Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Defense of Marriage Act’

17th September 2013

Since the relatively recent decision from the United States Supreme Court known colloquially as the Windsor decision, there have been a few lingering questions from members of the LGBT community regarding the United States immigration options now available for same sex couples.

Due to section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the past it was not possible for same sex married couples (even those with a valid marriage in one of those American jurisdictions permitting same sex marriage) to receive federal benefits based upon their marriages. This lack of federal recognition precluded the possibility of a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident sponsoring a foreign spouse or fiance for a US marriage visa or a US fiance visa. With the high Court’s pronouncement that same sex marriage should be accorded the same recognition as different sex marriage this all changed.

Section 3 of DOMA reads as follows:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

From the moment the Supreme Court ruled this section unConstitutional, the Federal government was instantly required to allot the same benefits to lawfully married same sex and LGBT couples as would be allotted to different sex couples in similar circumstances. What does this mean from an immigration standpoint? LGBT and same sex couples are now permitted to petition and apply for the same types of visas as their different sex counterparts. Therefore, a couple of the same sex who is already married in the U.S. or a foreign jurisdiction recognizing such unions may now apply for a U.S. marriage visa such as the CR1 visa, the IR1 visa, or the K3 visa. Furthermore, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has made it clear that they will also adjudicate K1 Visa petitions (petitions for immigration benefits for foreign fiances of U.S. Citizens) for same sex couples in the same way that such petitions are adjudicated for different sex couples.

The Catch Section 2

One issue that has been of concern for experts studying this issue is the practical impact of the Court’s seeming unwillingness to speak to the issue of the Constitutionality of Section 2 of DOMA. Section 2 of DOMA reads as follows:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

The fact that Section 2 of DOMA has not been overturned means that same sex couples may NOT receive the same STATE benefits as their different sex counterparts depending upon the local laws of the couples’ State of residence and notwithstanding the fact that the couple may have a perfectly legal marriage in one of those U.S. jurisdictions allowing such marriages. An example of how this could work in a practical sense would be a situation where the same sex couple is married legally in one state, but resides in a state which forbids same sex unions, a spouse having state retirement benefits may not be able to fully pass on their retirement benefits to their same sex spouse. How would this work in an immigration context? USCIS and the Department of State have already issued answers to a series of frequently asked questions regarding LGBT immigration. On the question of US fiance visas, the USCIS as well as the State Department have noted that so long as the couple has a bona fide intention to celebrate their marriage in one of those states which permit such unions then the immigration petition and application will be adjudicated no differently than a similarly situation petition or application for a different-sex couple.

One issue which may be concerning for same sex partners in the Kingdom of Thailand arises from the fact that, at present, same sex marriage is not legal under Thai law and therefore authorities in Thailand will not register a marriage to two people of the same sex. That stated, there is currently legislation being drafted to allow same sex marriage in Thailand. However, as of the time of this writing it is not clear whether the Thai government will ultimately pass said legislation. As there is not another jurisdiction in the region which recognizes same sex unions, it may not be feasible for same sex partners to marry prior to submitting a US marriage visa petition. This leaves many same sex Thai-American couples in a position where their only option is to apply for a K-1 fiance visa and marry in the United States.

For related information, please see: K1 Visa Thailand.

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26th August 2013

จากการเขียน Blog ครั้งก่อนเรื่องข้อสงสัยเกี่ยวกับการขอย้ายถิ่นที่อยู่ของคู่สมรสเพสเดียวกันนั้น  ขาฯได้พบคำตอบเกี่ยวกับหัวข้อดังกล่าวจากกระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐฯ ดังนี้:

Q: คำตัดสินของศาลสูงเรื่องคดี Windsor vs. United States มีผลกระทบต่อกฎหมายคนเข้าเมืองอย่างไร?

A: ศาลสูงตัดสินว่า Section 3 ของ DOMA นั้น ขัดต่อรัฐธรรมนูญ จากนี้ไป สถานเอกอัครราชฑูตและสถานกงศุลของสหรัฐฯ จะปฎิบัติต่อการขอวีซ่าของคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกัน ในวิธีการเดียวกับคู่สมรสต่างเพศ  นอกจากนี้ คู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันที่จะเดินทางเข้าสหรัฐเพื่อ – งาน การศึกษา หรืออื่นๆ – จะขอวีซ่าเหล่านั้นได้เช่นกัน  รวมถึงลูกติดของคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันด้วย

ตามที่เคยสนทนาใน Blog นี้ การที่ศาลลงความเห็นว่า Section 3  ของ DOMA นั้นขัดต่อรัฐธรรมนูญ ส่งผลให้ผู้ที่เป็นคนถือสัญชาติอเมริกันสามารถยื่นขอผลประโยชน์ทางการเข้าเมืองให้คู่สมรส (หรือคู่หมั้น) เพศเดียวกัน กระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐซึ่งรับผิดชอบเรื่องการออกวีซ่า ยังต้องทำการแจ้งข้อมูลเบื้องต้น  ทางกระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐได้จัดระบบให้สอดคล้องกับการตัดสินของศาลสูงเรียบร้อยแล้ว

Q: ข้ฯต้องอาศัยอยู่ในรัฐที่ออกกฏหมายยอมรับคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันหรือไม่เพื่อที่จะขอวีซ่าเข้าเมือง

A: ไม่จำเป็น หากท่านได้จดทะเบียนสมรสในรัฐหรือประเทศที่ยอมรักการจดทะเบียนสมรสของคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกัน ถือว่าทะเบียนสมรสนั้นถูกต้องสำหรับประกอบการยื่นขออนุญาตเข้าเมือง (โปรดอ่านข้อมูลเพิ่มเติมใน Website ของ USCIS – ในหัวข้อ – Citizenship and Immigration Services)

เนื่องจากเขตปกครองของสหรัฐที่ยอมรับการสมรสระหว่างคนเพศเดียวกันนั้นมีไม่มาก และมีหลายรัฐที่ห้ามให้มีการสมรสระหว่างคนเพศเดียวกันนั้น จึงมีข้อสงสัยมากมายทั้งในวงของนักกฎหมายและของคู่สมรสเหล่านั้นด้วย ใน Blog ที่ข้าฯ ได้เขียนก่อนหน้านี้ ข้าฯได้ยืนยันแล้วว่าความถูกต้องขึ้นอยุ่กับ “รัฐที่ได้ทำการจดทะเบียน” นั่นคือ USCIS จะรับรองการยื่นขอย้ายถิ่นที่อยู่ของคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันก็ต่อเมื่อการจดทะเบียนได้จดในรัฐที่ยอมรับการจดทะเบียนประเภทนี้  นอกจากนี้ ดูเหมือนว่ากระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐฯก็มีนโยบายที่คล้ายกันคือ จะอนุมัติการขอวีซ่าของคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกัน ต่อเมื่อ USCIS  ได้อนุมัติการเข้าเมืองของคู่ดังกล่าว  แต่อาจมี่เขตปกครองบางเขต ที่อาจยอมรับการครองเรือนของคนเพศเดียวกัน แต่อาจไม่ถือเป็นการสมรส ซึ่งทางกระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐฯกล่าวว่า:

Q: ข้าฯอยู่ร่วมกันกับคูคนเพศเดียวกัน  เราจะได้รับสิทธิเหมือนคู่ที่ทำการสมรสหรือไม่

A: ณ. เวลานี้ การขอย้ายถิ่นที่อยู่ จะอนุมัติให้เฉพาะบุคคลที่จดทะเบียนสมรสอย่างถูกต้องตามกฎหมาย

ถึงแม้คำตอบจะดูชัดเจนแล้ว มีหลายคู่อาจมีข้อสงสัยเพิ่มเติมคือ:

Q: ข้าฯถือสัญชาติอเมริกันและมี่คู่หมั้นต่างชาติที่เป็นคนเพสเดียวกันกับข้าฯ แต่ไม่สามารถทำการจดทะเบียนสมรสในประเทศของคู่หมั้น เรามีทางเลือกอย่างไรบ้าง? เราสามารถขอ K-Visa (วีซ่าคู่หมั้น) ได้หรือไม่?

A: คุณสามารถยื่น Form I-129f และขอวีซ่าคู่หมั้น (K-1) หากคุณสมบัติครบตามข้อกำหนดของการขอเข้าเมือง การที่เป็นการหมั้นระหว่างคนเพสเดียวกัน อาจอนุมัติให้ใช้เพื่อเข้าไปจดทะเบียนสมรสในสหรัฐฯ หากต้องการขอข้อมูลเรื่องการปรับสถานะ อ่านได้ใน Website ของ USCIS:

ในเมื่อในเวลานี้ คู่สมรสต่างเพศสามารถยื่นขอ K1 วีซ่า ได้ จึงมีความน่าจะเป็นที่คู่หมั้นที่มีเพศเดียวกันน่าจะยื่นขอ  US fiance visa ได้เช่นกัน หากมีความตั้งใจที่จะไปจดทะเบียนสมรสในเขตปกครองที่อนุญาตการจดทะเบียนสมรสระหว่างคนเพศเดียวกัน

อีกประเด็นที่อาจมีข้อสงสัยคือการออก Non-immigrant visa (NIV)  วีซ่าประเภทนี้ไม่ได้ไม่ได้อนุญาตให้ผู้ถือเปลี่ยนสถานะเป็นผู้ย้ายเข้าเมือง  ทางกระทรวงมหาดไทยได้ให้รายละเอียดดังนี้สำหรับการออก NIV ให้กับคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันว่า:

Q: คู่ที่เป็นเพศเดียวกันสามารถขอวีซ่าประเภทเดียวกันหรือไม่?

A: ได้  ณ. เวลานี้ คู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันพร้อมลูกสามารถยื่นขอวีซา NIV ได้ คู่ครองเพศเดียวกันและลูก (ถือเป็นลูกเลี้ยงของผู้ยื่นหลัก หากจดทะเบยนสมรสก่อนเด็กอายุครบ ๑๘ ปีบริบูรณ์) ก็ สามารถรับสิทธิขอวีซ่า NIV ถ้ากฎหมายอนุมัติวีซ่าให้  แต่เอกสารเพิ่มเติมคงไม่มีการเปลี่ยนแปลง เช่นเดียวกับการขอให้คู่สมรสเพศเดียวกัน [italics added]

Q: คู่สมรสต่างชาติของข้าพเจ้ามีบุตร ข้าพเจ้ายื่นคำขอพร้อมกับคู่สมรสได้หรือไม่?

A: ได้  บุตรของคู่สมรสต่างชาติจะถือเป็น”ลูกเลี้ยง” ของผู้ถือสัญชาติอเมริกันจึงสามารถรับสิทธิในกลุ่ม IR2 แต่ต้องจดทะเบยนสมรสก่อนเด็กอายุครบ ๑๘ ปีบริบูรณ์

แน่นอน ทางกระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐฯ ได้อนุมัติให้ลูกเลี้ยงคนคนถือสัญชาติอเมริกันย้ายเข้าเมืองในกรณีที่ คู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันจดทะเบียนสมรสก่อนเด็กอายุครบ ๑๘ ปีบริบูรณ์ ดังนั้น น่าจะเป็นที่เข้าใจว่าเด็กที่กำลังจะเป็นลูกเลี้ยงของคนถือสัญชาติอเมริกันที่ขอวีซ่าประเภทคู่หมั้นคือ  K-2 visa เพื่อทำการสมรสในสหรัฐฯ

หากท่านต้องการข้อมูลจาก Website หาได้ที่: วีซ่าคู่เพศเดียวกัน

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24th August 2013

หลังจากการที่ศาลตัดสินคดี Windsor ที่มีการอ้างว่า ขัดต่อรัฐธรรมนูญ มีคู่รักเพศเดียวกันหลายคู่ มีข้อสงสัยเกี่ยวกับการอพยพเข้าเมืองของสหรัฐ  ทาง USCIS และกระทรวงมหาดไทยของสหรัฐฯ เคยตอบคำถามเรื่องนี้มามากแล้ว และผมเคยปรึกษาหารือเรื่องคำตอบเหล่านี้ ใน Blog นี้มาก่อน แต่กระผมได้สังเกตว่า  USCIS ได้ให้ข้อมูลเพิ่มเติมเรื่องนี้ใน website  ของ  USCIS:

Q1: ข้าฯ เป็นพลเมืองของสหรัฐ  หรือเป็นผู้อาศัย (Permanent Resident) และมีคู่สมรสของข้าฯ เป็นคนเพศเดียวกันและเป็นคนต่างชาติ ขาฯ สามารถรับรองการขอ VISA ย้ายถิ่นที่อยู่ให้กับคู่ของข้าฯ ได้หรือไม่ ? (ใหม่)

A1: ได้ ท่านสามารถยื่นแบบ Form I-130 (และเอกสารอื่น ๆ) สิทธิในการขอย้ายที่อยู่จะพิจารณาตัดสินตามกฎต่างๆ ของการเข้าเมือง และจะไม่ใช้ความเป็นคู่สมรสเพศเดียวกันมาเป็นตัวแปรในการตัดสิน

นอกจากนี้คนอเมริกันหรือ Permanent Resident สามารถยื่นคำขอ คือ IR 1 Visa, CR 1 Visa  หรือตัวเสริมคือ K3 Visa   เพื่อให้คู่สมรสเข้าเมือง  นอกจากนี้ เมื่อยื่นขอ Visa ที่สถานฑูตหรือสถานกงศุลของสหรัฐฯ การพิจารณาการขอ Visa จะพิจารณาเช่นเดียวกับ การพิจารณาการขอ Visa  ของคู่สมรสต่างเพศ

ประเด็นที่หลายคู่สงสัย คือ ข้อแตกต่างระหว่างรัฐที่อาศัยอยู่กับรัฐที่จดทะเบียยนสมรส เพราะมีไม่กี่รัฐที่อนุญาติให้คนเพศเดียวกันจดทะเบียนสมรส ในขณะที่บางรัฐไม่ยอมรับการสมรสระหว่างเพศเดียวกัน และอาจะไม่อนุญาติให้จดทะเบียน   USICS ได้อธิบายเพิ่มเติมในประเด็นนี้:

Q3: ข้าฯ และคู่สมรสได้จดทะเบียนในรัฐ ในสหรัฐฯ หรือในประเทศที่ยอมรับ การสมรสระหว่างคนเพศเดียวกัน แต่เราอาศัยในรัฐที่ไม่อนุญาติให้จดทะเบียนสมรส ข้าฯ สามารภยื่นขอให้คู่ครองย้ายเข้าเมืองได้หรือไม่

A3: ได้เพราะ สถานภาพการสมรส จะพิจารณาจากรัฐที่ได้ทำการจดทะเบียน หากกฎหมายของรัฐนั้นอนุญาตให้ คนเพศเดียวกันจดทะเบียนสมรสได้ ถือว่าเป็นการจดทะเบียนที่ถูกต้องตามกฎหมาย แล้วใช้ในการประกอบการพิจารณา การขอย้ายเข้าเมืองได้

อาจมีบางกรณีที่จะมีผลทำให้ กฎหมายของที่อาศัยมีผลต่อบางประเด็น แต่โดยรวมแล้ว ทาง USCIS จะนำกฎหมายของรัฐที่คู่สมรสได้ดำเนินการจดทะเบียน มาใช้ในการพิจารณาการขอย้ายถิ่นที่อยู่

นอกจากนี้ ข้าฯ ก็ไม่เคยได้ยินว่า  Section 2 ของ DOMA จะขัดต่อรัฐธรรมนูญ  ดูด้จากคำอธิบายต่อไปนี้:

Q5: Form I-130 หรือคำขออื่นๆได้ถูกปฎิเสธโดยอ้างกฎของ DOMA เพียงอย่างเดียว ข้าฯ ควรทำอย่างไรต่อ?

A5: USCIS จะนำคำขอที่ถูกปฎิเสธเพราะ DOMA Section 3 มาพิจารณาอีกรอบ ถ้าหากมีข้อมูลเรื่องธุรกรรมเหล่านี้ USCIS จะนำคำตัดสินมาพิจารณาอีกครั้ง ซึ่งจะปฎิบัติเช่นนี้กับทุกกรณีที่ได้รับการปฎิเสธ ใน Form I-130 (เช่น Form I-485 ที่นำยื่นในเวลาเดียวกัน)

  • USCIS จะนำ Form I-130 ที่ได้รับการปฎิเสธเนื่องจาก DOMA Section 3 หลัง 23 กพ. 2011  มาพิจารณาอีกรอบ และ USCIS จะติดต่อไปยังผู้ยื่นคำขอโดยใช้ที่อยู่ในใบคำขอ เพื่อขอข้อมูลเพิ่มเติม
  • หากคุณได้มีคำขอที่ได้รับการปฎิเสธ เนื่องด้วย กรณีดังกล่าวข้างต้น คุณสามารถส่ง email ส่วนตัว (ที่สามารถรับคำตอบได้) ไปยัง USCIS <USCIS-626@uscis.dhs.gov> เพื่อแจ้งการร้องเรียน  ทาง USCIS จะตอบอีเมล์แล้วขอข้อมูลเพิ่มเติมเพื่อประกอบการพิจารณา
  • ถ้าหากการปฎิเสธ คำขอ I-130 เกิดขึ้นก่อน 23 กพ. 2011 กรุณาแจ้ง USCIS ก่อน 31 มีค. 2014  เพื่อให้ USCIS ดำเนินการเปิด I-130 ของคุณ  กรุณาแจ้งจำนงไปยัง  < USCIS-626@uscis.dhs.gov > โดยเขียนว่า ทางคุณมีข้อสงสัยว่า การยื่นคำขอของคุณได้รับการปฎิเสธเพราะ  DOMA Section 3

พอทางการเริ่มพิจารณา I-130 ของท่าน จะเสมือนเป็นการพิจารณาใหม่โดยไม่คำนึงถึง DOMA Section 3 แล้วจะพิจารณาตามข้อมูลเก่า และข้อมูลเพิ่มเติม ในเวลาเดียวกัน USCIS จะนำคำขออื่นๆ มาพิจารณาตามความจำเป็น หากคำขอเหล่านั้น ถูกปฎิเสธ เนื่องจากการปฎิเสธ I-130 (เช่น Form I-485 เป็นต้น)

นอกจากนี้การขออนุญาติทำงานที่ถูกปฎิเสธเนื่องจากการปฎิเสธ Form I-48S ก็จะนำมาพิจารณาต่อ และจะออกใบอนุญาติทำงานหากอนุมัติ หากการตัดสินเกิดการล่าช้า  USCIS จะ (1) ยื่นเรื่องใหม่ทันที หรือ (2) พิจารณาและอนุมัติคำขอที่เคยถูกปฎิเสธ

  • หากมี form อื่นๆ (นอกจาก I-130) ที่ได้รับการปฎิเสธเรื่องจาก DOMA section 3 กรุณาแจ้ง USCIS ก่อน 31 มีค. 2013 โดยส่ง email ไปยัง <USCIS-626@uscis.dhs.gov>

จะไม่มีค่าใช้จ่ายเกิดขึ้นในการร้องขอให้ USCIS นำคำขอมาพิจารณาใหม่ แต่หากท่านต้องการยื่นคำขอใหม่ ท่านสามารถทำได้พร้อมจ่ายค่าธรรมเนียม ตามที่แจ้งได้

USCIS จะดำเนินธุรกรรมตามกฎและนโยบายของศาลสูง ซึ่งการนำใบสมัครของคู่สมรสที่มีเพศเดียวกันมาพิจารณาอีกรอบ ชี้ให้เห็นว่า ทางองค์กรมุ่งที่จะส่งเสริมความเท่าเทียมของครอบครัวทุกประเภท

หากท่านต้องการข้อมูลจาก Website หาได้ที่: วีซ่าคู่เพศเดียวกัน

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17th August 2013

In previous postings on this blog the issues related to same sex marriage in the United States, and the immigration benefits connected thereto have been discussed. However, discussion about how same sex marriage is viewed in the eyes of the law in Thailand has been comparably brief. As of the time of this writing, there would seem to be a growing movement to legalize same sex unions in Thailand following a recent case involving two same sex partners who attempted to register their union in Thailand in much the same manner as different-sex couples. To quote directly from the Asia Times website:

Last year, Nathee Theeraronjanapong (55) and his partner Atthapon Janthawee (38) decided to make their 20-year relationship legal. Citing section 1448 of Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code, which deems same-sex marriage unlawful, the head of registrations in Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai handed the couple a letter of denial…

An English translation of Section 1448 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code reads as follows:

A marriage may take place only when the man and woman have completed their seventeenth year of age. But the Court may, with appropriate reason, allow them to marry before attaining such age.

In much the same way that Section 3 the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) only Federally recognized marriages between a man and a woman (notwithstanding the fact that some States recognized such unions) the governing laws of the Kingdom of Thailand only recognize marriage as a union between two people of the opposite sex. Notwithstanding the law’s view of this issue, it should be noted that the Kingdom of Thailand remains one of the most tolerant jurisdictions in Asia when it comes to issues of race, religion, creed, and sexuality. Thailand has a significant and thriving LGBT community and even in the workplace the sexual preferences of employees are considered personal matters. This stands in stark comparison to the atmosphere in other Asian countries and even other jurisdictions within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). To quote from the website of Inter Press Service News Agency:

Sodomy is criminalised in six member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – namely, Brunei, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as Marawi City in the Philippines and the South Sumatra Province of Indonesia.

At a very early stage compared to other nations around the world (including the United States), in 1956 Thailand repealed the law making sodomy illegal thereby permitting intimate consensual relationships between consenting adults of the same sex. This decision placed Thailand among the most progressive nations in Asia (and the world) on the issue of LGBT equality.

However, it would appear that implementing policies to allow same sex marriage in Thailand is a more daunting endeavor. Many outsiders view Thailand as having a somewhat laissez-faire, perhaps even libertarian view, on social issues. In fact, many Thais are very conservative in their opinions, especially Thais of the older generations. This is not to say that such people are intolerant as many Thais maintain very conservative personal opinions while simultaneously remaining tolerant regarding the decisions and life choices of others (a dichotomy which makes Thailand such a wonderful and interesting place to live). However, this dichotomy must be taken into consideration by those pressing for changes to the Thai marriage laws as the Inter Press News Agency noted:

Danai Linjongrat, executive director of the Rainbow Sky Association, has been urging caution in the drafting of the civil union bill, so that it will not inadvertently fan the flames of intolerance and heighten regional stigmatisation of the LGBTIQ community. “We are looking for a bill that equalises all relationships,” he told IPS. “For example, the current marriage law grants heterosexual couples the right to marry once they reach the legal age of 17, but for LGBTIQ people the legal marriage age would be 20 years old.”

This blogger feels that it is likely that the rules regarding registration of marriage for same sex couples in Thailand will change at some point in the future. As the younger generation grows older it stands to reason that many will feel that the current legal prohibitions on same sex marriage are antiquated. Furthermore, Thai lawmakers often maintain a deep sense of pragmatism when it comes to issues which may impact tourism and foreign capital investment in the country. Should same sex marriages be permitted in Thailand, the already large LGBT tourism sector would likely grow due to others from Asia (and around the globe) traveling to Thailand to register their marriages. Also, those foreign nationals with a Thai same sex spouse would be more likely to bring their assets to a jurisdiction which recognizes their union as such a jurisdiction would provide ancillary benefits regarding issues such as estate planning, healthcare decision making, and taxation. Although LGBT equality is a human rights issue and not strictly one of economics, the economic component of the same sex marriage debate is one that lawmakers are likely to take seriously. The conclusion of the same sex marriage debate in Thailand remains to be seen, but a rational debate of this issue in Thailand is a good start.

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8th August 2013

Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) couples have questions regarding United States Immigration in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s finding in the Windsor case that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unConstitutional. Both the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the Department of State have previously issued answers to frequently asked questions on this topic. In a previous posting on this blog, USCIS’s answers to these FAQs were discussed. However, it recently came to this blogger’s attention that the USCIS has issued further answers to such FAQs to further clarify their position on this issue. To quote directly from these new answers to FAQs on the official website of the USCIS:

Q1: I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national. Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa? NEW
A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage.

Clearly American Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents may petition for an immigrant spouse visa such as an IR1 visa, CR1 visa, or by extension a K3 visa (as the K-3 visa petition is a supplementary petition based upon the initial petition for an immigrant visa). Furthermore, when applying for the visa at a US Embassy or US Consulate abroad during the Consular Processing phase of the US immigration process the application will be viewed in the same way as an application based upon a different-sex marriage. Also, adjustment of status applications for the same sex spouse of a US Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident will be adjudicated in the same manner as a similar application for a different-sex spouse.

A question for many same sex and LGBT couples concerns the State of the couple’s residence versus the State of marriage since there are only a few States which allow such marriages while other states either do not recognize such unions or specifically forbid such unions. USCIS issued further clarification on this issue in their recently updated FAQ section:

Q3: My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state or a foreign country that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not. Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse? NEW
A3: Yes. As a general matter, the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated determines whether the marriage is legally valid for immigration purposes.  Just as USCIS applies all relevant laws to determine the validity of an opposite-sex marriage, we will apply all relevant laws to determine the validity of a same-sex marriage..

There may be some limited circumstances where the law of the couple’s residence may determine their legal standing on certain issues. However, as can be seen from the above quoted FAQ, the USCIS appears to primarily defer to the law of the State which legalized the marriage when determining whether the couple is eligible for immigration benefits.

Finally, this blogger does not recall the USCIS previously answering questions regarding immigration petitions which were filed with USCIS prior to the Supreme Court’s holding that Section 3 of DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution. The following section of USCIS’s recently expanded FAQ section would appear to respond to this inquiry:

Q5. My Form I-130, or other petition or application, was previously denied solely because of DOMA.  What should I do?
A5.  USCIS will reopen those petitions or applications that were denied solely because of DOMA section 3.  If such a case is known to us or brought to our attention, USCIS will reconsider its prior decision, as well as reopen associated applications to the extent they were also denied as a result of the denial of the Form I-130 (such as concurrently filed Forms I-485).

  • USCIS will make a concerted effort to identify denials of I-130 petitions that occurred on the basis of DOMA section 3 after February 23, 2011.  USCIS will also make a concerted effort to notify you (the petitioner), at your last known address, of the reopening and request updated information in support of your petition.
  • To alert USCIS of an I-130 petition that you believe falls within this category, USCIS recommends that you send an e-mail from an account that can receive replies to USCIS at USCIS-626@uscis.dhs.gov stating that you have a pending petition.  USCIS will reply to that message with follow-up questions as necessary to update your petition for processing.  (DHS has sought to keep track of DOMA denials that occurred after the President determined not to defend Section 3 of DOMA on February 23, 2011, although to ensure that DHS is aware of your denial, please feel free to alert USCIS if you believe your application falls within this category.)
  • For denials of I-130 petitions that occurred prior to February 23, 2011, you must notify USCIS by March 31, 2014, in order for USCIS to act on its own to reopen your I-130 petition.  Please notify USCIS by sending an e-mail to USCIS at USCIS-626@uscis.dhs.gov and noting that you believe that your petition was denied on the basis of DOMA section 3.

Once your I-130 petition is reopened, it will be considered anew—without regard to DOMA section 3—based upon the information previously submitted and any new information provided.   USCIS will also concurrently reopen associated applications as may be necessary to the extent they also were denied as a result of the denial of the I-130 petition (such as concurrently filed Form I-485 applications).

Additionally, if your work authorization was denied or revoked based upon the denial of the Form I-485, the denial or revocation will be concurrently reconsidered, and a new Employment Authorization Document issued, to the extent necessary.  If a decision cannot be rendered immediately on a reopened adjustment of status application, USCIS will either (1) immediately process any pending or denied application for employment authorization or (2) reopen and approve any previously revoked application for employment authorization.  If USCIS has already obtained the applicant’s biometric information at an Application Support Center (ASC), a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be produced and delivered without any further action by the applicant.  In cases where USCIS has not yet obtained the required biometric information, the applicant will be scheduled for an ASC appointment.

  • If another type of petition or application (other than an I-130 petition or associated application) was denied based solely upon DOMA section 3, please notify USCIS by March 31, 2014, by sending an e-mail to USCIS at USCIS-626@uscis.dhs.gov as directed above.  USCIS will promptly consider whether reopening of that petition or application is appropriate under the law and the circumstances presented.

No fee will be required to request USCIS to consider reopening your petition or application pursuant to this procedure.  In the alternative to this procedure, you may file a new petition or application to the extent provided by law and according to the form instructions including payment of applicable fees as directed.

Clearly, USCIS is committed to implementing policies and regulations based upon the US Supreme Court’s recent finding. By reopening previously denied petitions and taking steps to provide same sex couples with the same standing as different-sex couples in future immigration adjudications this agency is making great strides toward equalizing the US family immigration process for families of all kinds.

To review the recently released information on this topic from the Department of State please see: Consular Processing.

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5th August 2013

In a previous posting on this blog, the recently released answers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to frequently asked questions regarding same sex immigration petitions were analyzed. It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the American State Department has released a similar set of answers to FAQs regarding this topic.  To quote directly from the official website of the U.S. State Separtment:

Q: How does the Supreme Court’s Windsor v. United States decision impact immigration law?

A: The Supreme Court has found section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Effective immediately, U.S. embassies and consulates will adjudicate visa applications that are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that we adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses.   This means that the same sex spouse of a visa applicant coming to the U.S. for any purpose – including work, study, international exchange or as a legal immigrant – will be eligible for a derivative visa.  Likewise, stepchildren acquired through same sex marriages can also qualify as beneficiaries or for derivative status. [italics added]

As previously discussed on this blog, the fact that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been found unConstitutional by the United States Supreme Court means that an American Citizen, or lawful permant resident, can now petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for imigration benefits for a same sex spouse (or fiance, so long as the petitioner is an American Citizen). However, the US State Department, which is responsible for Consular Processing of visa applications, had yet to make specific comments regarding adjudication of visa application based upon a same sex marriage (or fiance) immigration petition. As can be seen from above, the Department of State has brought their procedures into line with the recent Supreme Court decision.

Of interest to many same sex couples is the issue of jurisdiction as same sex marriages are only recognized by a limited number of US States. The following portion of the aforementioned FAQ focuses on this point:

Q: Do we have to live or intend to live in a state in which same sex marriage is legal in order to qualify for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa?

A: No. If your marriage is valid in the jurisdiction (U.S. state or foreign country) where it took place, it is valid for immigration purposes.  For more information, please review the following page on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) website. [italics added]

As there are a limited umber of U.S. jurisdictions which recognize and solemnize same sex marriage as well as a number of States in which such marriages are forbade, there have been questions among legal professionals as well as same sex couples regarding whether the U.S. Immigration officers and Consular Officers at various U.S. posts abroad would fail to approve visa applications and immigration petitions based upon the fact that an LGBT couple may be married in one State and residing in another. In a previous posting on this blog, the USCIS’s answer to this question rested on the “law of the place where the marriage took place“. Basically, USCIS appears willing to approve an otherwise valid immigration petition based upon a same sex marriage if the same sex marriage is performed in a State which allows such unions. Apparently, the Department of State has set a similar policy, thereby allowing an otherwise valid same sex marriage visa application, based upon an USCIS-approved immigration petition, to be approved. However, there are some jurisdictions around the world which may recognize same-sex unions, but do not necessarily categorize them as “marriages”. In those circumstances the Department of State had the following to say:

Q: I am in a civil union or domestic partnership; will this be treated the same as a marriage?

A: At this time, only a relationship legally considered to be a marriage in the jurisdiction where it took place establishes eligibility as a spouse for  immigration purposes. [italics added]

Although the above answer appears to be rather straightforward, there is one question, of possibly more significance, that many unmarried same sex couples may be pondering:

Q: I am a U.S. citizen who is engaged to be married to a foreign national of the same sex.  We cannot marry in my fiancé’s country. What are our options? Can we apply for a fiancé K visa?

A: You may file a Form I-129F and apply for a fiancé(e) (K) visa.  As long as all other immigration requirements are met, a same-sex engagement may allow your fiancé to enter the United States for the purpose of marriage.  For information on adjusting status, please review the following page on USCIS’s website:

Since same sex unmarried couples are now permitted to apply for a K-1 visa, it would now appear possible for the LGBT fiance of an American Citizen to apply for a US fiance visa with the intention of marrying in one of those jurisdictions in the United States which recognize same sex marriages.

Another issue which may arise in the context of same sex marriage is the issue of non-immigrant visas (also known as NIVs). These are visa categories which do not confer immigrant status upon those who use them. The Department of State website posted the following information regarding NIVs for same sex married couples:

Q: Can same sex couples now apply for visas in the same classification?

A: Yes. Starting immediately, same-sex spouses and their children are equally eligible for NIV derivative visas.  Same-sex spouses and their children (stepchildren of the primary applicant when the marriage takes place before the child turns 18) can qualify as derivatives where the law permits issuance of the visa to a spouse or stepchild.  In cases where additional documentation has always been required of a spouse applying with a principal applicant, such documentation will also be required in the case of a same-sex spouse… [italics added]

Finally, a point to note for those LGBT couples who are in a situation in which the foreign spouse has children:  

Q: My foreign national spouse has children. Can they also be included with my spouse’s case?

A: Yes, the children of foreign national spouses can be considered “step-children” of the U.S. citizens and can therefore benefit from a petition filed on their behalf in the IR2 category.    In other categories, stepchildren acquired through same sex marriage can qualify as beneficiaries (F2A) or for derivative status (F3, F4, E1-E4, or DV).  You and your spouse must have married before the child turned 18. [itlaics added]

Clearly, the Department of State allows for step-children of Americans or lawful permanent residents to immigrate where the LGBT couple was married prior to the step-child’s 18th birthday. From the information posted on the State Department’s website regarding non-immigrant visas one could infer that an American Citizen’s prospective step-children (i.e. the children of a foreign fiance) may also be eligible to obtain a K-2 visa based upon the bona fide intention of the American Citizen and his or her foreign fiance to marry in the United States.

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26th July 2013

It has come to this blogger’s attention that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has issued a new set of answers to frequently asked questions stemming from the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In previous postings on this blog the fact that lawful permanent residents and American Citizens with same-sex spouses can now file for immigration benefits for their same sex spouse has been discussed at length. That said, USCIS discussed this issue in their recently issued FAQ release, to quote directly from the USCIS website:

Q1: I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national. Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa?
A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage. [italics added]

As previously pointed out on this blog, the ability of American Citizens to file for immigration benefits for a same-sex foreign spouse is a fairly clear cut result of the recent Supreme Court decision finding Section 3 of DOMA unConstituional. It should be noted that the USCIS seems to also imply that a K3 visa would also now be a possibility for same sex couples as it could be construed to be an “applicable accompanying application”. However, an issue that was not so clearly dealt with by the Supreme Court’s decision pertains to the K-1 visa (US fiance visa). As Fiance visas are, by  definition, not based upon a marriage, but an intended marriage; further clarification from USCIS on these types of visas post-DOMA is considered by some to be quite helpful. To quote further from the aforementioned USCIS FAQ section:

Q2. I am a U.S. citizen who is engaged to be married to a foreign national of the same sex.  Can I file a fiancé or fiancée petition for him or her?
A2. Yes.  You may file a Form I-129F.  As long as all other immigration requirements are met, a same-sex engagement may allow your fiancé to enter the United States for marriage. [italics added]

This clarification from USCIS regarding the fiance visa in the context of same sex marriage, while helpful, is slightly qualified by the next section of the same FAQ page:

Q3: My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not. Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse?
A3: Yes, you can file the petition. In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, we may provide further guidance on this question going forward. [italics added]

Clearly, the US fiance visa is now a viable option for same sex couples with a bona fide intention to marry in those jurisdictions of the United States which recognize same sex marriage. Since the jurisdiction of the celebration of the intended marriage is USCIS’s primary concern it would appear that a K1 visa itself will be a possibility for same sex couples in the future. However, it would appear that some ancillary immigration benefits may or may not be available at this time for some same sex bi-national couples depending upon the unique residency circumstances of those couples.

Of further interest to some same sex couples will likely be the fact that there are benefits for the foreign same sex spouse of an American Citizen with respect to naturalization:

Q8. Can same-sex marriages, like opposite-sex marriages, reduce the residence period required for naturalization?
A8. Yes.  As a general matter, naturalization requires five years of residence in the United States following admission as a lawful permanent resident.  But, according to the immigration laws, naturalization is available after a required residence period of three years, if during that three year period you have been living in “marital union” with a U.S. citizen “spouse” and your spouse has been a United States citizen.  For this purpose, same-sex marriages will be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex marriages. [italics added]

Therefore, the same sex spouse of an American Citizen will be treated the same way as the opposite sex spouse of an American for purposes of obtaining US Citizenship based upon the couple’s marriage and lawful permanent residence obtained thereby. Finally, of further note in this recently issued USCIS FAQ page relates to the I-601 waiver process:

Q9. I know that the immigration laws allow discretionary waivers of certain inadmissibility grounds under certain circumstances.  For some of those waivers, the person has to be the “spouse” or other family member of a U.S. citizen or of a lawful permanent resident.  In cases where the required family relationship depends on whether the individual or the individual’s parents meet the definition of “spouse,” will same-sex marriages count for that purpose?
A9.Yes.   Whenever the immigration laws condition eligibility for a waiver on the existence of a “marriage” or status as a “spouse,” same-sex marriages will be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex marriages. [italics added]

Waivers of inadmissibility can be difficult to obtain under certain circumstances as they are, by definition, a discretionary waiver. However, one major hurdle for many same-sex bi-national couples in the US immigration sphere has been cast aside by the comendable decision of the United States Supreme Court. USCIS deserves comendation as well for their efforts to quickly and decisively implement policies which bring immigration regulations in line with changes in the law.

Readers are encouraged to read the USCIS website and the FAQ section quoted above to find out further details regarding immigration regulations pertaining to same sex couples.

For related information please see: US Visa Thailand.

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2nd July 2013

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a statement regarding the implementation of policies regarding adjudication of immigration petitions for same-sex bi-national married couples. To quote directly from the official website of DHS:

“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly.  To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

This statement is a significant moment in the long fight for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. In order to provide further information regarding these developments the DHS has posted some frequently asked questions on the same page as the aforementioned quotation. These FAQ’s are quoted below:

Q1:  I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national.  Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa?

A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage.

Clearly, the United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident same sex spouse of a foreign national can now submit an I-130 petition for Lawful Permanent Residence (also known as “Green Card” status) for their husband or wife. In fact, it would appear that a same-sex couple in Florida was recently granted immigration benefits for the same-sex spouse. This would especially be true in a case where the couple not only was married in State recognizing same-sex marriage, but also resides in that same State or another of the 13 States which recognize such unions. An issue which is, as of yet, not so clearly delineated hinges upon a situation in which a same-sex married couple has married in a State which recognizes same-sex marriage (and performs them), but resides in a State which does not recognize such unions. To shed further light upon this issue it is necessary to quote again from the same DHS webpage, quoted above, regarding this issue:

Q2:  My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not.  Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse?

A2: Yes, you can file the petition.  In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, we may provide further guidance on this question going forward.

For those wishing to visit the official website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to learn more please click HERE.

For those unfamiliar with the recent Supreme Court decision striking down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) it should be pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision did not impact section 2 of DOMA which reads as follows:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that there are some who argue that section 2 of DOMA violates the provisions of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, no Court ruling nor Act of Congress has repealed section 2 of DOMA and, in the words of the DHS website itself, in those “fact-specific” situations in which Section 2 of DOMA may be relevant the provisions of Section 2 could prove detrimental to a same-sex bi-national couple. That being said, according to the DHS website, a petition could still be filed and it would be adjudicated accordingly.

One final point to ponder on this issue is the K-1 visa. Under current United States Immigration law it is possible for an American Citizen to apply for a Fiance Visa, also known as the K-1 visa, for a foreign fiance residing abroad, so long as the couple intends to marry in the United States within 90 days of the foreign fiance’s arrival (other regulations apply to K-1 visa holders, but for the purposes of this analysis they are not necessarily relevant). If a same-sex couple, who are not yet legally married, wishes to obtain a K-1 visa based upon their intention to wed in the United States, then it could be inferred from the DHS Secretary’s statement that they might be adjudicated in the same manner as the same petition for a different-sex couple. However, this should not be viewed as a foregone conclusion because the statements quoted above only pertain specifically to couples who are already married. Neither the Court, nor the DHS, have specifically dealt with the question of those same-sex couples who wish to seek a K1 visa based upon an intention to marry in the USA. It could be inferred from the Court’s opinion in United States v. Windsor that those same-sex couples with the intention to marry in a jurisdiction where same-sex unions are recognized should be granted the same treatment as those different-sex couples in similar circumstances; but the issue has yet to be clearly adjudicated and therefore no completely clear answer arises.

Meanwhile, one significant question remains: based upon the above information how will USCIS adjudicate K-1 visa applications for same-sex couples who wish to travel to the United States to marry in a State which recognizes same-sex marriage, but reside in a State which does not? Hopefully the answer to this question will come soon. Until then it would appear that although DHS clearly intends to adjudicate same-sex married couples’ petitions for immigration benefits in the same way as different-sex couples; it remains to be seen how same sex fiances will be treated in the eyes of U.S. Immigration law.

For information on immigrant visas please see: CR-1 Visa or  IR-1 Visa.

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29th June 2013

After the landmark decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court in which the Court held that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution there has been increasing speculation regarding how this will impact those seeking United States Immigration benefits such as US visas and Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card status). It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, recently commented on this issue, to quote her comments directly from the DHS official website:

“I applaud today’s Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor holding that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. This discriminatory law denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits.  I am pleased the Court agreed with the Administration’s position that DOMA’s restrictions violate the Constitution. Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

Clearly it appears that DHS is in the process of implementing new policies which would comport with the Court’s decision. This is likely to have a tremendous impact upon same-sex bi-national couples. Before the Court handed down their decision it was not possible for most gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender (LGBT) couples to obtain immigration benefits based upon their marital relationship. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that same sex marriages will receive the same recognition as different-sex mariages in the eyes of federal law the door is now open for LGBT couples to apply for benefits such as a “Green Card” or an immigrant visa (IR-1, CR-1). It may also be possible for same sex bi-national couples who are not yet married to apply for a K-1 fiance visa based upon the couple’s intention to travel to the United States to marry in one of those States (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) that recognize same-sex marriage. That being stated, it is likely that it may take some time to implement proper policies to reflect the new legal reality, but the time is right for same sex bi-national couples to begin researching their options with regard to United States immigration as it appears likely that one day soon a same sex spouse of an American Citizen will receive an immigrant visa based upon the couple’s marital status.

For related information please see: US Visa Thailand or K1 Visa Thailand.

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26th June 2013

In a landmark case, UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF SPYER, ET AL., the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision has ruled that Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. For those unfamiliar with this issue, section 3 of DOMA reads as follows:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The upshot of this legislation is that up until the Supreme Court handed down this ruling same sex couples have not been able to receive the same federal benefits as different-sex couples. In the case at hand, a widow of a same sex spouse who was legally married and residing in the State of New York (one of 12 States which recognize same sex marriage) was barred from receiving an estate tax refund because the federal government, citing section 3 of DOMA, did not recognize the couple’s marriage. To quote directly from the majority opinion of the Supreme Court:

DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment…By history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States. Congress has enacted discrete statutes to regulate the meaning of marriage in order to further federal policy, but DOMA, with a directive applicable to over 1,000 federal statues and the whole realm of federal regulations, has a far greater reach. Its operation is also directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York, and of 11 other States, have sought to protect…By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534–535. DOMA cannot survive under these principles. Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages.

In order to shed further light upon this decision it is necessary to quote the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

As the majority of the Court held that “DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government” pursuant to the Fifth Amendment it appears that from this point on those same sex couples legally married in a State which recognizes same sex marriage (or possibly in international jurisdictions which legalize same sex marriage as the parties in the Windsor case were actually married in Canada) will receive federal recognition of those marriages and be able to enjoy federal benefits arising from their marital status. The question of interstate recognition of same sex marriage remains a bit murky as there has yet to be a decisive ruling regarding this issue, but the issue of federal recognition of a same sex marriage would appear to be fully resolved.

How Might This Decision Impact The United States Immigration Process?

In the past, same sex bi-national couples were unable to receive immigration benefits such as a Green Card or a K-1 visa (fiance visa) because The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) precluded federal recognition of same sex marriage. This preclusion even applied to those same sex bi-national couples who were married in one of the 12 States which recognize same sex marriage (some could argue that there are now 13 States which recognize same sex marriage since the Supreme Court in another decision handed down at roughly the same time as the Windsor decision effectively leaves the door open for California to legalize same sex marriages). As a result of the federal government failing to recognize same sex marriage agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) could not grant immigration benefits such as lawful permanent residence (Green Card status) to the same sex spouse of an American Citizen or lawful permanent resident solely based upon the couple’s marrriage. Now, that would appear to no longer be the case, although the Court did not explicitly rule upon the issue of immigration benefits for same sex couples the fact that the Court struck down section 3 of DOMA means that a same sex marriage must be accorded the same federal recognition as a different-sex marriage. Therefore, it is logical to surmise that the Court’s decision should allow same sex couples to undergo adjudication for immigration benefits such as visas and Green Cards in a manner similar to different-sex couples. There are likely to be complications as federal regulators implement policies which comport with the Court’s decision, but one thing is clear: the Windsor decision is a major victory for same sex bi-national couples.

For related information please see: Equal Protection or same sex marriage.

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