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.

BBC News: Gay Newlyweds Fighting Deportation

See full article on BBC News here.

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.

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.)

Denver Post: Inger & Philippa 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.

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.  

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.

Josh & Henry on Gay Russian News Site

Full story here.

Dance Instructor Fights For Gay Rights

Read full article here.

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.


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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.