On July 20 my husband and I will be at the Romanian Constitutional Court to ask for the recognition of our family under Romanian law. Currently, my country does not take into account same-sex unions Romanian citizens enter into abroad, not allows for locally registered partnerships. One the same day, the Constitutional judges will also decide whether a petition from 3 million citizens would be allowed to go to a referendum seeking the contrary: a constitutional restriction of family to a man married to a woman.
I grew up under Ceaușescu’s communist regime, largely defined by fear and lack of freedom. I also struggled to accept myself as a gay person, when homosexuality was still a crime and barely spoken of.
In the nineties, I was one of many who built Romania’s civil society. I led Romania’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) group ACCEPT, which pushed to repeal the anti-gay criminal law. Up until 2001, we lived with the knowledge that we could be imprisoned for up to 7 years for who we were. We succeeded, in part because of Romania’s aspiration to join the European Union, a club based on shared values and the rule of law, where human right reign supreme.
In 2002, I immigrated to the United States and met Clai, the man with whom I have shared my life for fourteen years. Clai and I have worked hard to build a home and a family. We have shared a lot of joy, like home-cooked dinners, just the two of us; also challenges, including long unemployment, through which we supported one another, financially and psychologically. Our relationship has shown me true love and commitment.
In 2009, work took me to the European Parliament in Brussels, a rewarding experience with this progressive and transformative engine for Romania. But I was apart from Clai, as he remained back in New York.
Long-distance relationships can be difficult. But a year later, Clai and I got married in Belgium, when same-sex marriage was still not possible, either in New York or Romania. Marrying Clai was incredible, after growing up in a society where the only reference to homosexuality (as a disease) I found was in the dictionary. And after years suppressing my gay feelings and thoughts as an adolescent in a small town, and the guilt and depression not knowing who I really was, marriage was part of my own liberation, no longer having to lie about a part of my life. Marriage also meant a validation we got from society, from a state authority who said we are just like every other hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying citizen.
Our jobs kept us apart and, when I became unemployed in Brussels, I explored the legal options for where we, a binational same-sex married couple, could live. The United States and Belgium would recognize our family, but Romania was uncertain.
I asked the Romanian authorities how Clai could become a Romanian resident under the EU Free Movement Directive, which grants the right of residence to spouses of EU citizens. The answer was that he could not, invoking the Romanian civil code, which does not recognize same-sex marriages registered abroad. To them, I was not married. I was not an equal citizen. I felt shocked and humiliated. I left the Consulate in Brussels with a piece of paper bearing their rejection. The experience was so jarring that I was fined on the tram for not validating my ticket.
After receiving legal advice, I sued to challenge the Civil Code provisions, with the support of Clai and ACCEPT. This is currently before the Constitutional Court.
But the constitution is also challenged by ultra conservative groups through the petition of 3 million people (15% of the population). I am trying to understand their point of view and see why they would want family to be limited to the marriage between a man and a woman. Humans are scared of what they don’t know. Few Romanians have met someone gay, or saw how average a same truly is. For my fellow countrymen and women, I am akin to an alien – different, unwelcomed, and a threat. This feeling is continuously encouraged by the Romanian Orthodox Church, who unlike the Catholics or the Orthodox Greek, does not push for dialogue, understanding and compassion. Instead, the Romanian Church campaigned aggressively for these signatures, entering the house of millions of Romanians on public holidays. It is not an equal battle. I can count on my fingers how many officials and celebrities are supportive in Romania. A number of brave LGBT people are increasingly visible, but change is slow.
That’s when we turn to the courts, as ultimate guardians of human rights, while politicians remain silent, and the civil code already prohibits same-sex marriages.
This debate is beyond our marriage. It is about Romanians’ values and future. It is about respecting each individual, and recognizing love, commitment, and family, as they exist among human beings today. It is about Romania being a home for all her citizens. And it is also about Clai and I, and many other same-sex couples. It is about Clai being allowed to go with me to a hospital, as it happened in New York last year, when he took care of me through a month of shivering with 40-degree fever.
Being Romanian is a fundamental part of who I am; it is often the first thing I say when I introduce myself. Many family and friends are there. I often contemplate returning, whether for a job or to retire. Other 4 million Romanians live abroad, many of them LGBTI individuals who chose exile in countries where they felt they could build a family. How many of them think about coming home? I am sure, one day, Romania will welcome Clai at my side. I will do everything in my power to make sure of it, for our sake and for the sake of those sharing my fate.
Adrian Coman is director of the international human rights program at the Arcus Foundation. He currently lives with his husband Clai Hamilton in New York City. www.arcusfoundation.org