Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Gay Family Overseas... 'What if..."

I've just spent this morning engaged in some very serious chats with some of my closest friends (and partner) about the rights of gay people overseas, particularly in relation to illness and families.

It's been a real eye opener.

It all started because dear Papa commented that he didn't really see the point of 'upgrading' our current civil partnership status to a marriage certificate, as we will be allowed to do later this year. I pointed out that the very fact that our 'status' is different is a form of discrimination - although he felt it was a positive discrimination as he 'didn't want to be married like everyone else.'

This led onto a 'whatsapp' argument where I pointed out to him that when I asked him to marry me all those years ago I used those words, "Will you marry me?" I didn't say, "Would you like to form a civil partnership and protect our legal rights should one of us become ill?" That was met with a silence - I think we will be having a 'chat' when he gets back from work.

Two of our best friends are getting married soon. A lovely gay couple who are made for each other - they are going to the USA to have the ceremony - even though they live and work in Singapore, a country that does not recognise same sex unions of any sort. This has left them in a quandry, after all, if one of them is rushed unconscious to hospital (heaven forbid) then the other has no legal rights to be at his bedside - unless a kind nurse or doctor allows it. They are not considered as next of kin and, should the same doctor or nurse be of a discrimnatory personality - or merely someone who 'follows the rules' (that's very common in Singapore) then they may be completely forbidden from seeing their ailing partner.

Of course, thats a worst case scenario - but one always has to ask the 'what if's' in these situations.

For us the 'what if...' is a simple one... ''What if one of Papa's family over in Singapore should become ill and we need to go back permanently - how would we cope not only as a couple but as a family?'

When I wrote the book version of '4 Relative Strangers' it was a point that my agent was particularly interested in - the legal status of gay families overseas. Singapore is odd as (if I read it correctly) they would recognise both Papa and I as parents of the children - but not as a couple, so we would be the boy's next of kin, but not each other's - which is just wierd.

Our friends, whilst busy planning their nuptials, are also worried about the same thing, and they really shouldn't have to be - they should just be excited about committing their lives to each other but the reality is they live in a country where they have no rights as couple.

Gay life is tolerated in Singapore - but it's seen as something to be pitied (in my experience) as if homosexuality is an illness or a 'mental issue' and it is assumed that the theatre scene in Singapore is essentially a club for gay men. Let me elaborate, I remember a very well known personality/politician explaining to me that the National Arts Council has rainbow coloured shutters not to reflect the 'diversity of the arts' but to promote the arts as a 'gay club' and just recently two lovely gay theatre practioners, have openly married each other in London which has generated a lot of publicity in Singapore - which is fantastic as at least it gets people talking about it - but on the flip side I can imagine many people saying, 'Well, it's what theatrical types do."

When I first 'came out' to my parents my Mum said, "Well at least you work in theatre.. its much easier to be gay there." Hopefully that has changed here in the UK and nowadays the law allows you to be openly gay wherever you work - whether you still feel you can is another issue - but at least you cannot legally be discriminated against, unlike so many other nations.

As we saw this week, with that poor British man going to prison in Morocco for merely having 'compromising photos' on his phone revealing him to be homosexual, the reality of going overseas has really hit home for a lot of gay people and for gay families it is even worse. Do we want our kids to see us be arrested and they then placed into care should we visit an intolerant country - again a worst case scenario - but I'm sure its something the Russian authorites would be happy to do. Especially as the foreign office can only stand by and watch.

At the moment Papa's family are well and we are happy heading over there twice a year to see everone and spend time with them - but 'what if....'

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