John Buie is an American living in Denmark. He is a successful entrepreneur, who lives here with his partner. He is also gay, and that means that unlike many other mixed couples, he and his partner, Thomas Justesen, can’t be certain that if they move back to the US, they will be considered legally joined.
“Depending on the time of day and where we may be standing, we can never be sure if we are legally married or living in sin,” he chuckled.
The two have been together for 14 years and have lived in Denmark on and off since 2005. Their civil partnership was recognised in Denmark in 2007, and they were legally married in California in 2008 during the brief time that the state allowed same-sex marriages.
According to Buie, the ever-changing rules and laws governing their status in both countries have forced the couple to become “reluctant experts” on marriage issues.
“We were married in California because I want my Danish partner to have the same rights as a straight husband or wife,” said Buie. “I want him to be able to apply for a green card and work in the US if we decide to live there.”
Noting that the US federal government does not recognise same-sex marriages, and that only a handful of individual states do, Buie said he and Justesen have not yet tried to apply for an American green card, because there is “no chance” that they will get one.
Although some have questioned why it even matters that same-sex couples can get married in the Church of Denmark – an institution that has a chequered history when it comes to gay issues – Buie views it as a positive step.
“It rectifies a situation that was simply not Danish,” he said. “Denmark was the first country to recognise civil unions in 1989 and this upgrading of civil unions to marriages completes the process.”
Buie said that had the state not taken this step, he and Justesen had discussed going to Sweden to get married.
“We wanted a union that would be recognised by the EU,” he said.
Buie is an entrepreneur who was in charge of marketing for SuccessFactors, Inc, which is now an SAP company. Justesen graduated from a Danish teacher’s college, is a trained photographer and obtained a master’s from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Buie pointed out that the qualifications and education that he and Justesen both possess put them in a better position than many couples – including straight ones – when it comes to negotiating Denmark’s often tricky immigration issues.
“We are fortunate. When you come to Denmark as an entrepreneur with a successful business, or are a qualified teacher, you are viewed in an entirely different light,” he said.
Buie and Justesen intend to file the paperwork required to “upgrade” their civil union to a marriage as soon as it is possible to do so. They also plan to continue working on their status as a couple in the US.
“We want to make people aware of the issues facing a bi-nationality gay couple,” said Buie. “Sometimes there is a real sense of exile.”
Denmark has become the latest country to approve same-sex marriage. The law, which takes effect on June 15, was passed by an overwhelming majority in parliament. The new law also covers weddings that will be held in the Church of Denmark.