Ali Choudhry, a Pakistani national, is facing deportation from Australia because the immigration authority has so far refused to recognize his four year relationship with his same-sex partner Matthew Hynd. What’s worse, if Choudhry is deported back to Pakistan, he risks being punished under the country’s anti-gay laws and a possible jail sentence.
Choudhry, who grew up in the United States but never became a naturalized citizen, moved to Australia when he obtained a student visa to study zoology. He met Hynd, an Australian-born neuroscientist, online while Hynd was working for the New York State Department of Health in 2010. When in August of that year Hynd returned to Australia for a holiday, the pair met and a relationship began shortly after with Hynd quitting his job in December of that year to return to Australia full time.
Reports say that Choudhry’s life was further complicated when in 2011, still under a student visa, his possessions were destroyed as a result of the heavy floods that ravaged parts of Queensland and he moved homes. However, Australia’s immigration authority sent Choudhry’s student visa to his old address and that important paperwork never in fact reached Choudhry.
It was only when immigration authorities emailed Choudhry a few months later to tell him that his visa application had expired that he became aware of the fact. As Choudhry and Hynd were still together, they decided to seek a partnership visa for Choudhry. This de facto partnership application should have taken around half a year. It took almost two years, whereby the couple received a rejection.
Choudhry and Hynd had in the meantime entered into a civil union under a Queensland state law. When that law was repealed three months later, their official partnership recognition went with it and their civil union could no longer be used to help with further visa applications. He appealed to several immigration authorities within the country but has apparently found it difficult to get a concrete answer on his status.
Reports say Choudhry was scheduled to be deported on January 8th. Facing an international public outcry, an immigration authority spokesperson confirmed that a deportation would not go ahead as Mr Choudhry has been granted what is known as a “bridging visa,” a document that recognizes Choudhry has made an application to stay in the country and that the matter is being considered. In fact, the immigration authority is quoted as telling the Guardian that as Mr Choudhry’s application was received some days ago he was not in danger of being deported, though there seems to be some dispute about that.
The issue received international attention largely because of Pakistan’s laws that ban “carnal knowledge” and other religious laws that proscribe prison sentences of two years or more for so-called perpetrators. The death penalty for being gay is also still technically within bounds for religious courts in Pakistan, though no official record exists of it being used in recent times. More likely, those who are convicted for being gay will be subject to police harassment and intimidation, if not wider violence. The matter is made even more serious in this case because even though Choudhry was born in Pakistan, he didn’t live there long enough to acquire the language and so the country would be relatively alien to him.
As campaigners who have worked on this case have pointed out, Choudhry’s story highlights the inequality binational same-sex couples face in Australia. While the presiding administration insists that same-sex couples are treated equally under the law, we know this is not the case because one quick way of obtaining a partnership visa is denied them: through marriage.
In a strict reading of the law, binational same-sex couples should not have to get married in order to have their partnerships recognized because, as of 2008, a longstanding relationship should for immigration purposes give them what’s known as de facto partnership recognition. However, advocates say that in practice this is not what is happening, and that immigration authorities are treating same-sex couples’ applications more stringently than those made by heterosexuals.
What’s more, in this case we have Choudhry being told that the immigration authority doesn’t recognize his partnership to Hynd as being genuine while at the same time the wider administration has worked, and successfully, to overturn marriage equality in the Australian Capital Territory, and is blocking attempts at federal marriage recognition, both of which are ways in which partnerships are recognized under the law.
Choudhry and Hynd may in time be successful in their bid to have Choudhry stay in the country, but it will take action on the marriage equality front and a genuine desire to treat same-sex couples equally before Australia can really claim that same-sex binational couples have equal footing when compared to their straight counterparts.
Take Action: Sign our Care2 petition calling on the Australian Government to act now and grant Choudhry, who reportedly fulfills all other criteria, the right to stay in Australia!
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