Tuesday, October 2, 2007


In 1999, as Göran and I were making preparations to go on a trip to Sweden and applying for passports, we made a very unpleasant discovery.

Göran did not have a birth certificate. And because his mother went under an assumed name after he was born, never kept accurate records of anything, and refused to answer his questions about what his birth name was or who his biological father was, all our efforts to locate it were stymied. Göran's mother died in 1996 without ever answering any of the many questions he deserved answers to. The ramifications of this were dumbfounding. Among others:

1) He could never leave the U.S., not even to go to Canada. If he did, he might never be able to get back into the country again.

2) He could never get a driver's license or legally drive a car.

3) As employment laws continue to crack down on proof of citizenship requirements, he faced the possibility of becoming unemployable.

4) Despite the fact that he has always paid the same taxes everyone else pays, he would never be able to collect government medical or social security benefits.

5) Most horrifyingly, an immigration attorney warned us that the U.S. government could actually imprison him indefinitely, on the grounds that he had no right to be here unless he could prove he was a citizen.

Over the last eight years we collected an accordion file full of documents, trying to accumulate what evidence we could of his citizenship, and whatever we could learn about his mother and her history. He's lived here all his life. His stepfather has known him since before he has any real memories. But again because of his mother's goofy record-keeping, the few documents we had contained conflicting information, making the task much more complicated. We had two separate attorneys who attempted to assist us on a pro bono basis. We went to Senator Paul Wellstone (his office refused to even talk to us). We went to Congressman Martin Sabo (his office was equally unhelpful). We were scared of Republican legislators, and didn't even try them. Oh how we prayed for the legalization of same-sex marriage!

Because of Göran's anomalous status, for the last eight years we just had to learn to live with a certain amount of day-to-day, low-level anxiety that came with knowing that the wrong chain of events could lead to some very, very bad outcomes for us.

Finally, after the election of Keith Ellison to Congress, Göran decided we had nothing to lose by asking for his help. We wrote him a letter, and to our shock and amazement, his office contacted us and agreed to help.

We provided them with the various documents we had accumulated over the years. The bottom line was, we had actually done our homework and had all the information that was needed to locate the actual birth certificate. However -- catch 22! -- because he didn't have any state issued ID in the name on his birth certificate, the Tennessee Department of Vital Records (Göran was born in Memphis) refused to perform a birth certificate search for us. Ellison's office was able get them to perform a search using the information we provided, and, lo and behold, on July 10, Göran received a phone call from Keith Ellison's assistant Mike Siebenaler informing us that his birth certificate had been located.

Göran and I have cried tears of joy. We still can't get over it. We can breathe freely for the first time in eight years since this nightmare began. This was literally the answer to prayers that I had been praying nightly for almost a year and a half now. So when we finally got the good news, we thanked Ellison's office. We thanked the attorneys who have done pro bono work for us. And as soon as we were alone at home together, we knelt down to offer prayers of thanksgiving to the true Author of our freedom.

After paying $12 to the Tennessee Bureau of Vital Records, he received a copy of the birth certificate. There were still other bureaucratic hoops we have had to jump through. But today, birth certificate and other documentation in hand, we went before a judge and finally got a court order to have his birth certificate amended to reflect his current name. Now the final step is to send the court order to Tennessee with a $27 fee, and then, after eight long years, we will finally be able to apply for a passport.

Thank God. We're going to start planning that Sweden trip again!


MoHoHawaii said...

Wow! What an ordeal! Congratulations on getting this resolved. I hope you have a great trip to Sweden.

J G-W said...

Second on the list, after the Viking Homeland, is the Land of the Rising Sun.

playasinmar said...

What J G-W forgot to mention was the most startling fact:

The original name on that reprinted birth certificate was Bruce Wayne.

J G-W said...

We did have a running fantasy about him being the long-lost heir of some rich and powerful dynasty.

Other theories: he was a space alien, a cabbage patch kid come to life, or one of Strom Thurmond's love children.

Abelard Enigma said...

Government bureaucracy at it's worst - I'm so happy you are making it through this. This is a case where all of the new privacy laws are hurting more than helping. 15 years ago you probably would have been able to do a birth certificate search yourself.

Although, I am curious - why Sweden? Not that I have anything against Sweden, it's just that it seems like an odd place for a first trip out of the US.

J G-W said...

Göran is a Swedo-phile. Don't ask me to explain it, I don't completely get it myself. I'm about 1/4 Swede and half Finn, but I'm not half as fired up about Scandinavia as he is. He's taken Swedish lessons at the Swedish Institute. If you ever visit us here in Minnesota, at our house you'll see tons of Scandinavian knickknacks -- Dala horses, wooden plates with Rosemaling, wall hangings, etc. We have a "Välkommen!" sign at our front door. When people come to visit, they look at me, clearly the Scandinavian of the two, and assume this kitsch all belongs to me. Nope. It's him.

I think part of his admiration stems from the time he was homeless back in the early 1990s, just before we met. He perceives Scandinavians as stoic and tough, and he needed to internalize those qualities in order to survive. It was around that time he chose his new name, which, in case you haven't noticed, is Swedish.

GeckoMan said...

John, please give my congratulations to Goran! I hope you two have many wonderful travels to Sweden and beyond.

BTW, the Swedish Chef on Sesame Street is one of my favorites! Can Goran do an impersonation?

J G-W said...

Well, actually our finances may not permit us to leave the country for some time. But it's the principle of the thing. We kind of felt like prisoners in our own country. (I promised Göran I would not leave the country until he could go with me!) Now we can travel abroad, at least theoretically.

Once he gets his passport, we may plan a little trip up to Canada or something like that. There's a Finn town up in Thunder Bay, where you can get real pulla, makkara, and the nice, spicy Finnish sinappia.

Behind the Infamous Veil said...

This is an amazing story. Would Göran mind if I used it as the plot idea for a novel???

J G-W said...

BIV - He might not mind, but I would! I'm already planning to write a novel about it!

Just kidding! Are you serious? I'll ask him if you wish.

Actually, at a certain point years ago when we first began the process of trying to resolve his dilemma, I tried to write some fiction about it, but all my attempts failed because I was too darn angry. My rage about the situation literally left me unable to process it in any way.

One thing that was most infuriating was the realization that if he were heterosexual and were married to a woman, his problem would have been solved. Any issues regarding his citizenship or obtaining a passport could have been resolved through his spouse. Needless to say, that experience left me with certain very strong feelings about the unfairness of denying at least the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.

Fortunately, the issue has been resolved a different way.

Knight of Nothing said...

I love this story. :-)

Anonymous said...

i have such a boring life

J G-W said...

KoN - All's well that ends well! You know better than most what a trial this was for us.

Santorio - Sometimes, boring is good.