The life partner of a German diplomat said he has retired King Norodom Sihanouk to thank for permission to live here with his same-sex spouse, who was recently posted to Cambodia where gay marriages are not legally recognized.
Cyril Chin-Kidess, 35, the legal spouse of German Embassy official Theophile Kidess, 42, appealed directly to Norodom Sihanouk by e-mail for help to secure his long-term visa after his application was initially rebuffed in February.
Chin-Kidess was joined earlier this year by his partner of eight years—and recently appointed Consular and deputy head of mission at the German Embassy—under the German “life partnership” law. But the same-sex union was not recognized under Cambodian law.
“At the time we were going through all that in February…a friend saw the article in the Bangkok Post” regarding comments Norodom Sihanouk posted to his Web site supporting gay marriage in response to the political debate surrounding the issue in the US, Chin-Kidess said.
Standing up for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, Norodom Sihanouk wrote in a series of letters posted on the Web site that he supported same-sex marriage.
“I was thinking, ‘What the heck have I got to lose?’…so I sent [Norodom Sihanouk] an e-mail,’” he said. “Both of us were just shocked that we got a personal reply.”
Chin-Kidess, who is a US citizen of Burmese descent, said this was the first time he and his partner had confronted the difficult problem of obtaining spousal recognition for their same-sex marriage. He had found work and secured his own visas at Kidess’ previous diplomatic postings in Hong Kong and London.
“Every gay diplomat has a story to tell about getting their partner in,” Chin-Kidess said. “The most common solution is for the partner to get a job and enter on their own.” However, gay partners sometimes apply as household members or domestic help.
“We have friends who do take the route of domestic help and just say, ‘Oh, it’s just a piece of paper,’” Chin-Kidess said. “We don’t want to be critical of that, but I went to [the University of California at] Berkeley. I don’t want to do that.”
Chin-Kidess, who worked as a lawyer at Kidess’ previous postings, said that since his arrival in Cambodia, he has volunteered for the Khmer Rouge tribunal task force and is considering teaching law.
“We’re not here to start a revolution,” he said. “You feel like America is about to be ripped apart over this issue [same-sex marriage], but in other countries, it’s just not a big deal.”
Germany is more progressive on the issue than the US, though Chin-Kidess still must wait a few years to apply for German citizenship, unlike a heterosexual spouse, he said. However, because of his spouse’s status, Chin-Kidess holds a German diplomatic passport.
“We’re really lucky that the German Embassy was supportive,” he said. “The problem would be if Theo wanted to leave the [diplomatic] service and come and live with me in the States. That would be almost impossible,” he added.
With US policy on homosexual unions as it is, Chin-Kidess may have to hold onto his German passport a little longer.
“It’s a German diplomatic passport, but when you open it, you see an Asian face, and it says I’m an American,” he said. “It’s amazing. The US wouldn’t do that.”