Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Binational Lesbian Couple of 19 Years, Forced Return to the Netherlands after Deportation

It has been a year since Jenny and Ottie were forced to leave their home in Delaware and return to The Netherlands. As we close out the year, we thought it was only appropriate to recall their tremendous effort to raise awareness of the plight of binational couples. We wish Jenny and Ottie well as they celebrate their 20th year together. The following excerpt first appeared on the website of the group Love Exiles, an international organization of binational lesbian and gay couples.

From Delaware Online:
"Phipps returned to the states about four years ago to help her brother, who was diagnosed with lymphoma. She was the only sibling able to donate stem cells to help treat him. But the illness got worse and her brother died after a year. That’s when Phipps decided she needed to be close to her parents and siblings."
From LoveExiles:
"A woman with the family commitment and ultimate generosity to give up her life in the Netherlands, donate stem cells to her brother, and stay near her parents and siblings after her brother’s death.  On November 17, 2009 Jenny and Ottie left their home in Delaware. They don’t know when and if they will be able to return. Thanks to Jenny and Ottie’s efforts, Judiciary Committee member Senator Kaufman (D-DE) came out in support of the Uniting American Families Act."

Gay American "Punched in the Gut" - Consulate in Casablanca Rejects His Moroccan Partner

"The good news is that gay Americans can now openly fight and die for their country in the military. The bad news is we are still treated as second-class citizens when it comes to the civil marriage law.

I will always remember the day, and the face of the U.S. government that told me I am not equal to other Americans, that my relationships are not as worthy as those of other Americans."
Read the full article here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Binational Couple Torn Apart: Gay Peruvian Man Deported After Two Months in Detention

Deportation is every binational couple's nightmare scenario. Stories like the one depicted in this excellent article serve to remind us of the reality of deportation. The couple pictured here, Richard and Jair, waged a courageous and exhausting fight to stay together.  Their fight would have been unnecessary if lesbian and gay couples were afforded equal rights under our immigration laws.  We must fight for legislative action and for an immediate halt to deportations.

On December 17, as the U.S. Senate voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Jair Izquierdo was enduring his 58th day in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility. That morning, he spoke by phone to Richard, his partner of five years. The couple was hopeful that last minute efforts by Senator Robert Menendez would at least delay the deportation, but it was too late. Within hours, Jair was abruptly taken to a plane and flown back to his native Peru, the country he had fled in 2001. An outstanding removal order from 2009 was enforced against Jair and the couple was powerless to stop it. The deportation will mean at least a ten-year bar on returning to the United States.

In 2008, Richard and Jair celebrated their relationship by entering a "civil union" under the laws of New Jersey.  Despite this, U.S. immigration law did not provide an avenue for Richard to sponsor Jair for legal status. Like so many binational couples they reached a dead end after pursuing every route to legalize Jair's status over the years. They lived with the constant threat that one day Immigration and Customs Enforcement would come for Jair and enforce that removal order and that day came on October 20.  As the article reports, the couple mounted heroic efforts but they were not able to slow down the deportation process.  The consequences for them are devastating.

This heartbreaking story, transpiring as it did just before Christmas and on the very day we achieved a milestone victory for equality, illustrates why we desperately need leadership on this issue.  Most urgently, the executive branch of our government must put in place a policy that halts the deportations of spouses and partners of gay and lesbian U.S. citizens until a change in the law brings same-sex binational couples into the family-based immigration system.

There are no quick fixes for binational couples, as any veteran of the long struggle for immigration equality can attest.  While work continues to ensure that family unification—the bedrock policy of our immigration law—extends to all Americans,  Department Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano must stop the deportations.

Another gay couple in New Jersey who are fighting deportation, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia, have taken a lead in this effort. They have set up a petition ("Save Our Marriage, Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia") calling on Secretary Janet Napolitano to exercise prosecutorial discretion for gay and lesbian binational couples. Please sign this petition and share it with others.

Monday, December 20, 2010

José and Steve: Running Out of Options

José and Steve's wedding rings
Steve and I came across your website and wanted to share our story. Understanding the struggles of binational couples means also learning about the endless, complex journeys of immigrants to the United States.  The defeat of the DREAM Act in the Senate on December 18 was a crushing blow to us and to all young men and women brought to the United States as children by their parents.   As a gay couple, we know that the solution for us lies with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

I was just seven years old when I was brought to the United States. My parents decided to leave Peru to move us out of harm's way. Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path was an active Maoist Peruvian terrorist group known for its brutality and violence. My parents felt it was no longer safe to raise me and my two-year-old sister in Peru. We moved to Miami, Florida were we were all granted legal status because of my dad's work visa.

Growing up, I was taught that if I worked hard the  opportunities would be endless. I quickly mastered English. I was in gifted classes in elementary school and I spent my summers at school. I got so far ahead in mathematics that I had to take one class (Algebra 2) at the high school before coming back to middle school for the rest of the day. I was admitted to a Magnet science and math high school and graduated with a 4.9 GPA. I participated in everything from Model UN, Performing Arts, to the Swim Team. I was Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook. I competed in every academic competition, often winning, and I was a even a State Officer for one of my clubs. I was part of the Duke University Talent Identification Program. I was a National Hispanic Merit Finalist and AP Scholar.  I went to the State Science Fair and won a Silver Crown for our Yearbook.  I was doing everything I could to ensure that I would go to a good college and secure my future.

And then the other shoe dropped.

I started applying to go to schools. Turns out, as a child whose status was derived from his parent's non-immigrant work visa, I lacked sufficient immigration status to qualify for any federal aid or help. My dream of attending Duke University or Columbia evaporated.  I had excellent grades and high SAT scores, but I would have to apply as an international student rendering me ineligible for any financial aid. At that time, my mother's brother, a U.S. citizen, petitioned for us to get permanent resident status (“green cards”), but that process that was estimated to take 10+ years.  Unexpectedly, a short term solution gave me some reprieve. The University of Florida awarded me private scholarships to cover all my tuition. I was still considered an international student, but they used private money to ensure I would get my education. I graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor's of Science in Environmental Science.

While in school, I battled depression. I knew I was gay, but I had not come out to my friends or family. Separately, I wanted to get internships in my field, but as an international student they were out of reach. I put on a good face and tried to hide my sadness. To my fraternity brothers, I was just happy old me, but inside I felt lonely and hopeless. Near the end of school, I withdrew for a year due to my many issues, but I went back. I changed my major from Environmental Engineering to Environmental Science because I knew I would run of money before completing the longer engineering degree.  In the back of my mind was the realization that even when I graduated I wouldn't be able to do anything with my degree because of my immigration status. Lacking any choices or any plan for my future, I pushed on anyway. My family kept pressuring for me to find the right person and get married, like my sister did. Of course they knew that if my life progressed that way my immigration status would also be resolved. I knew that I could never do that. I pushed back, but I couldn’t say why. They still didn't know I was gay. Everything finally got to me and right before I graduated I sunk to my very lowest and most desperate state.  Feeling trapped by these circumstances, I needed a change.

I graduated, sold my truck and left Florida and headed to the Pacific northwest. It was about as far as I could go to start a new life.  I had no friends, no family, and no job. Intentionally, I set out to start over. I slowly came out to my family and to my friends. I met Steve (an American citizen) and we fell in love. I felt for the first time that I had met the person who I had needed my whole life. Even though I had always been surrounded by friends and family, I had always felt lonely - I finally started feeling happy.

While I was waiting for my the sibling petition filed by my uncle for my mother to become “current,” Steve and I became closer and closer as a couple. This past spring, after being together for 3 years, we married in Greenwich, Connecticut.  It was the happiest day of my life. We followed that with a beautiful ceremony a few weeks later with many of our friends and family. Then we traveled to Florida where we celebrated with many of my friends.

Shortly after, the “priority date” on my uncle’s petition finally became “current.” However, I now learned that during that long wait I had irreversibly “aged out” after turning 21. I could no longer derive permanent resident status through my mother, because immigration viewed me as an adult, and not as a “child.”  This news was devastating. In a single moment, I went from waiting to get my “green card” to having no options. I don't have work authorization and we are running out of time. If I were straight, my marriage would have been all it took to fix this, but I am not.  Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), our legal marriage is worthless to the federal government. I cannot miss the fact that four years ago my sister received her green card on the basis of her marriage. The contrast between my situation and hers reinforces the feeling that Steve and I share, that we are devalued by this country, discounted as less equal and less deserving simply because we are gay. Yet, the people that know Steve and I know that our relationship and our commitment to each other is no different than any other. We love each other, we are happier together than we've ever been before.

My entire life is in this country. I had no input in my parents’ decision to bring me and my sister to this country when I was a child. I did everything right to try to achieve this American Dream and in the end I am left empty-handed.  My husband is treated as a second class citizen and is helpless to change these circumstances. If it wasn't for the love of my family and friends - I don't how we would go on. We cling to the hope that we will be able to make a future together despite this seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

Peru may be where I was born, but ironically America is the only home I know. I say ironically, because the problems Steve and I face are entirely because of this country’s discrimination against us as a married gay couple. We must fight for our right to be together. We cannot give up because Steve and I have nowhere to go. We are desperate for DOMA to be defeated. We are afraid that I could be deported to Peru, a country of which I have no longer have a strong connection and where gay men are persecuted.  We are hoping that by lending our voices to this effort as a married binational couple we can help others understand the way in which DOMA threatens to destroy our family. We ask everyone reading this to join in the effort to repeal DOMA and help end the cruel discrimination again gay and lesbian binational couples that tears apart American families.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Inger and Philippa Prepare for Another Christmas on Webcam: Love Without Borders

At the end of a visit, Philippa hugs their ten-year old
daughter who knows her as Mum
Here we are, with the holidays quickly approaching. My daughter and I are trying to prepare and take pleasure in the season. Sounds happy enough, except for the fact that my wife, the woman my daughter calls “Mum,” is 5,000 miles and 7 hours away from us in the UK. The emptiness that is a prevailing theme as we pick out gifts and drag out decorations is almost palatable. Even the littlest things, like having to think again about sending packages overseas and wondering if they’ll arrive in time reminds us of what is missing. The knowledge that it will be another Christmas on webcam takes much of the joy out of the situation.

My name is Inger. I am a US citizen and my partner, Philippa, is British. Together we have a 10 year old daughter who knows Philippa as her Mum.

We have been struggling to find solutions to the inequalities in the US Immigration system for about 2 ½ years. In that time, Philippa has been here 6 times and my daughter and I have been to the UK twice. The longest we have managed to spend together in one sitting is 89 days. That’s just under 3 months. When you think about it, that’s no time at all, especially when this person you haven’t seen for more than 89 days is your spouse. It’s hard to create a home and raise your family and be part of “normal” everyday life when that life depends on telephones, computers and the occasional visit lasting, usually, between 8 to 23 days. When we had a commitment ceremony, and our daughter gave me away, it was a beautiful thing and one of the proudest days of my life… less than 2 weeks later she was gone.

The United States of America is very big on the idea of family; however, it seems hypocritical to tell me that my family isn’t “the right kind.” Those who express bigotry against lesbian and gay Americans seek to deny us our basic human rights. As an American in a binational relationship I am encouraged to leave my own country as a solution to our immigration woes. The purveyors of the Family Values propaganda are not the ones who have to hold their young child at night when she wants her mum; to try to explain and to rationalize why her mother has to leave after 3 weeks when it’s been 6 ½ months since we’ve seen her last; to keep her feeling safe when she knows that we don't know when we’ll be reunited next; and, above all else, to keep her faith and trust in us that we are doing everything we possibly can to fix this.

Family Values rhetoric has been enshrined in our laws, and those laws deny us the right to live together as a family. You might say we are lucky to have the option to move to the UK, where same-sex binational couples have had immigration rights since 1997. However, we cannot move to the UK because my daughter's father lives here in Colorado. It would be wrong to deprive my daughter of her relationship with her father. That is a choice we should not have to make, because Philippa should be able to move here and live with us. But the U.S. government does not see it that way. The Defense of Marriage Act denies access to the protections of U.S. law including the family unification policy of immigration law through which all other Americans in my position would simply sponsor their spouse for a green card. The Defense of Marriage Act wages a war of cruel consequences against us. It was passed in the name of family values. Whose family? The proponents never said. This law must be repealed in the name of fairness and justice. And in the name of valuing family.

When I describe our situation to others they are appalled. Philippa is willing to give up her whole life, leave everything she knows and has in the UK so that she can be with us and yet she is made to feel unwanted by the country of The Great Melting Pot and The Land of Opportunity. She is educated, industrious, moral and kind and would be an asset to our community. With her by my side, we would live happier and more productive lives. What child wouldn’t thrive in a home with loving caring and supportive parents? Philippa has to view our daughter’s triumphs and hard times through email, or video instead of being able to cheer her on in person or hug her fears away. When our girl asks a seemingly simple question of “When is Mum coming home?” Would you want to be the one answering those questions, looking into that confused and trusting face, seeing it crumble and fall? No one would want to fall in love, only to feel that they have caused pain to the rest of their family. But we could no more give up on each other, than breathe water or sprout wings. And so, we carry on. Facing each new day as it comes, knowing that still in our trying situation, we are luckier than so many others.

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I in Philippa I have found my life mate, my forever one, the only person with whom I could ever truly raise my life’s work, our daughter. I will wait and fight and petition and call and volunteer and cry and shake my fists at the heavens until my beautiful and most precious wife is safely home and we are all united. Permanently. A simple thing really. No fireworks, no fanfare…just to be together…just to be. What I wouldn’t give.

In the mean time, we waffle between celebrating and forgetting that we are missing birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, milestones and every precious minute we are apart. Vowing never to waste a moment when we can finally stop the clock that is slicing our days together into moments left. To silence that ticking that underscores everything. Just to be. Together. Whole. Always.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Ballad of Linas & Jan

Don’t get me wrong: Stockholm is a lovely place to live. The city is beautiful, it’s hip, it’s incredibly pleasant, and the summers are unsurpassable. But despite its many charms, Sweden isn’t home.

If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be living in Sweden because I had to, I wouldn’t have believed you. Ten years ago, I was graduating from college and moving to Manhattan, the magical place where I’ve wanted to move ever since my childhood in Cleveland, Ohio. I had the world (a.k.a. “New York”) right in front of me, and Sweden barely registered on my mental map. In fact, before I arrived at Stockholm’s airport in February of 2005 with no intention of using the second half of my roundtrip ticket, I had never even seen pictures of the city. The passport control agent flipped through my passport several times before asking, “I see you have a residency visa, but when was the last time you were in Sweden?”
“Never!” I replied cheerily. “I hope I like it!”

So how did I get here? And why am I still here?

Well, like all the best stories, mine involves a sailor. A captain, actually. On a chilly November evening in 2003 in Midtown, I was chatting away with friends at a magazine party when the open bar began charging for drinks. The crowd converged on coat check, eager to move someplace else. Hundreds of people pressed forward uncomfortably, so I hovered near the edge of the crowd, waiting for it to settle down and start thinning out. The next thing I know, some guy is pulling me into the melee, saying in a slight foreign accent, “You have to push forward, or you’ll never leave.” (Words to live by, as it turned out.)

My first thought: ‘Who is this random dude, and why is he hitting on me in coat check, of all places?’
My second thought: ‘Why am I giving this handsome guy such a hard time?’

The rest, as they say, is history. (Or as Elaine Benes might say to Jerry Seinfeld, “Yadda, yadda, yadda...”) His name was Jan, and he used to drive humongous cargo ships all around the world. For the past few years, he had taken a ‘desk job’ in New Jersey for his Scandinavian shipping company. Jan and I soon became inseparable. A year later, his company reorganized and moved his position to Stockholm, his hometown. I had just signed some book contracts – I am incredibly lucky to be part of a fairly mobile profession – so I quit my editing job, and within weeks I was smiling at the face of a bewildered passport agent. You see, at that point I was thinking, ‘Who knows? Maybe Stockholm is even better than New York! We’ll try it – say, for three to five years – and if we don’t like it, we’ll just move back.’ (If you could see me as I type this, you’d see me shaking my head and smiling ruefully.)
Linas and Jan with family members at their wedding in Stockholm, September 2009
Within months, I was pretty sure that Stockholm would never make me feel the way New York does. I was genuinely homesick. And the professional drawbacks to living abroad were more significant than I had supposed. My thoughts started turning to a stateside return, but the reality of my situation gradually became clear.

To explain: Before this point, the whole issue of visas and residency permits just seemed like a question of bureaucratic maneuvering, perhaps because I had known so many people in college and in New York from so many different countries. If they had all done it, why couldn’t Jan? Moreover, moving to Sweden had been a breeze! In fact, based on my relationship with Jan, I could become a Swedish citizen in just three years.
Essentially, our situation boiled down to this: Jan could only move back to the United States if a company sponsored his visa. And there are so, so many complications embedded in that simple statement.

Today I can honestly say that Jan and I are happy in Sweden. He loves his job, we’re close to his family, and we’ve made lifelong friends here. We have a very blessed life, and we know it. But we don’t want to be forced to live here forever. All gay and lesbian people understand what it means not to belong, and on some fundamental level, I just don’t belong here. And if I were given the option of moving back with Jan, I’d do it – in a New York minute.

It’s painful to hear straight, binational couples casually talk about moving back to the U.S.; it’s an enraging reminder of how fairness doesn’t always correspond with law. My Swedish friends are invariably confused: “What do you mean, you can’t move back to the U.S. with Jan?” (And the unstated, implicit follow-up question, “With policies like those, why would you even want to move to such a backward country?”) My family lives back home, in the States, and living with Jan in Sweden means we are isolated from them and so many of my closest friends, unable to share life’s celebrations and challenges with them.

In my head, I understand the incredible odds against immigration equality. Binational gay and lesbian couples comprise a relatively small number of people trying to rally national political attention. But when it’s you whose life is being shaped and limited by heinous legislation, the statistics don’t matter as much as the principles at stake.

So I ‘push forward,’ adding my voice to this campaign to end discrimination and keeping in mind the wise words of Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

A native of Ohio, author, illustrator and editor Linas Alsenas has lived in Sweden for almost six years. During that time he has written and illustrated three picture books for Scholastic Press: Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation (2006), Peanut (2007), and Hello My Name Is Bob (2009). He also wrote Gay America: Struggle for Equality (Amulet, 2008), an ALA Stonewall Honor book. He is hard at work on his next picture book, The Princess of 8th Street, due out in 2012. Linas and his husband, Jan Wilhelmsson, married in Sweden in September 2009, a few months after the country updated its laws to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chase Whiteside: Stop Deporting Gay Spouses

New Left Media's Chase Whiteside is writing as a guest columnist at LOGO On-Line's this month.  He chose to focus on the challenge faced by gay and lesbian binational couples as his topic for this week's installment. Read the complete column here.
"The United States lags behind 19 countries around the world that apply the same rules to same-sex couples for immigration purposes, including those with high immigration volume like Canada and the UK, whose systems are similar to ours. They have not experienced the increase in visa petitions or fraud that conservatives have warned of.  It’s time for the U.S. to catch up. And it’s time for the LGBT rights movement to prioritize this issue and press the government for immediate action."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stop The Deportations Launches Facebook Page

Check out our Facebook page here.

Help us build support to end the deportations, separations and exile of lesbian and gay binational couples.  Click on "like" and then scroll down to the bottom left and click on "share" to send the link to your friends.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Help Us Stop The Deportation of Henry Velandia Sign Petition to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

Encouraged by the overwhelming support for their Facebook page, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia have started an on-line petition calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" to halt the deportation of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. More than 2,000 people have signed the petition already. Help us reach our goal of 10,000 signatories.

Sign this petition today and help us build a movement to stop the deportations, separations and exile that tear apart lesbian and gay binational couples.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Mother's Failing Health: Lesbian Couple Caught Between America and Australia

I am an American woman in love. While I have met my soulmate, I have also found that in my relationship with my country, my country seems to be rejecting me.

Mia and I started dating in August 2007 while I was living and working in Australia. By the time our relationship developed into a romantic one, we had already been friends for years. Mia is Australian. I was born in the United States and while I was living in Australia I became an Australian citizen.  My dual citizenship has given us some advantages over other binational lesbian couples. That is until unexpected crisis interrupted our peaceful lives and reminded us of the extreme cruelty of discrimination in American immigration laws that are meant to protect and unify families.

Our relationship from the very beginning was amazing. Mia is one of the most loving and caring people I have ever known. We spent years living together in Australia happy and content.  During these years I missed my mother very much. It was difficult for me to live so far away, but I knew that moving back home to the U.S. was not an option due to American laws excluding gay binational couples from family-based immigration. Sadly, I came to realize that I have more rights as a gay Australian than I do in my home country.

We took annual trips to the US and spent a month visiting with my family and friends. During these trips Mia became very close with my parents and began to understand how hard it was for me to be so far away.

In the past year my parents have had major health issues and it has made our distance more than just difficult, it became a crisis. My Dad had a stroke and was in the hospital for one month undergoing a major surgery. In February, my Mom had a heart attack and we came very close to losing her. My parents worried about me being so far away and tried to protect me from the truth about their health. When I finally discovered the extent of their health issues I spent many difficult months deciding whether to move back home to take care of them. What made this decision so difficult was the knowledge that it would put a lot of stress on my relationship with Mia because I was unable to sponsor her as my partner.  My parents' health was in the balance. That my parents, aging and needing the help of their daughter, are now victims of the mean-spirited politicians who forced the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on this country is appalling.  That law stands in the way of our family being together at a time of extreme stress and great need.  Why did Congress do this to our family?

In May 2010, I began making all of the arrangements to move my life and Mia back to the US. As Mia has two University degrees, I was hoping that she would be able to get an work visa. When we arrived in US things did not go as we had planned. Within three weeks of us arriving in the US we had to rush my Mom to hospital. She was in the CCU for four weeks and again we almost lost her. All together she was in the hospital for four months and both Mia and I were at the hospital every day with her. I am designated by her health care proxy to make sure she was receiving the best care. Mia was my rock during this time. If it wasn’t for her love and support I would have not made it through this critical time. My Mom has now been home for a little over one month and she needs a lot of assistance with medications, treating her pressure sore, cooking, cleaning, etc. Mia and I have spent most of our time taking care of my Mom.

Because it was so important for Mia to be there for me and for my parents in this difficult period, she selflessly put off looking for an employer to sponsor her for a work visa. I sit here now sharing my story with you knowing that in a few days my love will be getting on a plane to go back to Australia without me. We are hoping that she will be able to return in a month or two but there are no guarantees. I cannot imagine my life without her.  I should be able to petition for her as my spouse so that she is able to stay here with me for as long as we are needed here. That should be our choice, based on our family's need. Instead, my own government does not allow me to keep my family together, while a binational heterosexual couple would never face this outrageous and inhumane situation. I am so sad and angry that my government treats my family this way.

I am now in a position, which no one should be put in. I have been forced to choose between taking care of my parents and being with my partner who I love and adore. It is more stressful and heart wrenching than any words could ever explain. And it must end. Congress has the power and the responsibility to repeal DOMA and must do so. This must be a priority for our community.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An American Grandmother and Her Wife, In Exile

Sally and I met in 2003 on an Internet message board at a time when we were both winding down marriages. I was in the process of a divorce after being married for 24 years and, defined for so long as wife and mother, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. One of my best friends told me to plan on being alone for the rest of my life as men for women my age were in short supply.

I grew up in a family that was extremely bigoted and homophobic. There were openly gay men on both sides of my family, and they were constantly the object of jokes and obscene comments. I had always had very strong attachments to my female friends and never had those same attachments to men I dated. I didn’t know what that meant though. I had never had any lesbian role models growing up, and assumed that all females fantasized about having sex with other females. I was quite naïve!

I responded to a post on the message board titled "Am I Gay?" because I had begun finally acknowledging to myself that I might be gay, a prospect that was terrifying to me. I wanted to see what advice others had to offer. One day Sally privately messaged me on the board that she was involved with a woman and would be happy to talk to me about my feelings if I ever wanted to talk.  We spent months communicating via private messages on the board, then e-mail, and ultimately through instant messages.  As odd as it may sound, we both realized that we were falling in love and finally after 8 months of talking to each other online and on the phone, I traveled to England to meet her in person.  When we did meet in person, it was as if we had known each other all of our lives.  We continued to travel back and forth to see each other.  I would go to England one month and Sally would travel to the US the next month.  We alternated who traveled to try and cut down on the immigration problems.

In July 2004, with our divorces finalized, we traveled to Canada, Sally from England and me from the US, and married.  It was absurd and tortuous to separate after honeymooning in Mexico, but as a lesbian couple we had no choice. Borders and passports trumped our love for each other. With heavy hearts, Sally returned to England and I returned to the US. It would be weeks before we were able to be together again.

We spent the next year and a bit traveling back and forth, trying to spend as much time together as possible.   Some trips were only for one night.  I moved to New Jersey to make the trips back and forth a bit cheaper and a bit shorter. I would fly out on Friday night after work, arrive in Manchester on Saturday morning, and fly back to the States on Sunday so that I could go back to work on Monday morning.  It was horrendous, exhausting and extremely expensive.  We were spending about $1,000 each month on travel expenses. Our phone bills exceeded $2,000 each month, until I figured that with VoIP and could get a virtual England number so that Sally and I could call each other for almost nothing. The financial burden was staggering.

We searched relentlessly for every option that would permit Sally to move to the US or allow me to move to the UK.  As so many thousands of binational gay couples before us we learned the cold hard truth: there was no way for Sally to move to the US without me sponsoring her and that was impossible because the US did not recognize our legal marriage.  The UK Civil Partnership Act was not effective at the time, and the only option available to me to move to the UK was to apply for a visa under the UK Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.  I met with an immigration lawyer in Liverpool who filed the application for me in August 2004, but it was denied on our first try because the attorney hadn't supplied all the necessary information.

In April 2005 Sally traveled to the States for a 90 day visit.  When she arrived in the States, she was pulled aside at immigration for additional questioning because she had been to the States so often.  She was intimidated by the immigration officers and, after a more than an hour-long interrogation, she was finally told that they would allow her in to visit but that she wouldn't be allowed back to the US for a year.  We were elated to be together for more than a few days at a time, but heartbroken at what the future held for us.   I was beginning to get questioned at immigration control when I came to England and even when I arrived back in the States. To be questioned on both ends, as though we were common criminals, when all we wanted to do is build a life together... it was almost too much to bear. It was certainly almost impossible to explain to others what we were enduring.  We are truly each other's soul mate and we couldn't bear the thought of being apart for months at a time. So we kept trying.

While Sally was in the States, she took the UK visa denial letter and put together a new application with all of the supporting information that had been left out the first time around.  This time we were pleasantly surprised. On Sally’s birthday in July 2005 we received the wonderful news that my visa to the UK had been approved. Two months later, I moved to the UK.

It has taken me years to rebuild my career here in the UK. Even in a booming economy at the time, it took months for me to find a job with no UK experience. However, I finally did get a job, and have worked for the past 5 years to get my career and income back to the level it was in the US.

I pay taxes to the UK government, but still have to file a tax return for the US government. I pay a higher tax rate here in the UK than I would earning the same income in the US, which means that I don’t have to pay additional taxes to the US on my income. However, I would be quite disappointed if I had to pay additional taxes to the US as I don’t get to file as a married US citizen. And I don’t get the same rights, particularly with regards to immigration. Needless to say, if I had married a British man rather than a British woman, my marriage would be recognized and not only would I be able to file my taxes as a married person, I would have the right to sponsor my spouse for immigration. Instead, I have been forced into exile.

Our Canadian marriage was automatically recognized here in England as of December 5, 2005 under the UK Civil Partnership Act. We enjoy the same rights and responsibilities of a heterosexual married couple in the US. The mundane becomes so comforting when you are treated equally and with dignity. When we have to fill out paperwork – mortgage applications, next of kin information at hospital and doctor appointments – there is a matter of fact acceptance of our same sex relationship. If I hadn’t been able to come here on my own visa, once the Civil Partnership Act was in effect, Sally could have sponsored me for immigration purposes into the UK. People here refer to same sex couples just as they would heterosexual couples – we are wives and gay men are referred to as each other’s husbands. It is hard to express in words what it is like to live in a world where being equal is simply the everyday norm.

I have two grown daughters, a 26-year old who works with hearing impaired children in a Texas school, and a married 28-year old who lives near Houston, where she works as a customer services rep for an IT company. My older daughter gave birth to my first grandchild, an amazing little boy in January 2009.  She is pregnant again. My second grandson is expected to arrive on my birthday in March 2011.

Unfortunately, because of what happened to Sally at immigration before, she is terrified of going into the US, making every trip extremely stressful. We miss our American family, but it is very expensive for us to visit as often as we want. We are rarely able to go back to the US, and I have now not seen my daughters in 15 months. By the time I can visit again, it will have been 19 months. Every mother and grandmother reading this will understand what that forced separation from my daughters and my grandson has meant for me. I have only seen my grandson twice in his life. I am thankful for free video chat options we have and as a result, he does know who I am, although he occasionally confuses me with his hero, Sponge Bob Square Pants! While I am exiled from my family, Sally is also deprived of the opportunity to spend these years getting to know my daughters. She is their stepmother and yet we have had so little time with them.

My mother is deceased.  My father had a lung transplant in May 2004 and was on the mend, but he chose to end his life earlier this year. Because of the problems we have going in and out of the US, I could not to go back for a memorial service that was held for him. Apart from my wife my only family are my daughters, son-in-law, and my grandchild. It is painful for me to be forced to live on the other side of the world from them, but it would be unbearable to be separated from Sally. I should not have to make that choice.

What stands in the way of my family’s happiness is a very simple law called, in mock seriousness, “The Defense of Marriage Act.” What this law does is that it creates two classes of marriages. One group of married couples (heterosexuals) have all the full rights, benefits and protections of federal law. The other group, legally married gay and lesbian couples, have nothing. According to this law, they are not husbands and wives, but legal strangers to one another. No matter the depth of our love, no matter the literal distance we have traveled to make a life together, no matter how supportive and compassionate our friends and family are, we are treated as strangers by the U.S. government. Another American family is torn apart by DOMA. A mother is kept from holding her daughter's hand as she gives birth. A grandmother is kept from seeing her grandson take his first steps. Members of Congress who passed this law in 1996 did so before same-sex couples could even marry. When you think about it, that is some determined effort to discriminate and cause havoc. Discriminating against Sally and me, causing so much pain to our families, can be undone. Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act now, and we can live together in the United States. Ironic, perhaps, that the main proponents of DOMA are those anti-gay legislators who are the first to say that government must be small and not intrude in our lives. And yet look at the terrible mess they have made of our lives, government making choices for us that we should have every right to make for ourselves.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Andrew Sullivan: The Spousal Diaspora

Andrew Sullivan writes very powerfully about DOMA and the exile of gay binational couples:
More and more Americans are being forced by the US government to emigrate because the Defense of Marriage Act will not allow their legal spouses to remain in America. Why? Because the spouses are not US citizens. For ever, the US has acknowledged, perhaps excessively, that marriage and family trump everything in immigration law. As long as the marriage is valid, and sincere, no questions are asked. Why? Because we collectively acknowledge something profound about the decision to commit legally to one other person for life, and respect it. We do not force someone to emigrate from the US because he fell in love with a woman from, say, Spain or force the repatriation of an American because she swooned for a Russian.
But for gay couples, it's so different. It is difficult for a government to express more contempt for a citizen's human dignity than asserting that it is completely indifferent to his or her being able to live in America with the person he or she loves. And this inhumanity is compounded by the fact that in some states and the capital city, Americans can lawfully wed someone of the same gender but of a different nationality. So they are lured with the chimera of equality only to discover that, if they are to remain together, they will have to leave the country.
No other civilized Western country treats its own gay citizens this way. And yet it appears clear that the law will not change on this in the foreseeable future, as a more and more radicalized Republican party exercizes a veto over any equality for gay people, and as the Democratic party continues its defensive crouch in the face of religious intolerance and cultural panic.
This is not, in my view, a minor matter. In fact, very few issues demonstrate so starkly the inequality between gays and straights in America than this. Has any heterosexual American citizen ever doubted for a mili-second that he has a right to marry the person he loves and remain in the land he was born in? It is unthinkable. And yet what is unthinkable for 98 percent of citizens is mandatory for the tiny minority.
It hangs over a binational marriage like a sword; it eats away at you like a cancer; it terrifies and enrages and demoralizes. And, for so many, it is not going away.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Border Keeps an American Woman From Her Partner During a Health Crisis

The author asked that the faces in this photograph be obscured to protect their privacy

I am an American woman. My partner of five years lives in Canada. I want to share our story to add a voice to this effort.

We first met on line 12 years ago, and gradually we got to know each other and fell in love. Five years ago we committed to each other as a couple, despite the challenges we faced to be together. Like so many other couples, we live separated by an invisible line seen only on maps and the stern faces of immigration officers. Each border crossing is a nerve racking experience. To cross the border is to be reunited with the other, but still it is an act filled with fear and dread. The greatest anxiety we feel is that on this attempt to enter, we will be denied. I never know if the Canadian officials will allow me yet another visit. She never knows if the Americans will permit her to come see me. It is in one word, crazy.

Right now my partner and the love of my life is battling lung cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My visits with her are rationed, and carefully planned and scheduled. The most important goal for me, given her health situation, is to preserve the opportunity to visit her. To maximize my chances, I go up only ever other week. We are both afraid that if I try to go more often I might be denied from crossing the border and unable to be with her. We are also afraid that if I am denied once, I may be denied again and again. This fear may not sound rational. Even though I only have an intention to visit her, the concern is that the Canadian authorities may conclude that I wish to stay there permanently. In fact that is not true. But still there is the worry. Will one visit too many result in an officer will put an end to these difficult but vital trips?

My partner agonizes, too, about whether she will be denied entry as a visitor when she is well enough to travel again to the U.S.

It hurts me and her that I can't be with her while she is undergoing her treatment. It is devastating to think that I am stuck on one side of a border, by an invisible line that seems not to know about our humanity; this is never more upsetting than when is told she might not survive the treatment. She lives very far from her family who are on the other side of the country.

I am fortunate because my employer recognizes the issue has allowed me to work out a schedule so that I can go and be with her. Regardless, I am limited as to the amount of time I can take off form work. I also have to pay bills, take care of a home and take care of our pets. If the U.S. government would recognize our relationship I would be able to have her here with me and care for her 24/7 during this difficult time. Right now I worry about my not being there if something was to happen. I worry that I won’t be there when she needs someone to take her to the doctor or to the ER.

Through this awful experience, I learned knew things about people close to me. For example, I never would have thought my parents would have accepted our relationship but they surprised me. They welcomed my partner into the family just like they did my sisters’ husbands. I can’t help but think: if my parents with the good old southern up bringing can accept us and love us, why can’t my own government let us be together?

I am not much of a writer, I find it hard to convey our story for others to understand. But imagine your spouse fighting for her life and you can’t be there to hold their hand when they are getting sick from the chemo, give them a hug when it gets to hard to walk across a room, or fix them a meal so they can keep their strength up so they can go to another treatment. Imagine not being able to hold them and tell them you love them every day when the fear stalks you that it might be your last day to do so.

I cannot do this because we are a lesbian couple and the American government refuses to recognize our relationship. The state where I live does not permit same-sex couples to marry, but we would be happy to marry in one of the states that does allow it, or in Canada. But we need the United States immigration service to recognize that marriage. I must be able to sponsor her for a green card. This border should not be keeping us apart.

For now, I am grateful to be able to visit her every other week hoping and praying that nothing terrible happens during her treatments. She knows that I love her even though I am not there to hold her hand.

I am tired of being treated like a second class citizen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another Thanksgiving Without Jesse & Max
A Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA

We are a small family, with very few close relatives, so I think that makes us unusually close to our children. We often say there is no one in the world we would rather spend time with, than our children, because we so enjoy their company. Given this, we are so deeply saddened that our son, Jesse, is not able to live in this country. Most people find it hard to understand that our son, who is an American citizen, is actually forced to be in exile so that he can live with his partner of ten years, Max.

Max is from Argentina. He came to live in this country to be with the person he loves, just like so many other people have done before him. He came to the U.S. on a work visa, and when he lost his job he lost his visa too, but more importantly he lost his ability to remain in this country with Jesse.

At that point, Jesse and Max had no other option but to leave. They were forced to live and work in Europe, where they could remain as a couple and build a life together. First they lived in Budapest, Hungary, and after a few years there, they moved to London.

They have been out of the country and separated from us for six years. When possible they have come back for brief visits. We have visited with them many times as well. These visits are no substitutes for the real thing. We are unable to be part of their daily lives, we are unable to celebrate milestones together. Each year, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, all pass without their presence, which we miss so dearly. Jesse is also extremely close to his sister Sara, who shares a birthday with him, although they are seven years apart. For years they celebrated this special day together. Now of course they celebrate separately, and have a difficult time even seeing each other.

For Jesse and Max this separation from beloved family and dear friends was not a choice. It was forced upon them, because this country does not recognize that the love of two people of the same sex should be honored with the same rights and privileges that belong to a man and a woman when they fall in love and decide to make a life together. Since immigration laws do not protect binational same sex couples, in many cases these relationships do not last.

Although we feel deprived of the company of two people we love so dearly, we are grateful that their love has been able to survive as they have now relocated twice in Europe.

My husband and I have spent many sleepless nights worrying what will happen as we get older. Traveling abroad is expensive and stressful, and we know that if laws remain as they currently exist, we can never have the joy and peace of mind that comes from living near one’s children. Adding to that worry is the sorrow that when Jesse and Max decide to start a family, we will be separated from future grandchildren.

While we are well aware that in today’s global world, many people live abroad, far from family and friends, we do not feel as though we are experiencing a routine separation. Ours is a totally different situation that results from discriminatory and cruel laws. While other people can also make a decision to return home if they choose to, and that is not an option for binational same sex couples who are forced into exile. We are typical American parents: we worked hard to raise our children to value all other people equally, to care about the world around them, to contribute as members of their community, and to be independent and confident. In contrast, our government undermines our happiness. Our government has torn our son away from us and it has burdened us with the stress of separation and considerable expense of frequent travel, all because of discrimination motivated by homophobia.

Jesse is a tax-paying American citizen and he should be treated the same as all other citizens of this country, but he is not. We never thought that our child would reach adulthood with fewer rights than we have. It seems quite strange, that in the 21st century, in the United States of America, our son would have to leave his country and his family and friends, just to be with his partner. That is not a choice anyone should be forced to make.

Education is badly needed on this issue. Over an over again, well meaning people say to me in shocked tones, “What do you mean, your son and his partner can’t live in this country. Why can’t they just get married in Massachusetts?” The Defense of Marriage Act, which had so many politicians trembling in fear that it passed Congress by a wide margin fourteen years ago, is a distant memory even to many who are relatively aware of the fight for gay and lesbian civil rights. As an American and as a mother, I feel that it is important to add my voice to this issue and demand that my government cease discriminating against my son.

Like so many other issues, if one is not intimately connected to it, its impact on real people and real lives is hard to comprehend. So I explain, as many times as necessary, that that immigration law is federal, and no matter how many states allow same sex couples to marry, until federal laws change, my son and Max, and countless other binational couples, will not have the right to live together in this country. Meanwhile, real lives are hurt and damaged, sometimes forever.

(Jesse and Max's story is here.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Denver Post: Inger & Phillipa Battle Separation

"I don't want any special rights at all. All I want is to live with my family," says Philippa, 33. Via Skype, she helps do homework with the 10-year-old who calls her "Mum." People ask why they do it, pressing on with such a tough relationship. You can choose what you eat or wear, they answer. You don't choose who you fall in love with. "We don't want to keep doing this, shaking our fists at the sky wanting the world to be fairer than it is," [Inger] Knudson says. "But we will, we will for as long as it takes to be together."
"U.S. Policy and Same-Sex Love Are Oceans Apart," Denver Post November 18, 2010. See full article here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia

Tomorrow, Henry Velandia will appear before an Immigration Judge in Newark, New Jersey.

Sign Henry's petition here.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Forced Into Exile, Jesse & Max Fight To Return: File Fiancé Visa Petition and Challenge DOMA

I never imagined that what began as a typical night out on the town in Manhattan would mark the beginning of a most amazing journey with the love of my life.
On that magical night in January 2001, I met Max in a nightclub. When he told me that he was visiting from Argentina and that it was his first day in New York I offered him a tour of “my city.” We felt very comfortable with each other, very quickly, and I wanted to share everything (stories, favorite places, and friends). During those initial weeks he met my neighbors, friends and even my parents. I’ll never forget how he gave them such a warm embrace upon meeting them. They immediately loved his open spirit and warmth. It’s a Latin thing.
Shortly after, Max returned home to Argentina leaving me with an invitation to visit him there. As soon as I could I made the trip. I traveled to Buenos Aires for the first time and Max and I were reunited. This time he showed me his country, his life and introduced me to his family and friends. We realized that our relationship was getting more serious, and fast. We spent the next 12+ months traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Argentina and between those visits we kept in touch by endless phone calls and e-mails. During this time I met and got to know Max’s parents, Marta and Carlos, and his brothers Pablo, Matias and Sebastian, as well as many of his close friends. His family welcomed me with open hearts. We were young and falling in love. To have both families across the world from each other embrace us as a couple was wonderful.

During this time, I joined a binational couples group at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center in Greenwich Village. I had never been so head-over-heels in love; at the same time, I realized that we had a practical challenge: the person I was falling for was from another country. I knew there would be a lot to learn (and laws to navigate) in order for Max and I to live together in New York. I remember being astonished to discover just how difficult it was for other gay binational couples to make a life together. Max and I were enjoying those early “honeymoon” days of a relatively new relationship and I was already confronted with numerous stories of couples whose relationships had ended. This was because they could not find a solution around the discriminatory laws that prevented them from living together in the U.S. I was determined that we would meet this challenge head on and that we would not be broken up because of the arbitrary reality of borders or citizenship.

In February 2002, Max obtained a 3-year work visa in the U.S. and we were finally able to live together under one roof; no more long e-mails and late night phone calls. We lived in Greenwich Village, the same neighborhood that witnessed our first kiss. As happy as we were, we were constantly aware that being together depended on Max’s job and his work visa. Without a job his visa would be terminated and he would have to leave. This reality became an enormously stressful experience. We were grateful to have worked out a temporary solution, but a dark cloud lurked as we wondered how we could make this more stable.

During these years we grew as individuals and as a couple. We had many memorable times together in New York. Of course, it was not a completely smooth road. Aside from the up and downs every couple goes through we had the tremendous stress of Max’s unstable immigration status. Max’s reliance on a job and a visa meant that he did not share the same privileges that I did as a U.S. citizen. That created some tension, which we tried to acknowledge and work through as much as possible. But the reality was still there: Max had to sacrifice his career and accept any job that would sponsor him, incurring a small fortune in legal bills, and never knowing whether his stay in the U.S. would come to a crashing end at any moment. This stress almost overwhelmed us, but we managed to keep it from destroying the love we shared.

Jesse and Max with their dog Duncan and Jesse's parents at Gay Pride in New York in June 2003

After 4 years of living with this constant instability and imbalance in our lives, we were forced to make a very difficult decision. With no route to a green card ahead and only a precarious temporary work visa, we realized that for us to continue our lives together we would have to find a new home outside the United States. We simply could not remain in a country that threw so many obstacles in our path. Our relationship was too valuable to us. We were both offered jobs in Budapest, Hungary. We informed our families and packed our possessions. We knew we were lucky. Despite being forced into this Hungarian exile, far from everyone who was dear to us, we also knew that many other gay binational couples find no way to be together at all and end up breaking up as a result.

Leaving our supportive friends and family behind was one of the hardest challenges we ever endured together. We left New York with some bags and our beloved dog, Duncan, with sadness but also hope that things will get better in another country. Leaving my family behind was much more heartbreaking than I allowed myself to realize, even though they knew that our move to Hungary was out of necessity not choice.

In 2007 Max and I celebrated six years together and prepared to move again. This time I was offered a job in London. It was a great opportunity and we were fortunate that the U.K. recognized Max as my partner and gave him a visa to live there as well. Soon Max found work as well and we settled down to new lives in London.

Max and I have never stopped yearning to return to New York. We cannot come back to the U.S. and live as unequal, unrecognized and marginalized human beings. We do want to come back but we want to live in New York legally recognized as a couple. We now live in a country, the U.K., that grants gay and lesbian couples legal status, but this is not our home. As the current law stands, the United States cannot be our home either.

This point always hits me the hardest when we arrive in the U.S. for a visit and we face the dreaded customs and immigration clearance. At that point we must separate and enter the United States through two different lines: citizens and non-citizens. I wait for Max to re-appear on the other side, never forgetting that he does not have the same right as I do to enter the United States. A small part of me fears that for some reason he may be held back and not permitted to enter. It is in these moments that everything becomes crystal clear to me: we must fight this injustice for all couples struggling to be together who may not be as fortunate as Max and I to have found a temporary refuge in exile.

Max and I joined this campaign because we want to return to the United States and marry, but we want to do so on our terms, with full equality and full dignity. Together we decided to put these words into action. For almost a decade, discriminatory laws have controlled us and have flung us around the globe like rag dolls forcing us to live thousands of miles from our families. We believe strongly that this must be challenged. With that in mind, I have filed a fiancé visa petition for Max.

Many reading this may not realize that U.S. immigration laws permit an American citizen to petition for his or her fiancé(e) … as long as the couple is heterosexual. In fact, U.S. immigration law elevates the status of heterosexual marriage to such an esteemed position that it actually offers a visa for a couple intending to marry specifically that they can be together to marry in the U.S. and reside permanently together. The only requirements are that the couple must prove that they have a relationship; that they have met at least once in the last two years; and that they have an intention to marry. In contrast to this simple process, it is outrageous that lesbian and gay binational couples struggle and fight to be together.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government denies recognition to same-sex marriages and for this reason my request that Max be granted a visa to come to the U.S. as my fiancé is an uphill battle. But that will not stop me from trying. I am petitioning my government to give me the same rights as all other Americans and to end the senseless discrimination caused by DOMA. We know that this petition is a direct challenge to DOMA, but we see no alternative but to fight.

It is our dream to return to the U.S. and marry in Big Sur, California surrounded by our close friends and family, staying in one place…. once for all. We are prepared to fight to make that dream a reality.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Josh & Henry Celebrate Fourth Anniversary: Save Their Marriage and Stop The Deportation

Sign and share this petition urging Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano to halt deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.

                                                                                                             © Paul Schindler 2010

Tonight, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia will be featured speakers at this event honoring Miss New York, Claire Buffie, at La Pomme Club in Manhattan. Miss New York is a vocal supporter of Marriage Equality. Tickets are $10 and proceeds will benefit the Children's Miracle Network and the Miss New York Organization.
Josh and Henry have collected almost 9,000 supporters on their Facebook page. If you have not yet visited that page, please do so here. Click on "like" and then "share" this page with others so they can reach their goal of 10,000 supporters.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From Iowa to Ecuador: Peace Corps Volunteer Falls in Love, U.S. Denies His Partner a Visa

Brad, Raul and Raul's sister
We decided to share our story to let others know about the way in which discrimination can destroy young, new love.  This December my partner and I will celebrate our first anniversary as a couple, but we will be in two different countries that are 3,000 miles from each other, and in many ways, worlds apart.

Raul lives in Cuenca, Ecuador and I live in Davenport, Iowa.  We met in the middle of 2009 when I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small town just outside of Cuenca.  As soon as we met,  we had that kind of instant chemistry and we bonded quickly. We knew that we wanted to be together as a couple and after a few months of stalling on my part as I weighed the practical considerations, we began our relationship. As with many new couples, things went rather smoothly for the two of us.  We spent many moments during my final year of Peace Corps service getting to know each other, visiting his family, visiting my host family, and helping each other out through thick and thin.  He was there for me when I got tonsillitis and was so sick that I couldn't eat anything at all.  He knew he could count on me if the lunch lady forgot to bring him lunch at the construction site where he worked.

When it was finally time for our tear-filled goodbye at the Quito airport at the end of July 2010, we knew that we didn't want it to end there. I love him too much to imagine not being with him. Something special and precious happened to us that we found each other, and against all odds and from such different backgrounds and experiences we fell in love.  I promised I would be back and I intend to keep that promise.  I recently accepted a 7-8 month job in Cuenca and will be returning to my partner in January 2011.  Raul and I are very excited about being reunited in a two months.  We have every expectation, given our strong commitment to each other, that we will settle into a routine familiar to any other couple in a new relationship, learning to get to know each other and live as a couple.   We have even been discussing entering into a civil union once we reach the 2 year mark required by Ecuadorean law.  

Unfortunately, over that excitement hangs a dark cloud of uncertainty.  Earlier this year, Raul applied for a tourist visa to visit me in the US.  Because of the general subjectivity of the visa application process at the US Consulate in Guayaquil, Raul was denied a visa. He simply could not provide sufficient evidence of his intention to return to Ecuador, even though he had no intention of doing anything other then coming for a short visit. Unfortunately, coming to see me is not a very persuasive reason for a visitor visa since it is presumed that he would remain in the US and never return. He has little prospect of coming to the US on a work visa, since his skills are as a construction crew foreman and for the most part, long-term work visas are only available as a practical matter for highly skilled occupations. While many are fighting to prevent their partners from being deported, I just want Raul to have the possibility of visiting me in the US so that he can meet my family and see where I grew up. We understand that would only be  a brief visit, but as we are planning our lives together, it would be mean so much to us.  Many binational gay couples who first meet and fall in love abroad are in a similar situation.  I know it is hard for Consular Officials to determine who should be allowed to visit, especially from a relatively poor country such as Ecuador, but surely some policy could be put into place to permit me to vouch for his intention to return to Ecuador? Heck, my entire family would be willing to sign off on that.  We just want to be able to share some of our life here with him. And even that is denied to us.

As for me, I am in the midst of Ph.D. program applications to start in the 2011-2012 academic year. Thanks to my quality education, references and strong test scores, I am applying to be admitted into some of the best Psychology programs in the country.  However, if I am offered admission and the chance of a lifetime that it represents, Raul and I will face a decision that no heterosexual couples in our situation should be forced to make.  We will have to decide whether to live 3,000 miles apart and wait for the laws to change or live together in exile and accept the consequences for our livelihoods and standard of living. A third possibility is to study and live together in a marriage equality country. However, in my field, that would be a career limiting move; even if I could find a Ph.D. program abroad in a country where we could both live, that foreign degree would not be as well-received by US institutions. Did I work this hard and this long to get to where I am to lose what I have achieve or may achieve? Why can I not file a fiancé visa petition for Raul, like all heterosexual Americans can in this situation? If he was granted a fiancé visa, he could come here, we could marry and I could petition for his green card. I would continue to pursue my Ph.D. and I would be able to do so without losing either my country or the man I love. Why is my government so hell-bent on doing this to me? I am speaking out because I worry that our lawmakers are not aware of the small ways in which the Defense of Marriage Act destroys dreams and short circuits blossoming love. And in the end, our dreams and our love is what makes us human.

Raul and I have some difficult decisions to make. When I return to Ecuador in January, we will spend a lot of time discussing them and weighing our options. Our only hope is that things will change quickly.  We are both committed to helping bring about that change.  As a gay binational couple we cannot ignore the discrimination. We hope others out there will read this story and join in this effort.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Save Our Marriage - Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia Reaches 8,000 Supporters

If you haven't joined and shared this Facebook campaign please do so here. Josh and Henry are trying to reach 10,000 supporters before Henry's November 17, 2010 deportation hearing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Carrie & Claire: Family Separated for Five Years

Carrie and Claire at their September 2007 wedding in Vancouver, Canada
Carrie Tucker is a 55-year old native Californian, a veteran of the United States Air Force and a former State of California employee.  Carrie is also disabled, having had to take disability retirement after working and paying taxes her whole life.  Carrie’s wife, Claire Pollard, is a 49-year-old British citizen who has worked her entire life.  Claire resides in the United Kingdom.
Carrie and Claire met in early 2005 on an internet social site.  They quickly became friends and began emailing and instant messaging on a daily basis.  Neither Carrie or Claire was looking for love, but by early 2006, after countless chats, emails and phone calls, they both felt a strong desire to meet in person.  Claire traveled to California in April 2006 for a two week holiday.  Everything they felt for one another was confirmed—Carrie and Claire were deeply in love.  Carrie’s 14-year-old daughter, Ariana, also enjoyed meeting Claire and let it be known that she approved of Claire for her mom.
After Claire returned to the UK, the emails, phone calls and internet became their daily lifeline.  By July 2006, they knew they needed to share their lives together as life partners, spouses.  On September 7, 2006, Claire was back in California for another brief holiday and the two had a commitment ceremony, officiated by a United Church of Christ minister.  In attendance were Ariana, who wrote a loving message she gave during the ceremony, and Carrie’s sister, Christine, who took photos, gave her blessing as well.
Carrie, Claire and Ariana at their 2006 commitment ceremony
From the start, Carrie and Claire agreed that Claire would move to California, where Carrie’s family lives.  Because of her physical disabilities, a move to the United Kingdom was not possible for Carrie. Together, the couple pursued every possibility offered by the immigration law to find a way for Claire to legally live in the U.S.  They looked into H-1B visas and student visas.  The couple contacted Immigration Equality and confirmed they had looked into the only ways to proceed.  They were one couple of the thousands of binational couples whose love knew no borders,  and whose commitment to each other was boundless, but they were face-to-face with the reality that the Defense Of Marriage Act  legally keeps them apart.
Claire was fortunate to work for an employer that allowed her to take 2-3 weeks holiday a few times a year and the women filled their time together trying to live as if they never had to part.  For years, these few visits each year became their routine, the rhythm of their relationship.
On one of these visits, Carrie and Claire decided to marry. They took the 2 hour plane trip to Vancouver and were married on September 15, 2007,  a year after their commitment ceremony in Sacramento.  During their stay in Vancouver, they discovered they liked the city and the climate would be mild enough for Carrie’s health.  They started to consider a plan to move to Canada, with Claire going first and Carrie following after her daughter turned 18 and graduated high school.  They contacted highly reputable Canadian immigration attorneys, who determined the women could qualify to immigrate under the Skilled Worker program with Claire as the lead applicant.  It seemed a future together was in reach. Even though it meant moving to a third country, it meant they could be together. Finally.
And then, just as it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel,  the global economy crashed and went into recession.  Canada retroactively eliminated Claire’s skill set from the Skilled Worker category.  This was an expensive and devastating blow to the pair.  They learned that if Claire could get a sponsor employer she might still get a work permit and work toward permanent residency.  In May 2008, Claire took an unpaid, one-month leave from her work and the couple rented a condominium in Vancouver while Claire did a job search.  Sadly, this effort came to naught.
Carrie and Claire are legally married. Their marriage is recognized under California state law. Ariana sees Claire as her stepmother. Carrie’s family has welcomed Claire with open arms. And still, the federal government sees Carrie, an Air Force veteran, and the love of her life, her wife, Claire, as nothing but strangers to each other.  Denying this loving, committed, married couple equal recognition of their marriage has devastating consequences, not only for Claire and Carrie, but also for Ariana who is now 18, and has been deprived of having stepmom Claire in her life for more than five years.
In the summer of 2010, Claire’s job was made redundant and she came to California for the longest time the couple had ever shared together—a whopping 85 days—for the first time they were together long enough to actually calculate carefully as to be sure not to run astray of the visa waiver limit of 90 days.  Claire is currently job hunting in the UK and they have no immediate plans for a future together in one country; just a fervent prayer that the discriminatory laws of the US will change and allow Carrie to sponsor her wife for residency in the US.
Beyond being denied the ability to live together (which, in and of itself, is excruciatingly painful) is the fact that the laws have denied Carrie’s daughter the loving presence of Claire during her teen years.  Ariana and Claire are virtual strangers, Carrie feels fragmented by the split.  The years lost to this loving family can never be recaptured.  The Tucker-Pollards only want what other married couples have—the ability to live with their family, together.
The impact of the Defense of Marriage Act on Ariana cannot be ignored. When lawmakers passed DOMA they failed to consider its impact on the children of binational couples. The fight to repeal DOMA is a fight to preserve marriages and families.