The Canadian Dream

Former bi-national D.C. couple set to reunite, resettle in Vancouver

It could be considered trial by bureaucracy or by bigotry, but at least it is coming to a sort of end, as Steve Orner and his husband Joe prepare to reunite next month in Vancouver, B.C.

It’s been a long separation for the former Columbia Heights couple, with Joe being forced to leave the U.S. and return to his native Indonesia after losing his D.C. engineering job – and thus his visa. He left the country Oct. 21, 2009. Back in Indonesia, Joe went back into the closest, which is why Orner asks that his husband’s last name be omitted.

”Joe’s told me so many times, ‘I want to come home. I don’t belong here anymore,”’ says Orner from Taos, N.M., where he’s been living with family since Joe’s departure. ”Now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There was an option for us.”

That light should come in the form of visas stamped into the couple’s passports, currently in Canadian custody. Orner says the couple’s Toronto-based immigration attorney has advised them to expect those visas in early February. In preparation, Orner said Tuesday that he was about to head out from Taos for points along the West Coast, visiting friends and slowly making his way to the border, and to a country where his and Joe’s Connecticut marriage license is as valid as any other in the land.

”For many of the other 36,000 same-sex, bi-national couples, they might not have this option,” he says. ”At least we did – and we’re going to make the most of it. It’s not our first choice, but we’re glad to have it. But I’m still pissed off at my country, and I’ll still be sending money to Immigration Equality.”

In the meantime, the couple have had to mark the days apart with video-chatting. Even Orner’s planned visit to Indonesia had to be scrapped after his step-father had a stroke. Now, however, it’s time for the couple to concentrate on themselves. And Orner grants that while they’re being forced to emigrate if they hope to maintain their marriage, there are a few perks to life in the north.

”I just wrote my last check for health insurance. I won’t have to do that anymore,” Orner notes, pointing to Canada’s universal health care. Even with Canada offering the couple health care, it’s nearly guaranteed that the country will come out ahead, with not only Orner’s background in construction contributing to the economy, but Joe’s Ph.D. in structural engineering, courtesy of U.S. scholarships.

”I’m psyched,” Orner says of the expected reunion, just ahead of the couple’s 10th anniversary in March. Life has been ”on hold,” he says, as the separation has left him depressed and unwilling to get ”too involved” in anything. But that’s already changing – with their reunion ever closer, Orner is ”laughing a lot more, feeling better.”

”But it’s been way harder for Joe,” he says. ”I keep playing out seeing him in the airport. I envision meeting him with flan and tiramisu, because he loves it. I just can’t wait to see him.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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