Anna-Marie Lopez is a passionate woman, and never more so than when she’s talking about her current life’s work: Lopez is in love with a woman. But the Chicana artist isn’t just a lesbian woman living in a country that hasn’t quite accepted her — she’s in love with a foreign-national.
Lopez and her French girlfriend have been together for three years and two of those years have been spent battling immigration laws. They’ve spoken with lawyers in Austin, New York, and Toronto, spending a tremendous amount of time researching their options for a life together, and their efforts have ultimately led them to seek a home outside the United States.
Since the U.S. does not recognize same-sex marriages at the federal level, same-sex partners can’t sponsor each other for permanent status based on their relationship. One option is to immigrate to one of the 19 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, that do honor same-sex partners for immigration purposes. Although Lopez says her girlfriend’s dream was to live in the U.S., constant fear of being deported caused her to flee to Canada, a country she can immigrate to since she is French; Lopez plans to follow in the near future.
Lopez and her partner aren’t alone. The 2000 U.S. Census reported that more than 35,000 binational same-sex couples were living in the U.S. (although in its 2006 report “Family, Unvalued,” Human Rights Watch cautions that this figure is probably low).
There may be some hope for those partners if the Uniting American Families Act (previously called the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) bill is passed. Reintroduced in May, the act would allow citizens and legal residents in same-sex relationships to sponsor their partners for immigration. The same standards that apply to same-sex couples would apply to heterosexual couples: “permanent partner” would be added where the word “spouse” appears in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. But Lopez says the proposed law doesn’t create equality for same-sex couples, and she credits the upcoming election year for the reintroduction of the act.
Faced with controversy, Lopez deals with it head-on. Last December she found herself in the middle of a censorship issue that received national attention. Lopez’s painting “Virgin” was meant to be displayed at the Centro Cultural Aztlan but was pulled from the show at the last minute due to its non-traditional depiction of the Virgin Mary. Although Lopez is naturally outspoken, she credits her girlfriend for encouraging her to “be what you are.”
The partners have been separated for more than 10 weeks while Lopez’s girfrield establishes residency in Canada. “I feel guilty because I pretty much have it easy here while she’s over there trying to start life over — for us, ” says Lopez. In an email to Lopez, her girlfriend reports that “Canadians have no issue whatsoever with gays, they don’t think they are any different to anyone else.”
In the meantime, Lopez remains local until she finds a way to be with her girlfriend. The separation is difficult for Lopez, who has suffered from depression since her mid-teens. She occasionally drifts off mid-sentence with tears welling up. “I wake up missing her” she says. “I go to bed missing her.”
“There’s something about being alone … and all of a sudden meeting someone and they complete you and then to have that taken away not because of either one of you, but because of the law,” says Lopez. “That isn’t right.”
She carries notes from her girlfriend and a picture of her as a child, and recalls their first meeting at an AIDS fundraiser.
“Contrary to what everybody says, it’s not a lifestyle. This is just who I am. This is just part of my life — it isn’t even all of my life. But right now it’s overwhelming because it affects all of my life.” •
For more resources, visit Human Rights Watch at hrw.org
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