Free to pursue dream

Wanaka married couple Kate Bariletti and Jan Janata are delighted their same-sex marriage is now recognised in some American states. Photo by Mark Price.
Wanaka married couple Kate Bariletti and Jan Janata are delighted their same-sex marriage is now recognised in some American states. Photo by Mark Price.
Otago's first same-sex couple to be married are moving to the United States, taking advantage of the recent change there in attitude and laws concerning gay marriage.

Kate Bariletti and Jan Janata, of Wanaka, married in Alexandra on August 19 last year, the day the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act came into effect.

They were among 31 same-sex couples married that day.

But they have also been keen followers of changing attitudes and laws in the United States.

Ms Bariletti was born in the US so has always had the right to live and work there.

Ms Janata was born in New Zealand and because their marriage - and before that, their 2005 civil union - was not recognised in the US, moving there was problematic.

Then, in a landmark speech in 2012, US President Barack Obama announced he favoured legalising same-sex marriages.

Ms Bariletti, never especially patriotic, celebrated that day by baking American-style pumpkin muffins in paper cups displaying the Stars and Stripes.

Ms Bariletti said, since then, gay couples had achieved equal rights in those states that recognise gay marriage, including Washington, the state she is from.

That meant they could now have joint health insurance, joint property ownership and each partner would be recognised as the next-of-kin of the other - something that did not apply before.

''Honestly, we never thought we would see that in our life time,'' Ms Bariletti (65) told the Otago Daily Times.

''Back in the '70s and '80s, there was just no way that I could even imagine that my country would allow that.

''I feel like I have been a refugee from my country for all this time because Jan could not legally live in the United States with me as my spouse.''

Both women have travelled extensively but are in search of a new adventure.

Added to that, the high New Zealand dollar has devalued Ms Bariletti's American pension and financially they believe they will be at least as well off there as they are here.

Their plan is to buy a large pick-up truck with an RV, or ''fifth wheel'' - referred to as a ''rig'', they say - and travel around the states.

Ms Janata said: ''We don't know when we pull out of wherever we buy the rig from whether we are going to turn left or right.''

They do expect to spend winters in the south and some time in Ms Bariletti's home state of Washington.

However, although New Zealand and American attitudes to gay marriage have changed, not so Ms Bariletti's elderly, ''devout Catholic, Italian, republican'' parents.

''They just cannot accept this relationship.''

The couple say they met on a ''lesbian love boat'' cruise to Alaska in 1996.

''Within three months, I had uprooted myself and moved to New Zealand to be with Jan,'' Ms Bariletti said.

One of their main tasks before facing immigration officials in the US was to obtain a ''green card'' so Ms Janata could work there.

The application documents sent to the American consulate general in Auckland weighed 1kg.

Ms Bariletti said the ''beautiful thing'' about their plans would be having the same freedom they had had when they went travelling as ''kids''.

''That's come back to us.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz