Marco Aurelio and Doug Haxall

Posted on January 25, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites |

Marco Aurelio (Brazilian) and Doug Haxall (US)

Binational Couple Make Their Relationship More Permanent
By Christopher Lisotta

After months of anguish and uncertainty, one Los Angeles-area same-sex couple finds their relationship has taken on the stamp of legal permanence. Marco Aurelio, a Brazilian citizen, recently found out he was granted political asylum in the United States due to his sexual orientation. Although the move was welcome news to Aurelio, it meant just as much to his partner, Doug Haxall, who no longer had to worry about his boyfriend being deported.

“It’s completely changed everything,” Haxall said of Aurelio’s new status. “We were fighting this struggle for a long time. You have this sense of impermanence in the relationship. It was a financial hardship. We couldn’t make plans for the long term, really.”
Although Haxall and Aurelio’s story has a happy ending, the details of their relationship show how difficult it is for binational same-sex couples to go about making their relationships stable, and how legal anomalies and loopholes mean the difference between being together and facing a life apart.

When Haxall and Aurelio first met at the 1998 West Hollywood Halloween festival, they knew there was an attraction, despite a significant language barrier. But they were determined to make their relationship work, even if it meant in the beginning they had to struggle to communicate. The pair soon found out English was the least of their problems, as Aurelio tried to take steps to get the legal protections needed for a noncitizen to stay in the country.
Aurelio came to the U.S. on a tourist visa, but knew after meeting Haxall he wanted to stay with the man who had quickly become a part of his life. The two decided to move in together, and Aurelio made the snap decision to apply for a student visa, which meant the two men decided to make their relationship more permanent despite the struggles to communicate.

Luckily, Haxall could help Aurelio financially with English-language classes and cosmetology schooling, which are expensive for international students. Still, there was a level of stress involved, because Aurelio continued to face deportation if he left school. It was then that Aurelio applied for permanent status based on his sexuality.

“You have to fill out a lot of paperwork,” Haxall said. Aurelio then had to meet with an immigration agent, who studied the details of his case. Despite all the roadblocks, Aurelio’s life was made easier by the change in his legal status.

“If you’re illegal, it is a much more dangerous process,” Haxall said. “You go before a judge and he can deport you.”
Ally Bolour, who represented Aurelio in his petition for asylum, said getting permanent status is ultimately decided on a case-by-case basis. “If you can show there was past persecution or credible fear of future persecution,” Bolour explained, “then you can get it.”
Citizens from countries like Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia all have an easier time proving their governments have active policies that discriminate against gays and lesbians, but petitioners from places like the U.K. or the Netherlands are unlikely to be successful.
“If the person is from Western Europe, they won’t get asylum,” Bolour said. He also noted that Mexican petitioners face new hurdles since their country’s laws have been changed to be more inclusive. “Mexico cases aren’t good anymore because Mexico doesn’t persecute as much.”

With its famed Mardi Gras celebrations and Rio’s reputation for wild gay fun, Brazil seems an unlikely candidate for a country that persecutes gays and lesbians, but Bolour pointed out that the experience of American and European tourists on vacation is not the same as the experience for the average gay or lesbian Brazilian.
“If you’re Brazilian and you’re gay, there is a lot of societal discrimination that applies,” he said.

The ability to get asylum based on sexual orientation is relatively new. As late as 1991, gays and lesbians were excludable based on medical grounds, which classified gay people as inferior or having a mental defect. A 1990 law dropped the exclusion of gays looking to emigrate, but depending on the local Immigration and Naturalization Service offices, sympathy for same-sex asylum cases varied. In 1994, then-Attorney General Janet Reno issued stronger regulations, giving all courts and immigration offices universal standards for the treatment of gay and lesbian asylum seekers, making life much easier for people like Aurelio. Haxall pointed out that same-sex couples still have far more obstacles facing them than straight couples, who can easily sponsor their spouse and are more likely to get a decision that goes their way.

Haxall and other binational gay and lesbian couples are trying to change that. Despite significant challenges from conservatives and scared progressives who don’t want to vote for anything that even looks pro-gay, the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which would grant permanent residency status to same-sex partners of American citizens, has over 100 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, as well as the support of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“We’re kind of ahead of schedule,” Haxall said, noting that both Democratic and Republican members of the House have signed up to sponsor the bill, which was first introduced in the last session of Congress by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. “We are trying to get it in the Senate this year.”

At least for Haxall and Aurelio, life has gotten much easier since their relationship is no longer a legal question mark.

“The sense of fear is kind of gone,” Haxall said. “We couldn’t grow that much as individuals. Now that’s all lifted.”
–John Caldwell contributed to this article

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