Streatham family takes the US Government to court for the right to be ‘normal’
By Padraig Belton
‘A normal family,’ is how Allison Blixt describes hers, as she coaxes her three year-old son Lucas to an afternoon nap.
American-born Blixt and her Italian wife Stefania Zaccari have two sons and live in Streatham.
The US Embassy has given a passport to their second son, Massimiliano (Massi), to whom Blixt gave birth, but has repeatedly declined to give one to Lucas, to whom Zaccari gave birth.
This is because, in the Embassy’s view, Blixt is not Lucas’s mother.
‘I was just stunned. I remember staring at the woman blankly with tears running down my face, thinking you can’t be serious,’ she says.
In November, the US Embassy replied to her to explain their most recent rejection of Lucas’s passport application.
‘They were citing a section of statute that applies to children born out of wedlock – so they’re not recognizing us as married,’ she says.
She had moved to London in order to be with her wife. Under the law as it then was, Blixt could not secure a green card for Zaccari to live in America.
‘Coping with that anger at my country was hard enough, but having that turned on my child…really, it took the wind out of me.’ she says.
Blixt and her wife have lived in London for almost exactly a decade. Both Massi and Lucas were born in London.
The couple do not know if they would decide to live in America, but have no other family in the UK.
‘We have amazing support here, but it’s different when it’s your sister, and you say, hey, can you come over, I’m on my way to drop off the kids,’ she says.
Her sister has two children, one who is three and near Lucas’s age, and one who is seven.
‘When we went on holiday, every morning, Lucas was asking for them – that connection they have makes it really hard to be so far away,’ she says.
She contrasts her difficulties with the US government with very easy encounters with government authorities in the UK.
‘When we went to a council after he was born to register his birth, we just brought our marriage certificate, and they just said congratulations, basically,’ she says.
‘Here’s his birth certificate, okay you’re his mother, done.’
The pair met in New York, then had a two-year long distance relationship before both moving to London.
‘We met in a bar – classy,’ laughs Blixt.
‘Stefania was on holiday and it was her first night in New York, and I went out with some friends in Brooklyn,’ she says.
‘She was leaving the week after, like a film.’
The law firm where Blixt worked, which she describes as supportive, found her a position in London.
Zaccari found work soon after, and the two of them quickly found friends and made a life in London.
It continue to hurt, though, that she could not have made a life with her wife in New York. The US denying Lucas a passport thus stirs old wounds.
‘But the US is meant to be advanced. At one time in history, people left Europe and went to the US for freedom. I had to come here,’ she says.
‘The States had basically said you’re not the same,’ she adds. ‘If you were with a man, you could have brought him here. But you’re with a woman, so you can get out.’
Into the Courts
She says the Department of State is breaking the law.
Recently, on 22 January, Blixt sued the US Department of State in the District Court for the District of Columbia.
“The Supreme Court has said that same sex marriage is the same and should receive the same consolation and benefits as opposite sex marriage,” Blixt says.
The State Department is not doing this, by applying an irrelevant section of law to do with children born out of wedlock., she says. Blixt and Zaccari were married before the birth of their children.
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented same-sex married couples from being recognized as spouses for the purpose of US federal law.
In his majority opinion in the United States v Windsor case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the 1996 Act ‘writes inequality into the entire United States Code.’
A 2015 Supreme Court case, Obergefell v Hodges, then said the right to marry was a fundamental right under the US Constitution, which states could not deny to couples of the same sex.
Friends of the couple have suggested there could be legal routes for them to reside in the US, by Blixt acting as Lucas’s stepmother, or adopting him.
‘But I’m not his stepmother, I’m his mother. And it’s ridiculous I would have to adopt my own child,’ she says.
They are not the only family in this situation.
Blixt says another couple filed a similar suit the same day in California, and she knows of two dozen others.
She says she and Zaccari are open about who gave birth to each of their children. But other same-sex couples have taken a different route, and the decision should not be the government’s, she says.
Were the family to move to the US tomorrow, Blixt and Massi could live there as US citizens, and Zaccari under a green card as Blixt’s wife. Lucas, though, would be an alien.
‘No governmental purpose could justify imposing these indignities on a child of a valid marriage or restricting a family’s freedom to live as a family—together,’ says the lawsuit.
There is no law that needs to be changed to issue Lucas with a passport, says Blixt. Only for the State Department to treat Lucas as having been born within wedlock.
The State Department has 60 days – until March – to respond to the lawsuit. The U.S. Embassy told Lambeth Life that it does not comment on pending
It would be ‘the best, most straightforward, shortest solution,’ Blixt says, if it simply accepted the legal argument, and issued the passport – otherwise getting a ruling in the District Courts could go on for years.
‘Hopefully not,’ says Blixt, who adds she is optimistic.
‘But we have to be optimistic about these things,’ she says, ‘I’m always optimistic that things will get better.’
‘And they have got so much better. But there’s a long way to go.’