Love by e-mail proves too heavy a burden

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The Independent Online
It was a romance born on the information superhighway. Robert Boot, a librarian in Brisbane, Queensland, "met" Charlene Mirabella, a librarian in Buffalo, New York, while chatting on the international computer network, Internet. Love blossomed, and in December they married in the US. Then disaster struck.

Australia's immigration authorities informed the newlyweds that Ms Mirabella would not be welcome down under. The reason: she is a diabetic, considered to be overweight and, therefore, a potential drain on the country's health system.

"We're absolutely furious," Mr Boot, 50, the chief health sciences librarian at the University of Queensland, said yesterday. "I assumed that I would be able to bring my wife home unless she was a member of the mafia or terminally ill." Meanwhile, Ms Mirabella, 40, having left her job as a college librarian, is cast away in cyberspace 10,000 miles away in New York.

Their courtship began a year ago, through an international hook-up of librarians on Internet. Ms Mirabella was struck by a comment which Mr Boot sent out dismissing complaints by fellow librarians about their grey public image. "Stop whingeing, you silly bastards. Your image is in your own hands."

On 9 March 1994, Ms Mirabella sent him a personal reply on e-mail. "We just started talking back and forth," Mr Boot said. "We got to sharing increasingly personal information. On 5 April, I proposed to her on e- mail. We'd never seen photos of each other."

Last December, he flew to Buffalo and they were married.

It was only when Ms Mirabella applied for Australian residency that she was told by the Australian consulate in New York that she would have to produce a doctor's report on her diabetes and lose 12 kg (26lb) before being accepted. After weeks of haggling, Mr Boot had to leave his wife behind and return home to work.

The couple have been conducting their married life the way they met: via computers. "I don't blame the bureaucrats," Mr Boot said. "I blame the politicians. It's the law that sucks."

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