Sunday, October 31, 2010

Restore Sanity, Repeal DOMA

Greg and Wayne protest DOMA at the National Rally to Restore Sanity
October 30, Washington, DC

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Samantha and Alexandra: Living in Exile

Samantha and Alexandra on their wedding day, September 3, 2007.
Ours is just one story of thousands.

My name is Alexandra. I am a Dutch citizen. I live in Holland with my wife, Samantha. My wife is an American citizen who, because of DOMA, is forced to live in “exile” from her country as long as she is with me.

In September 1996, when the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act they carved discrimination against married lesbian and gay couples into law, years before any of those couples would be able to legally marry. More recently, in various countries and several American states, same-sex couples have been marrying, but the U.S. government refuses to recognize the reality of these legal marriages with devastating consequences.  We are just one out of thousands of bi-national couples forced by American lawmakers to live outside the United States for the mere fact that we are a same sex couple.

Our story goes back to the year 2000 when we met through a friend on Yahoo groups and we started talking through the group and emailing back and forth.  Soon we were spending hours each day “talking” to each other on line through Yahoo messenger. Through these conversations we got to know each other very well.  By the end of 2001 I had saved up enough money to visit Samantha in Connecticut for a month.

I realize that meeting someone online and then flying halfway across the world to meet her is risky. But in my heart I felt that she was genuine. I was falling in love with the person I had come to know online and I needed to meet her in person. During that visit we connected on a deep level. To my delight, she really was the person she had portrayed herself to be in all of our online conversations. During this visit we realized that we wanted to be together and we started figuring out a way for this to happen.

Of course, I had to go back home because I was in the States courtesy of the 90-day maximum “visa waiver” visitor program. I returned in 2002 and 2004. I was the one making all the trips because for Samantha it was financially impossible for her to afford the travel. After she paid for basic expenses her retail job at Costco at $10 an hour did not afford her enough income to do much else.

The longer we were apart the more we knew that we wanted to be together and so we tried to figure out a way for me to move to the United States. We found out very quickly that there was no way she would be able to sponsor me on the basis of our relationship since we were both women.

I considered attending an American university to further my education. This would at least give us a few years to decide our next move. Unfortunately, as a student I would have very little opportunity for lawful employment and extraordinarily high tuition costs. I was not eligible for loans so I would have to find $11,000 a year to support myself. Another dead end.

At the end of each trip, Samantha and I said goodbye to each other with tears and heavy hearts. It tore at us to have to part ways again and again with no path for a future together.

Between trips there were long and lonely periods punctuated by a routine of morning emails, a life line between Connecticut and Holland for two women in love.  Our evening phone calls were starting to become torturous because I could hear the hurt in her voice. I would cry every time I hung up the phone. It got so bad that I was crying myself to sleep at night. Going to bed alone after having talked to her became unbearable.

The distance took its toll on us. Finally, it was too much for me to cope with and I broke up with Samantha. That break up brought us closer together because, single once more, I realized that none of the women I was meeting in Holland compared to Samantha. We started talking again and I decided in 2004 that I would visit once more.  We spent the entire month of October together talking more and listening more intently to each other than we had before. On that trip our feelings for each other became more apparent and stronger than ever.

Still…I had to return home to Holland and I had to leave her behind again.  Finally we decided that we could not tolerate living apart. I started figuring out a way to get her to Holland.

Samantha’s financial circumstances were bleak. She was about to become homeless so time was running out fast. She applied for a passport and I scrounged up enough money for her plane ticket to Amsterdam.  In January 2005 she arrived in Amsterdam. Finally, she was home with me.

Eventually we settled down to life in Holland. With the few documents required we applied for a residency permit for Samantha based on our relationship. Six months later we were notified that she had been approved and she would have to go to our tax office and get a social security number so she could work.

Soon after I asked Samantha to marry me. We were married on September 3, 2007. It had been 7 years since we first met on line. It was the dream wedding. Samantha’s father, her brother and her brother’s girlfriend flew in to be there. Her father was the official witness. Even though it is not customary in Holland for the father of the bride to walk his daughter down the aisle, we wanted to incorporate that American tradition. We wanted Samantha’s father to be able to say that he walked his daughter down the aisle and gave her away.

So both my father and Samantha’s father walked us down the aisle. It was the happiest day of our lives. My extended family and our closest friends and some of my co-workers attended. It was absolutely beautiful.

We are now legally married with all of the same rights as my heterosexual sister, heterosexual relatives and heterosexual friends. Samantha has more rights here than she ever had in America and this saddens both of us to no end.

Samantha is still hurt by the fact that her own country does not recognize us as a couple.  Having Samantha move to Holland was the beginning of a whole new set of hardships.  Now we no longer have the distance between us which, believe me is wonderful. But we experience a sense of isolation from Samantha’s family, an isolation that was forced upon us because we had no choice by for Samantha to move to Holland.

We have not seen Samantha’s mother in four years. Samantha misses her mother terribly but we simply cannot afford the travel costs. Every time we experience an unexpected expense (e.g. our car needs to be repaired or replaced) a trip to the U.S. has to be put off for another year.

If you are reading this, you might be thinking to yourself: Samantha chose to live in Holland. But we do not see our life in Holland as a choice since Samantha’s country denied us the choice of building our lives together in Connecticut.  Samantha was forced by the U.S. government to move to Holland and it breaks my heart to see the pain caused to her by the separation from her family and her country. Samantha has worked hard since settling down in Holland. She managed to find a good job. For the first time she has adequate health insurance and opportunities she never had in America.  But, believe me when I say this, none of that matters to us. It’s not the point.

My wife enjoys more freedom here and has more rights than she ever had in America and this seems wrong to me.  Every time an American relative tells us they miss us and want us to move home, deep down inside we feel angry. But instead of lashing out, we educate them on why we aren’t moving back.

DOMA affects us deeply on a daily basis. DOMA also impacts Samantha’s mother, father, brother, grandmother, aunts and uncles even though they might not always realize how much it does affect them.

My wife can go back to America… but she would have to go back alone. For Samantha to return to America means breaking up our family.

And faced with that non-choice, my wife continues to live in exile.

Through all these years that we struggled, spending our savings and crying until we had no more tears, heterosexual binational couples in the same position simply filed papers with U.S. immigration and live together in peace. As it should be. Outrageous that what works for them is denied to us.

In the end, it comes down to this: DOMA needs to go.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Josh & Henry's "Save Our Marriage" Facebook Page Tops 7,000 Supporters in Ten Days

If you haven't yet visited their Facebook page and shared it with your Facebook friends, please check it out here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Josh & Henry's Fight Featured on AOL News

[Joshua] Vandiver said he feels like he's been treated like a second-class citizen in his own country. "It's discriminatory to me as a U.S. citizen that I can't have a successful petition for my spouse's green card," he told AOL News. "It's an injustice toward me and Americans like me."
"As a gay man I need to stand up for my beliefs when there are so many other couples out there. We are fighting for them too," [Henry Velandia] told AOL News.
The men said they aren't yet sure what they'll do if Velandia is deported. "Trying to imagine me being separated from Josh is just -- it's like I see my world crumbling apart. We're in love."
Read the full article here.

Dallas Voice: Gay Binational Couple Copes With Separation "Playing The Waiting Game"

David Taffet writes about Cannon Flowers and RafiQ Salleh's struggle with frequent separations and reflects upon the broader issues facing similarly situated couples.
Flowers said he always wakes up at 4 a.m. and that’s when he feels loneliest. It’s 5 p.m. in Singapore, the time when the U.S. embassy closes. If he hasn’t heard anything by then, it will be at least another 24 hours before he hears whether he and his partner of 14 years will be reunited.
Read the complete article here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Freedom To Marry Launches Petition Drive for Henry Velandia and Repeal of DOMA

Freedom to Marry is the most prominent marriage equality organization in the United States. Evan Wolfson, its founder and Executive Director, is a former senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal Defense where he headed the Marriage Project. Today, Freedom to Marry launched this petition drive. Please sign the petition and join Josh and Henry's Facebook page, "Save Our Marriage."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan On the Defense of Marriage Act and Binational Couples

"America increasingly becomes the one place in the Western world where gay relationships and marriages do not, as far as the federal government is concerned, exist." -Andrew Sullivan writing about the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act on binational couples. Read the full post here.

Gay City News: Uniting American Love

Today, Paul Schindler, editor of New York's Gay City News, published an extraordinarily thoughtful article featuring Monica & Cristina and Josh & Henry and their fight against DOMA. Read the full article here.

Glenn Greenwald: Inhumane Impact of DOMA

Best-selling author, Glenn Greenwald, is a constitutional and civil rights legal expert, frequent television commentator and lecturer.  He is also half of a binational couple. He lives in Brazil with his partner where he has been granted immigration status based on his relationship.

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald posted this extensive examination of the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act of lesbian and gay binational couples.
"...the human costs from this conduct are severe, though often overlooked. One of the most destructive aspects of DOMA is that it bars gay Americans who are married to a foreign national -- an increasingly common situation for Americans generally in a globalized world -- from obtaining a marriage-based visa for their same-sex foreign spouse. By contrast, Americans who are married to a foreign national of the opposite sex receive more or less automatic visas and then Green Cards for their spouse, entitling them to live together in the U.S."

Read the entire article here on where Glenn Greenwald is a contributing writer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monica and Cristina: Binational Lesbian Couple in Queens Fights DOMA and Deportation

See update here (March 21, 2011).

Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda Exchanging Vows
My name is Cristina Ojeda and I am an American citizen. I work as a social worker and live with my wife, Monica Alcota, in Queens, New York. Monica is a citizen of Argentina, although she left that country many years ago because of anti-gay persecution, hoping to find a safe life and a new start in America.
I have known Monica Alcota for over two years and have been in a romantic relationship with her since July 3, 2008.  In May 2008 when we first met online, Monica lived in New York City and I lived in Buffalo where I was going to graduate school.  After a few online conversations we decided to talk over the phone because we both found something interesting about each other. After several lengthy phone conversations the attraction became even stronger and meeting in person was something we both longed for. Monica decided to surprise me and traveled to see me in Buffalo, NY on July 3, 2008 and it was then that we decided to make the relationship official and committed to each other romantically.
Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda at the Marriage Equality Wedding March
September 26, 2010

Monica returned to her obligations back to New York City and I stayed in Buffalo, but we decided to spend my last month before school started again together. I traveled to New York City and stayed with Monica. Once school started I returned to Buffalo but came to visit Monica at least once a month during the first semester. I spent my winter break with Monica instead of going to visit my parents and we had our first Christmas and New Year’s together as a couple. During my last semester I arranged my schedule to have Thursdays and Fridays off and I traveled every Wednesday night to New York City to spend long weekends with her. Monica and I grew more and more committed to each other.We agreed to move in together after I finished graduate school in 2009. Once that happened I looked for and found employment in New York. We have been living together for over a year now and our relationship has grown stronger. We are as close and committed as two people in love can be. After experiencing a series of devastating events I realized that I need Monica by my side and that I did not want to be separated from her. I am in love with her and decided that there was no better way to show my love for her and celebrate our union than by marrying each other. I am happy about the decision I have made because Monica has given me many of the things I was missing in my life, she has taught me many amazing things and I look forward to having a family with her and spending many years together.
I have filed a "Petition for Alien Relative" for my wife Monica because I love her. I believe that my government should grant this petition so that Monica can become a permanent resident and so that we can live together like any other couple that is deeply in love and committed to each other.
Monica is currently in deportation proceedings. She was taken into custody when the Border Patrol boarded a bus she was on in upstate New York. It was on our way back from our last trip to Buffalo as we had gone to get my belongings to finally move in together. That random day changed our lives. She was placed in a detention facility for three long and horrible months, which was the worst time we had both experienced in our lives. Monica left Argentina because of homophobia and intolerance that forced her to flee in fear of her personal safety. More than 10 years later, she is again in a fight for her life and her love. As an American I believe my government should recognize our marriage and give Monica a green card. Too many couples have suffered like us for too long. The deportations and separations have to end.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Watch Josh and Henry on FOX News

Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia on Fox News WNYW, October 25, 2010

Josh Vandiver & Henry Velandia Interviewed at Princeton About Their Fight Against DOMA

Following up on the story published by the Daily Princetonian this weekend, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia sat down for an on-camera interview about their relationship, their marriage, their fight against DOMA and their campaign to stop Henry's deportation. Join and "share" their Facebook page here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gay California Couple Joins Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act, Fight Deportation

Submitted by Douglas Gentry

I am a 53-year old American citizen born in Indianapolis. I met Carlos Alejandro Benshimol (he goes by the name Alex) in June of 2005. Alex is a 46-year old Venezuelan man who has lived in the United States for over 10 years. At the time I met Alex I was working in Palm Springs Monday through Friday and traveling home to Los Angeles on weekends. Our relationship grew more intense over the next year. We knew that we loved each other and that we wanted to stay together as a committed couple. In July 2006 we purchased a house together close to where we had been living in Cathedral City. In December of 2006 Alex and I opened a shop together in Palm Springs, Alex’s Pet Grooming.
In the spring of 2007 we moved my father from Los Angeles to a retirement complex very close to our home. My father was older and disabled. He didn’t need full time help but, having him close, we were able to help him with laundry, grocery shopping and medical appointments.
Alex and my father loved each other very much and had a great relationship. I was very grateful for how much Alex helped care for my dad. I was still traveling for work and never needed to worry about him when I was out of town.
My father died in the spring of 2008. Alex was there for me and helped me through a very difficult time. Alex and my family embraced each other from the start. He grew to know my ex-wife, my two children and become an instant member of a large extended family: including my sister, her husband and 3 children, mother and brothers in law and spouses. We divide spending holidays and occasions together between our home in Cathedral City and their homes in Los Angeles. Alex has a great relationship with my kids and has been incredibly supportive through several extremely difficult times.
Alex Benshimol and Douglas Gentry Getting Married
We all value his opinions and advice and I’m grateful for the support he provides. Both my son and daughter consider him to be their other dad.
Alex and I knew for a long time that we wanted to get married. We loved each other and had been happy in our relationship for years. Unfortunately we missed the window of opportunity to marry in our own state, so we decided to marry in Connecticut. We were married on July 21, 2010 at the beautiful Lockwood Mathews Mansion in Norwalk by State Senator Bob Duff. However, despite our happiness and our celebration we have to deal with the very stark and difficult reality that Alex now faces deportation proceedings. We are fighting to keep him in this country and fighting the discrimination against us as a gay couple because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Right after we married, I filed a petition for a green card for Alex on the basis of our marriage. I did this because I love him dearly and I want to spend the rest of my life together with him. Venezuela is not an option for him or for us as a couple because it is so dangerous for gay people.
Alex and I have been together for over five and a half years. I’m grateful for having found him every day of my life. And now I’m thankful to be able to call him my husband. Now I want my government to give me the complete rights that every US citizen has, to live my life together with my spouse in peace and without fear of separation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Save Our Marriage - Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia" Reaches More Than 2,000 Supporters in Just Three Days on Facebook

Josh and Henry launched a Facebook cause page this week, a great example of how a couple can stand up and speak truth to injustice. With Henry currently in deportations proceedings before the Immigration Court the couple is, in their own words, "fighting for love, for our lives, and for equal rights." They are speaking to the press, to gay and immigrant advocacy organizations, and they are reaching out to their friends and family. They are encouraging supporters to write to their elected officials to ask that the Department of Homeland Security stop the deportation and allow them to live their lives in peace like all other married couples. Help them reach their goal of 10,000 members in the next week by joining to their Facebook page here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Britta and Carla Fight Deportation, As Their Case Progresses in New York Immigration Court

Britta and Carla were married in 2009, but they are still fighting deportation. One solution for lesbian and gay binational couples would be passage of immigration reform that included a provision for foreign partners. However, couples like Britta and Carla who are legally married should have their marriage recognized by Citizenship and Immigration Services.  That does not require reform of existing immigration law, because we already have a provision by which American citizens can sponsor their foreign spouses. When DOMA is repealed or struck down as unconstitutional the last obstacle for married lesbian and gay binational couples will have been removed.  For this reason, the fight against DOMA and the campaign to STOP THE DEPORTATIONS is so important.

Daily Princetonian: Josh Vandiver & Henry Velandia Fight to Stay Together, Challenge DOMA and Stop Deportations

"When Joshua Vandiver GS met Henri Velandia, his future husband, in 2006, he never imagined that he would be fighting to save him from deportation less than four years later." Read more here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Binational Couple Confronts Congressman Holt at Town Hall Meeting in Princeton, New Jersey

Josh Vandiver questions Congressman Rush Holt today at a Town Hall meeting on the Princeton University campus. Vandiver asked Rep. Holt to write to Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder and ask them to stop the deportations of gay and lesbian spouses of U.S. citizens. Congressman Holt, a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, promised to meet with Josh and his husband, Henry Velandia. Earlier in the day Henry and Josh held a roundtable lunch at Whitman College with Princeton students in support of their struggle to stay together.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gay Binational Couple in Princeton, New Jersey Creates "SAVE OUR MARRIAGE" Facebook Page

Please visit Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver's Facebook page here and join by clicking on "Like." But don't stop there. Scroll down to the bottom left corner of the Facebook page and using the "share" button, send the link to your friends to increase awareness of their case. In less than 24 hours over 700 people have already joined Henry and Josh's Facebook page where you can see photos and video of the couple and learn what actions you can take to support their campaign.

Tomorrow, at Princeton University, the couple will hold a roundtable discussion open to the campus community to bring their struggle to stay together to a broader audience.

Help us stop the deportation of Henry Velandia, a extraordinarily talented salsa dancer, who is married to his U.S. citizen husband.

UPDATE: Thursday October 21, 2010: In less than 48 hours since its launch more than 1,000 people have joined the Facebook page, "SAVE OUR MARRIAGE."  Josh and Henry had a busy day today speaking out on the Princeton University campus to end discrimination against gay binational couples. More news to follow soon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Married Gay Couples Fight Deportations,
Call For Repeal of Defense of Marriage Act

On Sunday September 26 a group of binational couples participated in Marriage Equality New York's Wedding March to bring attention to their fight to stop the deportation of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. Can Wedding March Bridge the Vote Gap? Gay City News, September 29, 2010.

Josh Vandiver and his mother-in-law, Luz Ferreira, pictured above, were interviewed at the rally by the Spanish language newspaper, El Diario La Prensa. (Exigen Igualdad Matrimonial Para Gays, Cristina Loboguerrero, September 27, 2010). They are fighting to stop the deportation of Josh's husband, Henry Velandia, who came to the United States in 2002 from Venezuela. Josh and Henry married this summer in Connecticut (see below) and live in Princeton, New Jersey where Josh is a Ph.D. student. Henry, a professional salsa dancer, performed last month on Univision's television dance show, Mira Quien Baila. This weekend he will audition in front of Paula Abdul for her new show, using that opportunity to speak out for "our lives together, our love and equal rights." On November 12, Josh and Henry will celebrate four years together as a couple. A few days later they will appear in Immigration Court in Newark for Henry's deportation hearing. Find out how you can help stop Henry's deportation by contacting Josh and Henry here.

Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia on their wedding day
August 29, 2010