The weather in the Netherlands city of Apeldoorn is scarcely more inviting than that of Maine — lately it has been rainy and cold — but it is a city rife with museums, movie houses and music, and Connie Scanlon has lived there for decades.
Still, the 66-year-old Lincoln-area native would rather be in Maine.
Holland “is a small country with many possibilities,” Scanlon said during a telephone interview Saturday, “but I would rather be with my family and my partner in the U.S. I left when I was 17 and I don’t know my family well. My mother is aging and I would like to get to know who she is, get to know my sisters.”
Scanlon and her partner of 38 years, 68-year-old Lia de Bruyn, are caught in the DOMA trap.
Even if Maine’s same-sex marriage bill had been voted into law in November 2011 instead of last month, the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, would still force the two to spend six months a year out of the country, Scanlon said.
The two were legally married in Holland in 1999, but “in our situation, nothing will change,” Scanlon said. “We can register our marriage in Maine, but our problem is basically the federal law and immigration and the DOMA law, which says a marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, allows states to ignore marriages lawfully entered by same-sex couples in another state and permits the federal government to ignore those marriages, even if the marriages occur in another country.
Still, the two are heartened by the recent efforts of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to effectively repeal DOMA. Collins is the sole Republican co-sponsor of a bill to give binational same-sex couples equal rights to petition for immigrant visas.
In September, Senator Collins became the first Republican to co-sponsor, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Uniting American Families Act. The legislation would update U.S. immigration law to permit American citizens to sponsor same-sex partners who are applying for legal residency in the United States.
“This legislation would simply update our nation’s immigration laws to treat binational couples equally. More than two dozen countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes,” Collins said in a statement released Sunday.
“This important civil rights legislation would help prevent committed, loving families from being forced to choose between leaving their family or leaving their country,” Collins added.
“With this decision, Senator Collins has demonstrated that she stands on the side of fairness in our immigration laws for all Americans and their loved ones,” Leahy said in a statement. “I hope that her support represents a turning point in the effort of so many of us to make our laws apply equally to all and to end the official discrimination that harms too many Americans.”
Collins’ new bill “certainly should pass because of your human rights, civil rights, in a democracy,” de Bruyn said. “It is just part of a democracy. Everybody has a right to be who they are.”
“I am very happy. She is a representative of the people,” Scanlon said of Collins.
Both classical pianists and music instructors, the couple had split time in the Lincoln Lakes region and Holland for years when they discovered how difficult DOMA and other laws could make their lives.
About two years ago, de Bruyn was stopped at Logan Airport in Boston and learned for the first time that her visa requirements required her to leave the U.S. for half a year.
“We thought the visa was the equivalent of a green card. We were naive, I guess,” Scanlon said. “I still haven’t found anywhere where it says that we have to be out of country for six months.”
The two had been taking only three-week vacations annually at their home in Apeldoorn, de Bruyn said.
“At that moment I became aware of the DOMA law, which said no way can I sponsor her to stay in the country,” Scanlon said. “We became very aware of the limitations and the discrimination of the U.S. Everybody seems to have rights, but that I actually, as an American citizen, have no rights as long as I am with my partner is very hurtful to me.”
Her homosexuality, Scanlon said, had always been accepted by her family during her youth in Lincoln. She graduated from Mattanawcook Academy in 1964 and played basketball and softball and played music as a student. She got a master’s degree in music at New England Conservatory after running a record store in Lincoln on Main Street in 1970-71, Scanlon said.
Scanlon moved to Rotterdam in 1974, met de Bruyn, and has been with her ever since, Scanlon said.
Federal visa requirements forced de Bruyn to leave the U.S. in August and Scanlon accompanied her. They plan to use their six months in the U.S. this year by returning to the region in late March and staying until October, preferring to enjoy a Maine summer rather than endure a Maine winter.
Scanlon and de Bruyn hope the same-sex legalization movement sweeping this country’s states will help obliterate the federal law barring them from staying here for more than a half-year at a time by the time they have to return to Holland.
“I want to be positive about this,” Scanlon said. “It [Maine’s same-sex marriage law] will help everybody in Maine where they are searching for recognition and someplace to live where they are accepted. That is very helpful. It will not help us at this moment but it will help others.
“I have been around many people who have been discriminated against in their lives, but to undergo this myself is a very painful experience,” she added. “I didn’t realize how intense it was. It is very disappointing. My country is disappointing me.”