When Joshua Vandiver GS started graduate work in the politics department, he never imagined he might be caught up in a legal battle that would span the 2010–11 academic year.
“I’m a reclusive scholar working on ancient Greek political theory,” he said, laughing, and explaining that he hadn’t intended to become an activist.
Vandiver’s marriage to salsa dance instructor Henry Velandia fanned the flames of the national same-sex marriage debate when Velandia nearly was deported to Venezuela, his home country, based on the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies marriage-based immigration benefits for same-sex couples.
Vandiver’s petition for his spouse’s U.S. residency was denied twice on these grounds. Married in Connecticut in August 2010, Vandiver and Velandia began a court battle several weeks later. Immigration officials decided to drop the case in June, allowing Velandia to remain in New Jersey with his spouse. But while authorities no longer are actively prosecuting Velandia’s deportation, a future administration could reopen the case, Vandiver said.
“Henry will not be safe until our marriage is recognized, and I can sponsor him for residency and citizenship as a non-gay couple could,” Vandiver said.
Still, the case was regarded as a significant victory by national gay-rights activists. “It was an enormous triumph after all that hard work and activism,” Vandiver said.
While Vandiver is relieved at the outcome of his ordeal, some of his academic advisers expressed regret that the case had placed a significant demand on Vandiver’s time during his sixth year of graduate study.
“He was able to go on fulfilling his responsibilities as a teacher and his other responsibilities, but I think it drained a lot of time and energy that he would otherwise have had to spend on his research,” politics professor Melissa Lane said.
Vandiver said he enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the case with some of his students, many of whom said they were inspired by the couple’s work.
“Everyone was just pretty saddened and shocked by the story,” said Alex Rafter ’14, who took a freshman writing seminar taught by Vandiver. “I saw how much national interest and importance the case had ... and I was even more interested in seeing how it would affect other people in similar situations.”
Other students showed their support for the couple through events such as the April 14 “Speak Now for Marriage Equality” panel and discussion session organized by the Princeton Equality Project (PEP), a campus group aimed at promoting LGBT equality. PEP also collected student signatures for an online petition and brought students to a Newark courthouse in May to join other supporters as Vandiver and Velandia appeared in court.
“It meant a lot to me to have the Princeton community supporting us,” Vandiver said. “Their excitement about our activism helped drive us in the final stage.”