As the year that was turned over into the year that is, it was almost impossible to avoid the relentless posts on social and traditional media demanding that Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison grant a partnership visa to Pakistani born- USA-raised man, Ali Choudhry.
Choudhry’s story sounds compelling enough provided you don’t ask any further questions from what has been reported. He was born in Pakistan, he does not read or write the language and has no connection to his place of birth. He grew up in the USA and came to Australia to study. As many great gay love stories go, he met his Australian born, USA based partner Matthew Hynde online.
When Hynde returned to Australia for a holiday the two actually met in person. The relationship blossomed to the extent that by the end of 2010 Hynde had quit his job in the USA and moved to Queensland to be with Choudhry. When the two applied for a partnership visa the Immigration Department did not consider they were in a relationship for visa purposes and rejected their application. Enter the social media behemoth.
Pozzible campaigns to fund the pair’s legal appeals were started, internet petitions were compiled, newspaper articles in the mainstream and gay press went in to overdrive, the campaign to keep Choudhry in the country was well and truly on. Each voice weighing in to this argument had a common thread, that this administrative failure would not have come about if the two men would be able to legally marry in Australia. A position illustrated beautifully by the Socialist Alliance hire-a-protest-mob who arranged a stand in outside the Minister’s office where they held placards aloft accusing the Minister for punishing Mr Choudhry for: “BEING GAY”. It’s a great pity this position is wrong.
I do not believe Choudhry should be deported back to a country where the death penalty may be metered out for being homosexual; yet framing this affair as a grave injustice because marriage equality has not happened in Australia is plain wrong and it inflates this case to a status it doesn’t deserve. The couple were rejected not because they were gay but because they were treated with the equality that is being asking for. They were treated the same as all applicants.
To apply for a partnership visa while onshore Choudhry and Hynde needed to be in a substantive relationship for a year predating their application. The couple admit that Hynde had not actually resided in the country for a full year before their application was made, further to that Choudhry could not satisfy the requirements for a partnership visa as he came to Australia on a student visa in 2009; when it was time to renew it in 2011, his application was denied because he had not enrolled in his course. By the time he applied for a partnership visa in Australia he had been unlawfully in Australia for four months. A Department spokesperson has said: ”He needed to provide compelling reasons why he should be granted the visa while onshore in spite of being in Australia unlawfully,”. He didn’t so he wasn’t.
The couple could not provide reasons that the department found compelling. I would have thought that given that Choudhry is an out gay man who faces deportation to a country that punishes homosexuality, sometimes violently, should be compelling reason enough. However, despite what many would want to believe this case is not at all about marriage equality. Even if marriage equality was a given in Australia, or if Choudhry was a woman and applied under the Intention to Marry visa he would not have been successful as he did not have a substantive visa to be in Australia and therefore was unable to apply onshore.
Questions also need to be asked as to Choudhry’s ability to help himself. As he has spent most of his life in New Jersey, USA, why has he not gone through the processes of obtaining American citizenship? Also, as a foreigner on an Australian student visa he must at least take the minimum amount of care required to ensure it always remains valid.
Choudhry alleges that the paperwork for the renewal of his visa was sent to an address that was destroyed by the flooding that happened in Queensland a couple of years ago. This may be true, but I still question Choudhry’s ability to help himself now in Australia and previously in the United States.
This case is not one about marriage equality but the failing of an administrative system to take in to account Choudhry’s particular case and a lack of compassion exercised by the Department for Choudhry’s particular circumstances.
Marriage equality itself should be without criticism, particularly as its advocates are claiming a moral high ground. We complain of the inflated, sensationalist, propagandistic arguments against marriage equality from religious extremists, shock jocks, columnists and politicians. Marriage equality is necessary in this country, however it can’t be at the expense of truth and of critical assessment. When presented with these cases we would do well to check their veracity, lest we confuse activism with sentimentality. We can’t fall back on the same techniques that our critics use to shut down the marriage equality debate, because otherwise, we are no different.
Department of Immigration: http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/booklets/1127.pdf
Australian Marriage Equality: http://www.australianmarriageequality.com/wp/2014/01/03/lack-of-equal-relationship-recognition-highlighted-in-deportation-case/
7 News: http://au.news.yahoo.com/qld/a/20634796/gay-brisbane-man-ali-choudhry-given-temporary-halt-on-deportation-as/
Courier Mail: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/gay-man-who-faced-being-deported-from-brisbane-to-home-country-where-homosexuality-illegal-wins-temporary-visa/story-fnihsrf2-1226797376211
Community Run: http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/don-t-deport-ali-choudhry
International Business Times: http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/532922/20140106/australia-rejects-partnership-visa-application-gay-pakistan.htm#.Ut2t73lVxFU
Green Left Weekly: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/55607
Star observer: http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/ali-choudhrys-deportation-put-on-hold/115338