Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dispirited U.S Gays Heading to Canada

Dispirited U.S. gays choosing Canada
By MARINA JIM√ČNEZ
UPDATED AT 5:53 PM EST Wednesday, Nov 10, 2004

They're calling it the gay drain. Hundreds of well-heeled gay and lesbian lawyers, professors, educators and film directors from the U.S. are immigrating to Canada, drawn by the country's recognition of same-sex rights, unions and benefits.

Craig Lucas, who wrote the popular Hollywood movies Prelude to a Kiss and The Secret Lives of Dentists, contacted a Toronto immigration lawyer last week after the election victory of Republican President George W. Bush.

"Our rights are slowly being eroded," said the award-winning screenwriter, who plans to move to Vancouver with his partner, a set designer. "It happened in Nazi Germany, the incredible brain drain of artists, scientists and writers who fled to the U.S. Now it's happening here [in the United States]. The government wants gays to live outside the protection of the law."

Michael Battista, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said Mr. Lucas, like many of the gay Americans who have contacted him, has just the kind of skills Canada needs and will have no trouble qualifying to immigrate under the points system.

"I currently have more than 100 applications in the works on behalf of prospective gay American immigrants," he said. "These are highly skilled people with no dependents and substantial savings. Canada is benefiting enormously. They are not deterred by the fact that it can take as long as two years to process their applications."

While some gay Americans applied to immigrate before the Nov. 2 election, the results only reinforced their determination to leave. Mr. Bush has again indicated he would support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Eleven states, including Ohio, Michigan and Oregon, voted overwhelmingly to ban gay marriage, in balloting held at the same time as the election. Ohio also banned civil unions.

That means gay couples in those states may not be able to apply for health coverage under their partner's plan and will have difficulty transferring property in the event of death, delegating power of attorney, and arranging hospital visitation rights or other rights that heterosexual couples take for granted.

Under U.S. federal immigration laws, gay Americans who are living with foreigners are unable to sponsor their partners, which means they must leave the country if they want to stay together.

Americans who immigrate to Canada may sponsor their same-sex partners under the family-class category and be processed on the same application.

The Globe and Mail received two dozen e-mails yesterday, through an organization called Immigration Equality, from gay Americans who have applied to immigrate to Canada and bring in their gay foreign partners as common-law spouses.

"It's clear that the U.S. is becoming a place that is hostile to the long-term health of same-sex relationships," said Phil Schwab, a 36-year-old research policy analyst with a PhD in agricultural genetics. He relocated to Ottawa from Washington with his Canadian partner three months before the election.

"We are the leading edge of the wave," he said. "More and more gays will come here, especially after 11 states voted to prohibit same-sex marriage in their constitution. Many of these changes will be challenged in the courts as unconstitutional, so the battle is not over, but it becomes a struggle to get equality for same-sex relationships."

Tim Sally, a 47-year-old real-estate investor from the gay-friendly city of San Francisco, said he is tired of living in a country that won't accord him the same rights as heterosexuals. He worries that the U.S. conservative political discourse has no place for gay liberals, even wealthy and talented ones, who no longer feel welcome in their own country.

His exit plan? A move to Vancouver with his partner, a German schoolteacher who has been accepted as an immigrant. "It is a brain drain and a wealth drain. Canada is getting the cream of the crop," Mr. Sally said.