Article Title:An entirely level entry
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:29th September 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:107
Text:New immigration rules have made it easier for same-sex couples to gain residency, and refreshingly, don't take heterosexual marriage at face value. A marriage licence is no longer an instant guarantee for New Zealand residency under new immigration rules announced by Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel today. The new rules require that all couples, married or otherwise, "must demonstrate they have been living together in a genuine and stable relationship" for at least 12 months prior to the application. Previous rules gave an instant free pass for marrieds, but required same-sex and de-facto couples to prove they had been together in a stable relationship for at least two years. The policy unfairly discriminated against same-sex couples who, unable to prove the "validity" of their relationship by simply producing a marriage certificate, were forced to provide screeds of corroborating information to prove they were indeed a couple, whereas heterosexual couples who had married primarily to gain entry to the country were let straight through. The purpose of the changes is to close these sham marriage loopholes by equalising the way that all couples are treated. This is being achieved by making all couples responsible for proving their relationship is genuine by providing their own proof. Ms Dalziel says in today's New Zealand Herald that such proof might include joint bank statements, bills and letters written to them as a couple. And a marriage licence, perhaps? The married couple have an extra piece of "proof" - their marriage licence. Surely this would give their relationship more weight in the eyes of the Immigration Service? The high status given to marriage is so ingrained in us from birth that it has almost become subliminal. Decisions about couples are at the discretion of whichever officer of the New Zealand Immigration Service that couple happens to be assigned to, and the extent to which personal prejudices may come into play when your assigned officer makes his/her decision cannot be quantified. But now, on paper at least, the playing field is level. Ms Dalziel's office has confirmed to that a marriage licence is entirely irrelevant under the new rules if the couple in question has been together less than twelve months. They must provide supporting documentation to prove their relationship is genuine just like a same-sex or defacto couple. As far as temporary entry permits are concerned, a same-sex couple's relationship must now be taken at face value, whereas before proof was required. And as for couples who have met overseas, where one partner is already a New Zealand resident and who wish to come back to New Zealand to live together? They must provide the requisite relationship proof too, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, and saying that they're coming to New Zealand "to get married" is not enough. The twelve-month rule still applies. Special consideration is given to culturally arranged marriages, but once again the onus of proof is on the couple to provide evidence of their situation. New Zealand First's Peter Brown has already slammed the legislation, saying "We have numerous cases of abuse of the immigration system by people who enter defacto relationships with New Zealanders to obtain residency...this change is simply a case of a Government, which does not believe in marriage anyway, making it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in New Zealand." Of course, this statement conveniently ignores the marriages of convenience that have been taking place for years purely to get people into the country - when a couple is married, we automatically make assumptions. Their relationship validity is never questioned. Although these changes are certainly not to be dismissed entirely, they do warrant comparisons with the troublesome Property Relationships Act, which effectively papered over the cracks of discriminatory legislation while creating several others, creating a quagmire of confusion from well-meaning intentions. But while conservatives may complain that marriage has been "devalued" by these changes, at least we can say on this occasion that we've all been devalued equally. Chris Banks - 29th September 2003    
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