equality. But even if Laura and I had legally married, she still wouldn't have been eligible for a green card because of Doma. 

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When Laura was going to have to return to New Zealand, she asked me to come with her.

In New Zealand, the fact that we were two women didn't matter. Same-sex partnerships are recognised by the New Zealand government, and as of August this year, marriage will be too. We have true equality here. 

While the US seems to make the immigration process as convoluted and painful as possible, New Zealand is a whole other story. My visa applications were all approved promptly, and I've become a resident of New Zealand without any of the drama and difficulty that my American friends have experienced trying to bring their foreign-born spouses to the US. 

And, honestly, I've been really fortunate and landed on my feet. I found a job within just a few weeks of my arrival to Wellington. I've built up friends and found a wonderful community here of both other ex-pats and Kiwis. I've even turned into a coffee drinker, in true Wellington fashion.

And I have never been happier in my entire life than I have been these past two years in New Zealand with Laura.

Of course, it's not all perfect. I miss my friends and family back in the States terribly. I miss Ethiopian food and weekends in New York City.

But now that Doma has been struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court and Laura and I could move to the States together, would we?

Yeah, nah.

The US may be where I'm from, but New Zealand is my home.


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