A gay couple from Cape Cod is suing Venezuela to have their marriage recognized.
In December 2015, Carlos Javier Holder Wendell and Patrick Holder Wendell married in Bewster, Massachussetts.
Unusually for New England, it was a particularly warm and spring-like day. The couple had picked extra-heavy tuxedos, but as it turned out, they could’ve worn shorts.
Just over a year later, they’re in the middle of suing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela into recognising their marriage.
‘It’s causing a lot of issues. But it’s also the fact that his government in his country is refusing to recognize us as a married couple, which is painful,’ Patrick told Gay Star News.
‘We love each other, and we have a life together and it’s tough.’
If their lawsuit is successful, they will be the first same-sex couple recognized as married in Venezuela.
The process already started in March last year, when the couple went into the Venezuelan Consulate in Boston to register their marriage.
They had all their documentation ready, but Consulate staff told them the rules had changed.
So the couple got another marriage licence, as well as approval from the court in Boston, and dropped the documents off at the Venezuelan Consulate in Boston, Massachusetts.
‘And at that point they took all the documentation, and the person at the desk looked at it and realized at that point “Oh, wait a second, these are two men”,’ Patrick said.
‘And you could tell by the kind of deer in the headlights look on his face. He took it back, gave it to the Consul in the back office and then, for the next hour or so, just kept avoiding coming to the desk.
‘Probably because he didn’t know what to say to us.’
The Civil Code of Venezuela states marriages may only be contracted between one man and one woman in the country – but there is no such rule for marriages contracted abroad, which is what Carlos and Patrick are partly basing their lawsuit on.
After a long wait, Consul Omar Fernando Sierra called them into his office, where he gave the couple a speech on equal rights in Venezuela.
Throughout the entire meeting, Patrick says Consul Sierra ’couldn’t even use the term’ same-sex marriage; instead, he referred to it as a civil union.
‘He did say, though, that he wants to do it,’ he said.
‘And he took our application and put it together himself as a formal petition to the government in V to allow him to register our marriage.’
Follow-up phone calls and emails were either not returned or answered with claims there was no information available yet.
But without their marriage recognized, the couple are facing issues.
‘Carlos’ passport has one name and his US documents now have another, our married name,’ Patrick said.
‘Which makes it confusing and difficult.’
Last year, Carlos was nearly refused boarding a US-bound flight from Berlin, because the name on his Venezuelan passport did not match the name on other documents.
To change his name, the Venezuelan government needs to recognize him as married.
When Patrick and Carlos still hadn’t received an answer from the Consulate by summer, they sent a formal demand letter.
It also remained unanswered, which is when they decided to serve a lawsuit.
They put in for $10 million, although that was only to get the Venezuelan government’s attention.
‘We know that even if we get a judgement of $10 million, we’ll never be able to collect. It’s more the principle of the thing,’ Patrick said.
‘We’ve been doing this to hopefully get a response out of the government, and they keep stalling. It’s getting difficult.’
Consul Sierra got more communicative then, Patrick said, but would only speak to the couple in person; as they both work, it was hard to find a suitable date.
When offered an opportunity, Sierra refused to answer to the couple, so they filed the suit.
Apart from attorneys they know checking the language and laws were correct, Patrick and Carlos did all the research and work themselves.
The difficult part, they said, was to actually serve Venezuela with the lawsuit and a summons requiring them to answer it.
They had to serve it a very specific way, based on the Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial Documents, more commonly known as the Hague Convention.
Patrick and Carlos sent complete translations and multiple copies of everything, with the seal of the court, to the Foreign Ministry of Venezuela in Caracas.
The ministry then had to send it through other ministries, which sent it to the court to get judge’s approval, before it finally reached the police who served the lawsuit.
The couple tracked it as best as they could.
‘Through an attorney who we were able to contact at the Department of Justice in Washtingon DC, the US Department of Justice was able to confirm that yes, it’s been served and got us copies of everything so that we could then file it with the court,’ Patrick said.
‘Of course, when we got everything back, we found out that they had been served three months earlier and had, of course, not answered in the required 60 day timeframe that the court published.’
Since then, they have been ignored. Patrick said they sent further emails but beyond one in-person meeting with Consul Sierra, after the lawsuit was served, nothing happened.
‘He actually stayed in the Consulate after hours with his staff, to have the discussion with us,’ Patrick said.
‘So we took that as [a sign that] it’s important, that he believes it’s important.’
They got a civics lesson explaining to them how the Venezuelan government works, and how the opposition party is responsible for blocking their marriage registration application.
Patrick believes Consul Sierra is genuinely excited about helping them get their marriage registered, but it’s the political situation that’s making it tricky.
The next step, for them, would be to file for a default judgement, which will give them a piece of paper saying Venezuela was wrong.
The country would also owe Carlos and Patrick the $10 million they put down for.
And it’s not just travel that has been difficult for them.
Because he cannot get a spousal visa, Patrick only met Carlos’ sister and mother. They are the only ones with passports and visas which allowed them to come to the US.
Venezuela stopped giving out passports months ago. After an order from Venezuela, the US Embassy in Caracas also stopped giving out first-time tourist visas to Venezuelan citizens.
So Patrick hasn’t met any of his husband’s Venezuelan friends, or his aunts and uncles whom Carlos is very close with, in person.
‘Carlos spends sometimes an hour or two every night on WhatsApp, talking to them,’ Patrick said.
‘And that’s all that I can ever do, and that’s really unfortunate. The only relationship I can have with my husband’s existence prior to coming here and us getting married is through social media.
‘Which is great, but it’s not; our relationship is not real life.’
None of Carlos’ Venezuelan friends or family were able to attend the couple’s wedding, despite the couple trying their best.
Instead, the newlyweds made sure there was a video so they could still take part from afar.
Patrick could lie on the visa application and say he’s not married to a Venezuelan. But even that wouldn’t help much.
‘[If] we went down there and something happened – it’s a dangerous place – there are no spousal privileges,’ he said.
‘And they don’t even recognizes powers of attorney for medical reasons or, god forbid, if there was a death of one of us.
‘We wouldn’t even be handle the remains, the assets at stake, all that kind of stuff.’
Gay Star News contacted the Venezuelan Consulate, as well as Consul Sierra, for comment.