Before that point, I depended on employment to be able to stay in New Zealand, which could be—and turned out to be—a problem. When the company that brought me to this country ceased trading, ending my job, there was a real possibility I might have to return to the United States—without Nigel. We faced being separated because I couldn’t sponsor Nigel to move to the USA, and at the time he couldn’t sponsor me for New Zealand.
At that time, same-gender couples had to be together for four years before the New Zealand partner could sponsor the foreign partner (it was two years for unmarried opposite-gender couples, 6 months for married couples, which could only be opposite gender). I wouldn’t be eligible until late 1999.
Then, with the stroke of a pen, things changed: The Immigration Minister changed immigration policy, making all unmarried couples—same-gender and opposite-gender alike—treated the same. I got permanent residence around half a year earlier than I would have been eligible for under the old policy (and about seven months after I’d first lodged my application).
On June 16, 1999, Nigel and went to Immigration for our interviews. We’d already had to supply huge piles of information to prove we were in a genuine and stable relationship, including bank statements (showing money moving back and forth between our accounts to prove mutual dependence), photos of us together, even a letter from Nigel’s Mum attesting that our relationship was real and she supported us and our application.
The interviews weren’t intrusively personal. They asked questions like how we met, and some details about the other person (to show that we were really a couple). Nigel told me that he was afraid I’d screw up his birthday when they asked because I often did; I still do, actually (memory is a tricky thing). Still, the day it really mattered, I was focused—and correct.
They granted my Residence Permit and gave me both it and my first Returning Resident’s Visa, which was good for two years. Details from both, placed on facing pages of my US passport, are in the photo above. We were going to the US on holiday just a short time later, so I used the Returning Resident’s Visa once. I became a citizen, and obtained a New Zealand passport, before I ever needed one again.
The evening after our visit to Immigration, I wrote:
“I was a bit numb after it was all over, and I'm sure it'll take awhile to sink in. Mostly, I was just so relieved that it was over, and I also felt a calm I don't think I've felt in years, a kind of relaxed good feeling … More than three years and eight months of waiting and living in limbo have ended.”With permanent residence, my life stabilised and, especially, I could stop worrying that we might be separated. Permanent residence was not as good as citizenship, but it was far better than the series of temporary permits and visas that made it possible for me to stay in New Zealand up until that June day fourteen years ago.
Nothing’s changed in the USA in all time I’ve been in New Zealand: The USA still doesn’t allow its citizens to sponsor their unmarried partner, whether of the same or the opposite gender. This won’t change regardless of how the US Supreme Court rules on the infamous Defense [sic] of Marriage Act (DOMA). However, if DOMA’s struck down, the Obama Administration could order that legally married LGBT couples be treated the same as legally married opposite-gender couples, and that would definitely be an improvement.
Things are even better in New Zealand now: Civil Unions arrived in 2005, and we’ll get the freedom to marry when marriage equality arrives in August. This will eventually have implications for Kiwi/American LGBT couples in the future; legally, things are very much better now than they were for me, or us, back in 1999. This is a very, very good thing.
Everything’s changed since this date in 1999, and for me, and other LGBT Kiwi-US couples in New Zealand, it’s all been for the better.