“Canada is nice,” our attorney told us, trying to be helpful. I remember the conversation clearly. My American adventure had come to an end. After J-1 student visas, 18 months of academic training, many years of temporary worker’s visas and even some tourist visa waivers, I had exhausted all my options to stay in my beloved U.S.A. The so-called green card had proven elusive.
I had been in a relationship with Brian for a long time. Had we been an opposite-sex couple, things would have been different. Very few people understood the problem. “Why don’t you two get married? Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, right?” True, but, unfortunately, immigration is a federal issue. In 2009, the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land: our relationship was not recognized at the federal level. After living in the United States for about 18 years, I had to leave the country.
A few months earlier, we had adopted our son Levi as a newborn. And now our little family, two dads and a baby, had to find a new country to live.
I’m originally from the Netherlands, but didn’t really want to move there. Holland and I have a somewhat complicated relationship. I usually call refer to it as the Netherworld. In our years together, Brian has only acquired a Dutch vocabulary of a dozen words or so. Long story short: Holland was out.
“Canada is nice,” the attorney had told us. We had visited Montreal a few times. Nice, but cold and francophone. Equally urban, but English-speaking and slightly less frigid, Toronto quickly made it to the top of our list. Brian was able to transfer his job; I was going to be the stay-at-home dad. We sold our New York condo, packed up our belongings, said goodbye to our many friends and moved in temporarily with Brian’s parents.
In December 2009, all our paperwork completed, we drove to Canada and moved into our apartment in the heart of Toronto.
We figured we were going to live in Canada for a very long time. When in October 2010 two daughters joined our family, we needed more space. Within months we found a single-family house and traded our crossover Venza for a Sienna minivan. And slowly we made friends, some fellow gay dads we met at the Gay and Lesbian Centre, and quite a few parents of our kids’ friends from daycare and later kindergarten.
We felt really welcome in Canada. We all received health insurance after three months; permanent residence came two years later. We were able to go through Canadian immigration and customs as a family.
Whenever we went to the United States, our family was not recognized.
But things were changing. On June 26, 2013, six days after we got married, the Supreme Court struck down a large part of DOMA. Within minutes I received an email from my immigration attorney: “It's been many years but I promised to let you know when immigration benefits would be extended to same sex couples – and the day is finally here! Last we spoke you and your family were happily settled into more civil Canada, but should you have any inclination to come south again, the landscape has been radically altered today, and DOMA is dead.”
Would we move back? I like Canada, but I love the States. I knew that Brian had not fully embraced his new country either. He still uses miles, feet and degrees Fahrenheit; he follows the American news. Our new venture, Gays With Kids, would benefit from a move to the New York City area with its new media connections and networking opportunities. And, very important: Canadian winters are not only severe, but also interminably long; the summer begins by the end of June and is over by the middle of August.
Finally, in January, we made up our minds. We’ll leave behind good friends, and we’ll miss them. Once again, we’ll sell our home, find a neighborhood to live, rent an apartment, get new driver’s licenses, find schools, doctors, a piano teacher, and a taekwondo school. And we need to sign up for Obamacare!
Canada is nice, but this summer we’re moving back to the United States.