In a previous column, I wrote about the way that the federal government reminds me how odd and “second class” my family is when coming through passport control when re-entering my country. I have stood in line and watched as families with children, warring spouses and multi-generational families sail through passport control with little-to-no hassle. I, on the other hand, have always had to separate myself from my partner, each of us filling out our own, individual re-entry cards, marking “0” where you record if you are with any other family member, be it a spouse, child, or parent who is living under the same roof. That small, slightly insignificant act was a gestural reminder that my “family” is not comprehended, or treated like a family, American style. My family was different and defied the norm simply because the person I am in relationship to and love is of the same sex. The person with whom I have shared my ups and downs, trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows, comedic high points and life decisions for over 15 years was not “family.” If this isn’t family, I don’t know what is.
So my partner, Dean, and I were on our way back from Costa Rica a few days ago. Before they handed out the re-entry forms, the flight attendant asked, “Take one form per household.” I looked at Dean and said, “Household?” I checked it out with the flight attendant and she said that the federal authorities were getting tired of all the paper work and that they were simply asking for one form per household, as long as the people were living under “one roof.” We got one form! That was a first.
Re-entering the States in Atlanta, Ga., we passed a kiosk with more blue and white re-entry forms. I knew that if we got up to the counter with the federal authority, we could simply get another form. I was a bit anxious, questioning what would happen with Dean. But, we thought there would be no harm in trying. What’s the worse they could do to us? Tell us to get another form, thus further cementing our second-citizen status?
When called upon with the simple command, “Next!” we moved together, as a couple, to the federal agent. I gave him the one form and the two passports. He looked at the re-entry form and then simply asked, “Are you related?” Even though his last name is Blackburn and I am Webb-Mitchell, after living together for over 15 years, yes, we are related. He scanned our passports, wrote a large “2” on the form itself, stamped the re-entry form and gave it back to us for us to get our luggage and go through customs. No one asked us at any of these next two stations if we were related or had to show further identification. They just waived us through, as if, well, we were family.
“Oh my God!” I said, as partly prayer and part exclamation, as we walked down to the next area to get another flight to Raleigh-Durham. For the first time since I was in a heterosexual marriage, the U.S. government recognized my family as a family, just like anyone else’s family. This is a small change that had a big affect upon my psyche and the psyche of literally thousands of LGBTQ couples and families. A new day is dawning, with more changes to come as we, who are LGBTQ and in relationship say, sing, dance, and announce to the world that, “yes, we are related.” : :