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TC Student Joins Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage

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TC Student Joins Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage

Nichols and Shen at their wedding in Taiwan in 2002. Their marriage is not recognized in the U.S.

For some people, the fight for recognition of same-sex marriage is emblematic of a clash of cultural values. For others, it's an issue of basic human rights. For TC student Wade Nichols, among other things, it's a way to cut down on plane rides.

Even beyond most gay couples who can't get their marriages recognized by the U.S. or most state governments, Nichols and his partner Shen, who were married in Tapiei in 2002, are especially inconvenienced. While Nichols completes his studies at TC through the Geda Bilingual Education Project, Shen must stay in Taiwan, where he has citizenship and can work legally as a costume designer for a university in Taipei. It takes a full day in the air just for Nichols to visit his partner. "I feel like I should grow wings," he said.

That's far from the only headache: Shen's inability to get U.S. citizenship means the couple must sell a Denver house they had completely refurbished. So they decided to do something about it-get married again, and fight the system. This time they placed themselves on a list of same-sex couples waiting to get married in New Paltz, after the mayor announced gay couples could obtain wedding licenses earlier this year. When the state shut this down, the ACLU moved in with a lawsuit. Due to their unique problems as a binational couple, Nichols and Shen were invited to be one of 13 couples selected to be a part of the litigation. They readily accepted.

"I was looking for a way to get involved legally," Nichols said. "We've been trying to attack (the issue) in two directions: courts and elections," he said, but courts have more immediate success. Nichols spoke at a press conference about the lawsuit on April 7, the day it was filed, and has been communicating closely with the ACLU ever since. He doesn't expect immediate results-the ACLU expects the case to take as long as three years-and even a successful outcome on the state level wouldn't impact the federal issues of immigration and citizenship, but he sees this as an important step.

"It's exciting to see people talking about it," Nichols said. "The more people talk about it, the more people will make it an issue when they vote, and some may change their minds."

Nichols met Shen in the U.S., while Shen was here studying for a master's degree. Nichols noted that Shen had spent the better part of eight years in the U.S. and that Shen's siblings had all become U.S. citizens. Shen was only a few months away from becoming eligible for citizenship on his own when the couple moved back to Taiwan where they could both get good work, given Nichols' extensive experience as an educator and curriculum designer in East Asia.

"Part of the reason I'm so passionate about this is that he tried to do everything right, and still didn't get in," Nichols said.

Shen said there was an extreme disparity between treatment of heterosexual and homosexual couples. "One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson, ‘All men are created equal.' But gay men? We're sorry."

Still, Nichols said that most reactions to his marriage and the case have been positive: "I've gotten a lot of supportive messages from family and friends from many countries. Especially here…people at TC are pretty liberal-minded and supportive."

The two were married in Taiwan in early November, 2002. The wedding had a Halloween theme, since Halloween is Nichols' favorite holiday and Shen felt sorry he was in a country that hardly celebrated it. Nichols said the choice had some symbolism: "Halloween is the one day of the year that you can be anything you want to be and nobody cares."

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