Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: Feds seek to order man's return to Mexico
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A gay Bay Area couple is headed to court this week to try to fight the deportation of one of the men to Mexico.
Brian Willingham, 37, a U.S. citizen, and his husband, Alfonso Garcia, 35, a citizen of Mexico, have a deportation hearing Thursday, March 22 at the federal immigration court in San Francisco.
The two were legally married in New York but because of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government doesn't recognize their marriage.
"It's repugnant to think I should have to leave my country and family and career and everything I have in the United States just because I'm married to a gay person [from] Mexico," Willingham, who works in real estate, said in a Monday, March 19 phone interview.
Willingham recently filed a green card petition for Garcia, and they'll ask for the deportation proceedings to be delayed because their application is pending before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The two men have been together since October 2001 and live in the East Bay city of Orinda. They are registered as domestic partners with the state of California and married in New York in August 2011 after such unions became legal in that state.
California's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, passed by voters in 2008, prohibits state recognition of their marriage.
Garcia's parents brought him to the U.S. when he was a child, and he's lived in the Bay Area for almost 21 years. His parents are green card holders and applying for U.S. citizenship.
Garcia wasn't available for comment Monday. If he's deported, he would be barred from returning to the United States for 10 years, according to a statement from the couple.
"I've spent most of my life in the United States," Garcia stated. "This country is my home, and Brian is my husband."
Willingham said that the trouble started in June 2011 when he and Garcia were pulled over on the Bay Bridge for going five to 10 miles over the speed limit.
That led to the discovery that Garcia doesn't have lawful status in this country, and he was soon placed in custody by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
He was held for more than three weeks and eventually was moved to Arizona, according to the couple. Willingham secured his release, but the government initiated deportation proceedings.
DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional by judges in several cases, including in California. Federal appeals court rulings on the constitutionality of DOMA are expected this year in at least two of those cases.
The Obama administration has stopped defending DOMA in court.
Asking for help
Willingham and Garcia stated that they've contacted California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both Democrats) and Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) and urged them to contact Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and the White House for help.
Feinstein is the author of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.
"The team that seems to be the most supportive right now is Barbara Boxer's staff," Willingham said. He said Boxer's staffers have been requesting information from him and are trying to figure out how they can assist.
He said people working for Feinstein and Garamendi "haven't really caught on to the urgency of the matter yet."
Boxer is a co-sponsor of Feinstein's Respect for Marriage Act.
In response to questions, Boxer spokesman Zachary Cole said in an email, "We are reviewing the case."
Asked about the proceedings, Feinstein spokesman Brian Weiss said in an email that the senator's San Francisco office "has received the information on spousal petition from Mr. Willingham and Mr. Garcia and is currently reviewing the case."
Garamendi spokesman Donald Lathbury said in an email, "Congressman Garamendi sympathizes with Mr. Willingham's and Mr. Garcia's situation, and that is why he is a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act (HR 1537), which would end LGBTIQ discrimination in our immigration laws. Our district director recently spoke with the couple and asked them to follow up with her after the forthcoming immigration hearing. Our options are limited since this is an ongoing private legal proceeding and House Republican leadership is staunchly opposed to marriage equality and HR 1537. Congressman Garamendi will continue to support equality for gay and lesbian Americans, including equal access to immigration services.
Willingham expressed deep dissatisfaction with Obama.
He pointed to a White House fact sheet that says the president believes "Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country."
The administration should "really put some action behind their words," Willingham said.
"We need them to give instruction to the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security and tell them not to deny [the green card petition]," he added. Willingham said that green card petitions from same-sex couples have always been denied.
Willingham wants his application put in abeyance, which would put the filing on hold until DOMA is repealed.
White House spokesman Shin Inouye referred questions about Willingham and Garcia's case to the Department of Homeland Security.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for that department, said in an email, "Pursuant to the attorney general's guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the executive branch, including the Department of Homeland Security, will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it, or there is a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional."
Lavi Soloway, the couple's attorney, is the co-creator of the anti-DOMA Stop the Deportations campaign. Last year, he stopped deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans in cases in San Francisco, New York, and other cities.
"This administration has forced us to beg each time for LGBT families to be treated like all other families in the deportation context," Soloway stated. "Despite repeated calls from members of Congress and advocates, they refuse to issue written guidelines that would specifically stop deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans for whom the only obstacle to a 'green card' is the Defense of Marriage Act."
He called on the administration to "put on hold adjudication of otherwise approvable green card applications by gay and lesbian binational couples until DOMA is gone."
"We're really adamant that the case be continued because of Brian's pending green card petition for Alfonso," Soloway said in a brief interview Monday.
Willingham filed the green card application last month.
He said with the Obama's changed attitude toward DOMA, "It seems like now's the right time to seek equal treatment under the law and get a green card for my husband."
He said he hadn't filed application before because "When your spouse is undocumented, there's a fear anything you do might start the deportation proceeding."
Similar fears were behind their decision not to get married in California in 2008 during the brief time such unions were legal. Around that time, an immigration attorney advised them against getting married, Willingham said.
"They were afraid it would trigger something at the federal government that would start a deportation," he said.
State marriage and family therapists' organization defends LGBTs
The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists has revised its statement to come out strongly against sexual orientation change efforts. Such practices are commonly known as ex-gay, reparative, or conversion therapy.
In an email last week, Bruce Weitzman, a board member of the state group's San Francisco chapter, said that CAMFT's board approved the "very far-reaching" statement at its meeting this month.
The statement, which is available at http://www.camft.org, is meant to reaffirm the statewide group's "respect of human diversity, including gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation," the organization says.
In its statement, CAMFT also says, "Same-sex sexual attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity."
The organization acknowledges in its statement that "current cultural prejudice about same-sex sexual orientation compels some clients to seek out sexual orientation change due to personal, family, or religious conflicts, or to better fit into some cultural and religious norms. CAMFT is concerned about children and youth, who are especially vulnerable to harm and who lack adequate legal protection from involuntary or coercive treatment and whose parents and guardians may not have accurate information to make informed decisions regarding the child s development and well-being."
Referring to the American Psychological Association's position, the statewide group encourages mental health professionals to prevent their own biases "from taking precedence over professional practice and standards or scientific findings in their work."
Weitzman said the statement is "wonderful" and "puts [CAMFT] out in front with regard to speaking out on the issue."
He also said that he led a five-chapter initiative that resulted in a proposal to the state association to take a position on the issue. The board heard the proposal in January, and upheld the position of the American Psychological Association on the subject. They also crafted their own statement.
"In some ways," he said, CAMFT's statement is "more far-reaching and accessible" than the national association's stance.
"CAMFT did a real service to the LGBT community this past week," Weitzman said.
The move follows criticism from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which is based in Salt Lake City, that CAMFT's local chapter had engaged in "egregious ethical behavior."
In February, NARTH asked supporters to sign a formal complaint letter addressed to CAMFT. The anti-gay group charged that in its support of LGBTs, the local therapists' organization had misrepresented research by the American Psychological Association, among other complaints.
California Democrats oppose North Carolina's proposed marriage ban
The California Democratic Party has come out against North Carolina's proposed same-sex marriage ban. The 2012 Democratic National Convention is planned for Charlotte, North Carolina.
In a statement released Monday, party Chair John Burton voiced support for President Barack Obama, who's also come out against the anti-gay measure.
"California Democrats proudly support President Obama for taking a stand against a divisive ballot amendment that seeks to codify discrimination against same-sex couples into North Carolina's constitution," Burton stated.
He said that as Democrats gather for the national convention, it's "imperative that we send a clear and united message against all such efforts that seek to divide Americans and enshrine discrimination. California Democrats stand ready to help and we will soon be in touch with ways that Democrats here can start getting the word out to voters in North Carolina about the need to defeat Amendment One."
North Carolina voters will cast ballots on the measure May 8.
According to the Associated Press, Obama's North Carolina campaign spokesman stated, "[T]he record is clear that the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. That's what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do – it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples – and that's why the president does not support it."
Since he's been president, Obama has refused to announce full support for marriage equality at the national level.
In an email, White House spokesman Shin Inouye responded to a question about whether Obama would be changing his stance soon by saying, "The president has expressed his views on that issue, and I don't have any updates."
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.