Josh Vandiver & Henry Velandia and Courage Campaign Ask Senator Robert Menendez to Support DOMA Repeal

Update: On December 18, 2011 the New Jersey Star-Ledger published this Op-Ed by U.S. Senator Menendez in which he announces his support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Congratulations to Josh & Henry and the thousands of other lesbian and gay couples in New Jersey who spoke out about the impact of DOMA on their lives.

Read: “Discrimination Against Same-Sex Marriages Cannot be Tolerated in Our Society as a Matter of Law.”

Josh and Henry photographed in May in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park (Jonathan Ystad/GetEqual)

Today Josh and Henry teamed up with Courage Campaign launching an effort to persuade their United States Senator Robert Menendez to join 29 other member of the Senate and become a co-sponsor of the DOMA repeal bill, the Respect for Marriage Act. Josh and Henry point out in their letter to the Senator that DOMA is tearing apart married gay and lesbian binational couples. Senator Menendez is an ally of the LGBT community and is the co-author of the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently pending in the Senate that includes a provision that would allow for the immigration of partners of lesbian and gay Americans and permanent residents, however he has not joined the fight for repeal of DOMA. Last week the President formally endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act and the Senate Judiciary Committee held its historic DOMA repeal hearing. It is time for every supporter of LGBT equality to stand up and fight for repeal of DOMA. Call Senator Menendez at 202-224-4744 and tell him about the hardship caused to you by DOMA.

Dear Senator Menendez,

We write as a married same-sex couple on behalf of ourselves and many other New Jersey families who are being denied equality, out of concern over a particular piece of legislation.

Sen. Feinstein has introduced S. 598, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the odious “Defense of Marriage Act,” or DOMA. We know you are a supporter of equality for same-sex couples, Sen. Menendez. What’s more, as the lead sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes the Uniting American Families Act, you know that ending DOMA would eliminate the discrimination in immigration law that nearly forced Henry’s deportation, even though we are legally married.

It is therefore with surprise that we learned you are not one of the 29 Senators who publicly support the Respect for Marriage Act. As you know, Senator, this issue would permit the tens of thousands of same-sex couples — many of whom live in New Jersey — to have access to the over 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which heterosexual couples are entitled. These include Social Security benefits, health insurance, immigration benefits, tax provisions, and more. These benefits would strengthen New Jersey families by providing tools that help loving, committed couples and their families to take care of each other. What’s more, if the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law, this recognition would not stop when couples cross state lines — the lawful relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples could be recognized in all 50 states.

Through our Stop The Deportations project we’ve joined with other same-sex bi-national couples who are being denied immigration benefits due to DOMA. Many are facing the nightmare of deportation and separation because of DOMA. We hope it’s an oversight that you have not yet joined your colleague Sen. Lautenberg in co-sponsoring the Respect for Marriage Act, Sen. Menendez. We, along with supporters of equality across the country, look forward to your prompt reply.

With respect,

Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia
Princeton, NJ

SF Chronicle: DOMA Enforcement is Changing, With DOMA Deportation Cases Leading the Way

Read the full article here.

Almost 30 Years After They First Met, Lin & Martha Continue to Fight for Couples Exiled to the DOMA Diaspora

Living Into a Fair Future
By Lin McDevitt-Pugh

This is a story about Martha and me. Martha went into exile in 2000 when two important and incompatible facts dominated our lives. We were in love and realized we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Martha could not stay in the United States because US immigration law prohibited her from sponsoring me as her permanent partner to live there with her.

Martha and I live in the Netherlands. For the past 13 years we have been confronted with the fact that, in this time of globalization in which people often partner with those of different nationalities than their own, the United States does not allow its citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes.

For the past 9 years Martha and I have actively worked to change this cruel law while she lives in exile. It is time for change. The US immigration law hurts us, hurts Martha’s family, hurts the thousands of families like ours, and it hurts the United States and the freedom it stands for. We think love can change the abject law that keeps Martha in exile. Martha needs to be able to go home and bring me, her wife of 10 years, with her. This is the story of who we are, our love for each other, and never giving up on our dreams.

When Martha and I fell in love we had been friends for 17 years.
Martha and I met in February 1982. I was working in an international media office in Amsterdam with people who promoted clean energy. I had a monthly journal to type but my colleagues were banging out a bi-weekly news release on our one-and-only machine. So I traveled across town to another non-profit, an international policy studies center, to see if I could use one their electric typewriters.

I arrived at the office and a young intern from the USA was typing away; she kindly moved to another chair and watched as I laboured through my pages of copy. When I came back next day to finish the job, I learned that, when she arrived in Amsterdam to start her internship, a co-worker gave her a list of names of people she should try to meet. Coincidentally, my name was at the top.

That is how Martha McDevitt and I met and became fast friends.

When my girlfriend of the time gave birth to our son, Koen, Martha adored him. Martha, a highly competent seamstress, created one little jumpsuit after another for Koen and frequently babysat for us.

In 1984, Martha met an American service woman stationed in the UK who was visiting Amsterdam for R&R; where she would not have to hide her sexuality. My family began celebrating holidays with Martha and her partner. In 1990, when Martha’s girlfriend left the military, the couple returned to the USA. Martha knew she would miss us but she wanted to be near her family and wanted to develop a career in her own country. She gave me a modem to put in my computer, so that we could email each other and keep in touch that way. I cried for 6 months. I missed my best buddy.

Fortunately, Martha found that her knowledge of Dutch and her computer skills were very much in demand in Silicon Valley. She was able to secure work that regularly brought her back to the Netherlands and I had work that occasionally took me to the East Coast of the United States; from there, I’d fly to San Francisco to visit her. In this way, we managed to maintain a close and precious friendship.

The friendship was easy and did not have any of the thorns and brambles we experienced with our lovers. My relationship faced constant turbulence despite the best will in the world. When our son was 12, my partner and I decided to disengage. Martha’s relationship, too, had encountered its own turbulence. We both concluded that relationships and turbulence went together, and easy companionship was a thing of friendship.

That changed the week of Martha’s 40th birthday when I visited her in California. By that point, Martha was a senior manager in a Silicon Valley firm and had separated from her girlfriend. It was during that visit that I recognized that what I felt was more than friendship. But with more than 16 years of ease and pleasure as friends on the line, my voice was barely more than a hoarse whisper when I asked her if she wanted to risk more. After what seemed many seconds, I forced my eyes to lift and to look at her. I encountered her smiling face, that beautiful face I had known and enjoyed for so many years. Yes, she wanted that too.

Sigh. This is the stuff of a fairy tale, or shall we say the kind of fairy tale I wish I was told when I was a child. Those kinds of fairy tales hadn’t yet been invented about two women with different nationalities, living on different continents, who fall in love.

And the fairy tale ending still has not been invented. Once we acknowledged we were in love, the confrontations with reality started. To begin with, we had to think about where in the world we would live. Literally. We had three places we could be with family. While I am a Dutch citizen, I am Australian by birth and am privileged to have two living parents in Australia. Martha was living near San Francisco, close to her family, and loving it. And my son Koen was 16 and living in Amsterdam. I certainly did not want to leave him before he was an adult.

For more than a year, from 1999 to 2000, Martha or I flew over the ocean at least once every 6 weeks to spend time together. When we weren’t together we spoke every day on the phone and we had a constant stream of emails. Martha knew it would be very difficult for me to move to the United States as immigration law only recognized heterosexual married couples.

But we had each other and a strong commitment to fairness. We knew that it was our right to be together because we believed – and continue to believe – that we all have a right to equality under the law. We believe that most people will agree with us if they let their hearts speak.

Still, going back and forth between two continents quickly lost its shine. In 2000, Martha found a job in the Netherlands and moved to join me there, 18 years after we first met. In May 2001 we married under the new Dutch law, one month after it was introduced. Having the right to choose to marry, we experienced what it was like to be first class citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities my brother and sister and Martha’s siblings experience in their own country. We don’t feel different, we are not legally different, we are simply people who choose to form a primary relationship with each other and have that relationship recognized by the State. We chose marriage. We wanted to stand up in front of friends and family and request that they support our relationship through thick and thin. We wanted to exercise our right to form that most essential cornerstone of society, the family. We experience the joy of our marriage every day of our lives.

The distinguished photographer Gon Buurman took photos at our wedding for use beyond our own living room wall. We were thinking about the power of the image to support the growing number of voices in the United States saying that two people loving each other should be able to celebrate that in the way that is customary in any society: through marriage. The photos have appeared in magazines and newspapers, on websites and in books. They have even been in art exhibitions, street exhibitions and an exhibition at a retirement home. We have been interviewed for more than 5 books and have talked about the where, what, how and why of our wedding in filmed interviews and in mainstream magazines in the 10 years since.

Martha even spent time on our honeymoon writing about these issues for a gay publication in the USA. We were astounded when the editor wrote back asking if we were sure the marriage was legal. His question was a distressing reminder that in United States it can be hard for even gay people to imagine legal equality.

But our marriage was legal and very real: from the veils and the bouquets to the flower girls, page boy, and the exchange of rings; from the kiss and the champagne on the steps of the City Hall to the celebrations afterward with family and friends from Australia and the USA, from Germany and the UK, and of course from the Netherlands. We were sung to, had poems written about us, we danced the night through and we celebrated life and love.

After several months, though, the reality of our situation began to weigh on Martha. She was living back in the Netherlands, somewhere she had never planned to return. Her dreams of living in her own country, with her family, building her career, were smashed. She had not voluntarily left the USA to be with me; she was exiled. Exiled for love. And because she knew that she was not the only one, in 2002 Martha founded the organization “Love Exiles” to be a community of people who could support each other in exile and who could work together, and with organizations in the USA, to put a halt to the unnecessarily cruel law that made it impossible for people to live in the United States with their foreign-born loved ones and spouses. We set up a board, with Janherman Veenker, a Dutchman whose partner of 20 years, James, was a dean at Rutgers University; Bob Bragar, a New York lawyer who had fallen in love with Rik , a judge in the Dutch law courts; Robby Checkoway, a US-born journalist living in the Netherlands with his UK partner Chris who ran a flourishing internet company; attorney Kirsten Anderson who had fallen in love with Dutch policewoman Jacqueline; and Martha and myself. Our first action was to organize a Thanksgiving dinner at which the Love Exiles living in the Netherlands treated representatives of the local community, including a mayor and a prominent politician responsible for opening marriage to same sex couples, to one of the USA’s finest eating traditions. A lawyer in Los Angeles knew we were organizing the event and he put his client, Tim Heymans in London, in touch with Martha. Love Exiles UK was born. Shortly after, when we were filming a film about love exiles in Germany, Love Exiles Germany was born. Then came Love Exiles Canada and Love Exiles Australia, all of them online communities sharing information on how to cope in a foreign land, how to let their elected representatives know about their situation and how to work toward changes in the law. None of us have come to terms with the fact that the USA would prefer to lose their citizens to exile rather than accepting their partners as residents.

In 2004 Martha joined an 8-day bus ride across the United States organized by marriage equality activists on the West Coast. Their aim was to travel through the heartland educating people along the way about why the freedom to marry matters. Martha kept an audio-log throughout the ride which was later broadcast on Radio Nederland and won a major media award.

A year later, in 2005, Martha was sitting at home in Amsterdam watching developments in California. An exciting majority of the state legislators had voted to open marriage to same sex couples. Would Governor Schwarzenegger veto the bill that would allow couples of the same sex to marry? With our rights hanging in the balance, Martha decided to book a flight home to try to be of help. Within days she was in Redwood City near San Francisco with her mother, preparing a two-day bike ride to the California capital of Sacramento. She bought a new road bike, contacted local marriage and immigration equality activists and set off early one morning to the flash of TV cameras on a journey that brought her to the Governor’s office.

I made a t-shirt for her to wear, with our wedding photo on it. I love the photo that was taken of her wearing it and standing under the portrait of the Governor and his wife. She didn’t get to see the Governor. She left a message. The governor vetoed the bill, saying the courts and not the legislators had to decide.

When Martha was in the States, my job was to inform the press. Alone on the other side of the world, at least I was in an advantageous time zone to get out press releases in support of the efforts of our friends from Out 4Immigration and to publicize the ride. The story of Martha’s ride to Sacramento was one of the top 10 stories of 2005 according to the Dutch magazine, Zij aan Zij.

There are many more stories I could tell about our ongoing efforts to expose the discriminatory effects of US immigration law and the negative impact those laws have on the ability of US companies to employ gay Americans who have foreign partners.

I really admire the efforts of my wife, Martha. Every day, she is thinking and talking and writing about a future in which our families will not face discrimination. She is fearless and at the same time sunny, funny and a treat to be with. One day she will have the right to live in the same country as her mother, her sister and her brothers, the country in which she was born – and to do so without having to leave me, her spouse, behind. We deserve that simple but critical right.

Monica & Cristina Take DOMA Deportation Fight to Board of Immigration Appeals, Challenging a 29-Year Old Precedent

MSNBC: Binational Couples Fighting for Full Marriage Equality and for the Right to Stay In the U.S.

See full article here.

Gay City News: After Halting Deportation, Josh Vandiver & Henry Velandia Continue the Fight Against DOMA

See original article here.

Monica & Cristina Fight for Their Marriage at the Board of Immigration Appeals, As NYC Celebrates Marriage Equality

U.S. Embassy in Sydney Denies Christopher’s Request to Visit Arthur, Enforcing 10-Year Bar With No Mercy

Christopher and Arthur fight a technicality that keeps them apart, despite their 14-year relationship

An update from Christopher Joseph whose heart-breaking story of a 10,000 mile separation from his partner, Arthur, was posted here on April 10, 2011. Christopher and Arthur met and fell in love in the United States 14 years ago, but following incorrect advice from an attorney, Christopher departed the U.S. to return to Australia after having overstayed his visa by 13 months. As he later learned, this meant that he would be barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 year, or until 2019.  Each year, countless lesbian and gay binational couples are separated by the 5 or 10 year overstay bars.  Christopher has been trying to get back to the U.S. begging elected officials and Consular officers for help. All his efforts, as he notes below, have failed.

From Christopher:

It seems our quest for a path to return to the United States has failed on all accounts. While I have been here in Australia I have sought help through the US Consulate without success. Their response has been that it didn’t matter why I overstayed my visa; even though I may not have been at fault, the ten year entry ban would be enforced with no chance for any appeal. The Consulate Officer was quite belligerent in writing, so much so that it felt that they were enjoying denying me any help. Meanwhile Arthur had been getting assistance with a representative of Marriage Equality who arranged a meeting with our U.S. Senator back home; but again, no success. The Senator would not call the Consulate on our behalf even though his staff indicated to us that he believed he was supportive of our plight. All other avenues have fallen flat and we have been left staring at locked doors. We have one final act seeking help with another Senator but judging by past efforts, we don’t hold much chance of anything positive coming forth.

We are devoted to each other and our love for one another will not perish even though it seems we cannot spend our lives together. As I said in my letter to our Senator, I spent 33 years of meeting people and not finding my Mr. Right until I found my Arthur and he found me. I believed love was never going to find me but it did and no lawmaker, cetainly those who have never met us but yet still believe they can decide our fate, will ever keep us from the love we share. Arthur has spoken about coming to Australia, a country that doesn’t allow same sex marriage but does allow same sex partner immigration. In that sense the U.S. could learn a few things from what other countries are doing. American politicians tell the world that “all men are created equal” and generously uses the word “freedom” as though it is something they can export by example. That is far from the truth as far as we are concerned. Arthur has a stable home and family life in the U.S. and I would never want to break that up. We both live in hope that one day soon, those who make these laws decide to change them and we would never want anybody to go throught the pain we now have to endure. Whether or not this is survivable only time will tell. At the moment I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe the tunnel end is a rock wall.

Without the Defense of Marriage Act we would actually have a chance to overcome this 10-year bar. Arthur and I could marry (we’d have to fly to a third country to do it, like Canada) and then apply for me to immigrate to the U.S. Through that process, I could apply for a waiver on the basis of my marriage to a U.S. citizen, if I could prove that it would cause extreme hardship to Arthur if I were unable to immigrate before 2019. Knowing the hardship we have experienced for the past two years, I hardly think it would be difficult to explain that concept to Consular Officer. Of course none of this should have ever happened. If we had married in 2009 and Arthur had been able to petition for a “green card” for me, my story would have been just as simple and straightforward as that of any straight binational couple.  DOMA caused this disaster, perhaps these are its unintended consequences, who knows? It doesn’t matter. There are many lesbian and gay couples whose lives have been ruined because of DOMA and the 10-year bar on returning. A broken immigration system and a cruel, discriminatory anti-gay marriage law have caused so much sorrow.

If by chance you are a law maker and are reading this, we both hope you never have to be apart from those you love and who love you. Your decisions, or lack thereof, are destroying true families and you are destroying love. The agony we feel is so far the worst feeling we have ever encountered. In some ways, losing a loved one may be an easier thing to deal with for there is closure. With Arthur and I, all I do is wonder how he is and how hard it is when he needs my help.

DOMA needs to end. We need to have full equality, dignity and respect for all LGBT families. Foot dragging by any politician on this issue means more families torn apart, more lives destroyed and continued second-class citizenship for all lesbian and gay Americans.

Video: Stop The Deportations Rally Across From San Francisco Immigration In Support of Doug & Alex

Thanks to Sean Chapin for putting together this video montage of our July 13 rally. The result was a big victoryfor Doug and Alex.

Becky & Sanne: Ten Trips, a Wedding and a Daughter. Exiled Binational Couple Finds a New Life in Belgium.

My Union is Sacred

One moment has the power to last a lifetime and change the course of a life. September 30th, 2008. I was in Northern India leading a group of young adults on an alternative educational journey. She was there on an art internship. We had both—me, with the group and her solo—registered with an Ashram where we would attend an intensive 8-day yoga course. Introductory evening: she is called Sanne. She comes from the Netherlands. I am Becky; I come from America.  We are certain…Our gazes open doors to places that have no borders. The world is small, but the heavens not.

It is India, so we are cautious. Though it is hard to hide what seems to be bursting forth with such gusto and intent. One of my students says to me, in a hushed tone, just three days after Sanne and I meet, “Becky, it seems like you are in love.” It’s true. I am—deeply and in ways I had only dreamed of.

Eighteen days later, Sanne and I part. My group is off to another part of India. Sanne is making her way south to Mumbai, her point of exit back to the Netherlands. We have no idea when we will see each other again. I tell her I will find my way back to her.

December 2008 – Trip One

I am in between groups, but I must see her. I squeeze sixteen days in the Netherlands. I feel I have known Sanne forever. Her family feels like my own.

March 2009 – Trip Two

I have finished my stint in Guatemala with the next group. Sanne is rooted to her place in the Netherlands as she finishes art school. Even though I know her, I want to get to know her. I have a little less than two and a half months left on my tourist visa for this six-month period. We learn what life is like on a daily level. Again, we are certain; we want to build a life together. I go back to America in May just biding my time until we can reunite. My life feels empty there without her.

June 2009 – Trip Three

I have just seven days left as a “tourist.” I stay exactly the alotted time in order to attend Sanne’s art exhibition and graduation.

July 2009 – Trip Four

It’s Sanne’s turn to be a “tourist.” It is much more difficult for her to come to America than it was for me in the Netherlands. Americans are suspicious: of everyone. Her grandma deposits a lump of money into her account, so she can show that she has enough to stay for the maximum six months. We make some semblance of a life for ourselves in Milwaukee where my twin sister resides. We know this arrangement will be short-lived, and we must come up with a plan if we are to remain together. In the meantime, I have one of those dreams that I know can only be my soul speaking. I am meant to carry a child in Africa. Again, for a fleeting moment, our world is borderless.

January 2010 – Trip Five

This time, together, Sanne and I make the trip to the Netherlands. Now, we feel like partners. We are indeed partnering in our life. We intend to keep it this way. It’s a logistical trip as a result. How can we create a life with one another unbound by visa requirements?

February 2010 – Trip Six

Together, we have made our second trip. We are in Ghana now following our passions: Sanne is learning woodcraft from a local artist, and I am writing. We are both birthing something in ourselves before we take on the conception and birthing of our child. It’s a simple life in form, but complicated in relations. Sanne and I are relegated to tales of us being “real, good friends.” Wink Wink. Of course, we knew that coming into this. Same sex relationships are illegal in Ghana. You can even serve prison time.

May 2010- Trip Seven

A soul has chosen us. I am certain we are pregnant. Now, residency is imperative. Sanne has returned early to arrange details for my immigration. It will be difficult, but not impossible. Thank God the Netherlands recognizes my partnership. We are so blessed that we can create a life together in one of our countries.

June 2010 – Trip Eight

I am back in the Netherlands. Those four weeks apart felt like an eternity. I just wanted to share this pregnancy with Sanne. We inform our families of our life, our plans. We will marry in September. We already know that ours is a Sacred Union that can’t be touched or influenced by anything outside of ourselves, but we want rights, too.

July 2010 – Trip Nine

I have to leave again, otherwise the paperwork can’t be arranged in time to avoid “tourist”status. With my belly in bloom, I return to America to be amidst family and friends. My community is there. It’s bittersweet, really. I’ve found my life partner and so much is being created, but I must also leave so much behind. I feel heartache and love operating simultaneously. Sanne and I both know we would stay in North Carolina if we could. We both feel a connection to the mountains there and the people. One day, we think.

August 2010 – Trip Ten. The Last.

I am back. Things are becoming clearer, even if they are still tricky. To Belgium, we must go. Immigration law is less stringent there. We have concluded that immigration in the Netherlands is for people with money. In Belgium, you need less of it.

September 20, 2010. We marry almost two years, to the date, of our meeting. It’s simple. It’s sweet. It affirms what we have already commited to with one another. It feels different though, carries with it different implications. We are seen as a couple now— by the law and by immigration officials— a luxury not afforded to us back in the United States because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a Union between a man and a woman.

Since we are talking about marriage here, I’ll be candid…I never imagined I would get married, at least not in the traditional sense. I had always envisioned some kind of commitment ceremony where friends and family would witness my partner and I sharing vows that we created— vows of conciousness and empowerment. Marriage, in my eyes, was the formality. It still is. Indeed, when Sanne and I got married, everything felt different. We had, after all, stated our vows (still our creation) in front of others. There’s power in that. But there is also power in having our Union recognized by our government. Especially now that immigration is dependent on it.

So, the paperwork is in order. We begin our life together. We find a home in the literal sense. In its figurative sense, we have learned that home is inside of us. But, we are realizing, with each passing day, there is something more to “home.” It’s not unlike a relationship in that way. Sometimes there is but one place (or in terms of a relationship, but one person) that really stirs something deep in our beings. A place (or person) that calls forth the bigger and brighter aspects of who we are because it just FEELS right. To Sanne and I, that place is the mountains of North Carolina. There’s a resonance we feel there that we haven’t known anywhere else. And now, as caretakers of our daughter, Willow, we have an even bigger responsibility to live where our hearts and souls desire. We are models for her of what it means to live life.

So Sanne and I are doing it. We are living life. We are listening closely, and we are placing our hearts out there— our story— with the knowledge that, just as our neighbors, we are humans with an equal desire to love and be loved. We don’t wish to meddle in politics or religion or the lives of others, for that matter. We are not activists. We are people, and all we desire is the freedom to be who we are, to live our life as a family, and in the place that feels home to our souls.

Together, let us work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. It only serves to reinforce the isolation and division too many of us— no matter the race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation— feel in our insides. Support Unity: family unity. Support Love. Support Life. Let our higher selves be the model we choose and live by— if not for ourselves than, at least, for our Gods and our children.

Thank you for listening. If you feel compelled, share this story: with like-minded folk or differing-minded folk. It doesn’t matter. It is all of our journeys, after all, to be fully who we are. I am called Becky. She is Sanne. Our daughter is Willow.

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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.