Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Same Sex Immigration’

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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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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25th June 2013

It has come to this blogger’s attention that the United States Supreme Court is poised to hand down decisions in two cases in which the question of Federal recognition of same sex marriage is at issue. The first case involves one Edith Windsor, a woman from New York who was compelled to pay 363,000 United States Dollars after her same sex spouse, one Thea Spyer, died. Notwithstanding the fact that Spyer and Windsor were legally married, the fact that said marriage was apparently recognized under the laws of the State of New York, and the fact that a different-sex couple in the same situation would likely have been accorded a tax deduction regarding such estate taxes the United States government fails to recognize the couple’s marriage pursuant to the provisions of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and therefore Mrs. Windsor was not granted similar tax benefits as compared to a different-sex widow. Meanwhile, the United States Supreme Court is also expected to hand down a ruling regarding the Constitutionality of a ballot initiative called Proposition 8 in the State of California which made same sex marriage illegal. This ballot measure followed closely upon the heels of a Court decision in that State which called for the legalization of gay marriage.

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act 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 provision is that the United States Federal government refuses to recognize same sex marriages even where the marriage was legalized, solemnized, and/or celebrated in a State which explicitly recognizes such unions. Many scholars and experts on the Supreme Court theorize that the Court may issue a narrow opinion in the two cases cited above, but that the Court may also strike down section 3 of DOMA thereby requiring, or so it could be inferred, that the United States Federal goverment recognize such marriages and accord them the same benefits as different sex couples. This would be something of a narrow decision because many feel that section two of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) may not be struck down in these decisions. 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.”

Should the Supreme Court hand down a relatively narrow opinion in these cases and should they strike down only Section 3 of DOMA (which should not necessarily be viewed as a foregone conclusion), then it seems logical to assume that the practical outcome would be that same sex couples could be only accorded benefits arising from their marriage in the State in which the marriage was legalized, and possibly those other States which also recognize such unions; and at the Federal level. States which do not recognize same sex marriage may not be compelled to do so if section two is not struck down.

In the context of United States Immigration: as American immigration benefits, such as US visas, are Federal benefits it seems logical to surmise that if section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, then same sex bi-national couples may become eligible for immigration benefits similar to those of their different-sex counterparts. Therefore, an American citizen who has a same-sex fiance might be able to obtain a K-1 visa if the couple has the intention of getting married in one of those States which allow same-sex marriage. Furthermore, the same-sex spouse of an American Citizen or lawful permanent resident may become eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence as a result of the decision to overturn section 3 of DOMA. This remains speculation at this time as the Supreme Court has yet to hand down their decision and the various agencies tasked with adjudicating immigration matters will likely require an interval of time in order to update relevant regulations so as to comply with a possible Supreme Court decision; but there appears to be at least some hope on the horizon that same sex marriage and the immigration benefits which could be granted as a result of Federal recognition of such unions may become a legal reality.

For related information please see: DOMA or Full Faith and Credit Clause.

 

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9th July 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the United States Bankruptcy Courts may soon be hearing cases involving bankruptcy petitions for couples who have entered into a same sex marriage. In order to provide further insight it is prudent to quote directly from the official website of the Reuters News Service, Reuters.com:

The U.S. Justice Department has dropped its opposition to joint bankruptcy petitions filed by same-sex married couples in a victory for supporters of gay marriage. The policy change is the latest setback for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which has come under increasing pressure since the Obama administration said in February that it would no longer defend its constitutionality. Until now, the Justice Department had routinely intervened to stop joint bankruptcy cases filed by same-sex couples. The Department’s position had been that the bankruptcy code only allows joint filings by opposite-sex spouses as defined under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage. In an unexpected turnabout, the department on Wednesday filed a request to withdraw its appeal in one such case. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler confirmed the policy change in an e-mail to Reuters on Thursday. “The Department of Justice has informed bankruptcy courts that it will no longer seek dismissal of bankruptcy petitions filed jointly by same-sex debtors who are married under state law,” she wrote…

The administration of this web log encourages readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks above to read this interesting article by Terry Baynes which was edited by Cynthia Johnston.

Although the main thrust of this blog is not centered upon the discussion of federal bankruptcy issues, this change in policy to recognize those same sex couples married under State law is certainly a victory for advocates of LGBT Equality. Concurrently, it is also a victory for proponents of States’ Rights, a doctrine which holds many of the prerogatives and laws of the States in high regard relative to those of the federal government of the United States of America. Meanwhile, advocates for full LGBT Equality must continue to wait for full legal recognition of equal rights until such time as the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) is either repealed, replaced with legislation similar to the Respect for Marriage Act, or amended in such a way that true equality under the law is granted for the individuals involved while the prerogatives of the sovereign American States are respected. Something perhaps akin to the doctrine of “certainty” enshrined in the provisions of the Respect for Marriage Act noted above.

In an American immigration context, it should be noted that members of the LGBT community cannot be granted the same visa benefits in the same manner as other communities since same sex bi-national couples are not able to obtain travel documents such as the CR-1 visa, the IR-1 visa, or the K-1 visa in the same way as their different-sex counterparts. Therefore until such time as DOMA is repealed this situation is unlikely to change. In the event that legislation such as the Respect for Marriage Act, the Reuniting Families Act, or the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) is enacted by the Congress and signed into law by the President then a same sex bi-national couple may be able to petition for US immigration benefits for their spouse or fiance. As of the time of this writing, such a scenario is not yet feasible.

In news related to China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) it recently came to this blogger’s attention that tensions appear to be subsiding with respect to the various issues surrounding the South China Sea. This assessment is made based upon apparent announcements from the Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario.  To provide more information it is necessary to quote directly from the website of Business World Online, BWorldOnline.com:

BEIJING –FOREIGN AFFAIRS Secretary Albert F. del Rosario on Friday said he and ranking Chinese officials agreed to settle the territorial dispute in the South China Sea through guidelines agreed upon by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) almost a decade ago.Mr. Del Rosario, who talked to foreign journalists at the St. Regis Hotel near the Philippine embassy, said “yes” when asked if his two-day visit was a success, adding that both side have renewed their commitment to bring stability in the area amid recent tensions. “The two sides reaffirmed their commitments to respect and abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and the ASEAN member countries in 2002,” Mr. del Rosario said, referring to his meeting with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. “Both ministers agreed to further strengthen the bonds and friendship and cooperation between the two countries and to fully implement the Joint Action Plan,” he added. “Both ministers exchanged views on the maritime disputes and agreed not to let the maritime disputes affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation between the two countries,” Mr. del Rosario further said…The South China Sea, which hosts the oil-rich Spratly Islands, has been claimed in part or wholly by Brunei Darrusalam, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. In a conference in Manila late this week, foreign policy experts called for a binding agreement among Spratly claimants to resolve conflicting positions…[sic]

This blogger asks readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks noted above to read this insightful article by Darwin T. Wee.

As can be gathered from the excerpt noted above, there have been many geopolitical facets to the South China Sea dispute, but one notable aspect of this developing situation is that the parties have a seemingly genuine desire to deal with the matter reasonably and and peacefully. Hopefully this attitude will continue and these issues can be resolved to the benefit of all concerned.

At the time of this writing, China continues to show signs of increasing economic and political strength. These developments come amidst news that Malaysia has maintained trade discussions with various African and Islamic nations while simultaneously playing a role within ASEAN. At the same time, circumstances in the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have lead many to believe that all of these jurisdiction will show further economic flourish in the future. Vietnam and Taiwan are dealing with rather new issues as they find themselves confronting the rest of the world on somewhat different terms compared to times past. These developments have both positive and negative ramifications for these jurisdictions, but the overall economic and political forecasts for all of these places appears bright.

As the aforementioned dispute appears to be moving toward a resolution it is hoped that further disputes can be handled using some sort of framework which provides efficiency in adjudicating issues while simultaneously operating on terms which all parties concerned can agree upon.

For information related to same sex marriage and the intersection between State and federal law please see: Full Faith and Credit Clause.

For information pertaining to legal services in Southeast Asia please see: Legal.

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31st March 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued instructions to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to dispense with the hold on deportations of same sex spouses of United States Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents which was announced approximately 2 days ago. To quote directly from an article posted on the Advocate.com entitled Official: No Hold On Gay Immigration Cases:

Wednesday morning USCIS press secretary Christopher S. Bentley told The Advocate that the agency had received legal guidance to lift the hold it had issued Monday. The guidance was issued in the form of written communications from the Office of the General Counsel at Department of Homeland Security (USCIS is a component of DHS).

Those interested in reading more about this information are highly encouraged to click on the hyperlinks immediately preceding the quotation to learn more.

Clearly, officials at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) were attempting to provide some relief to those in the LGBT community in the USA with their same sex bi-national partners who are stuck in the currently limbo-like immigration system, as it pertains to same sex marriages. The question this blogger has is: why all of this bureaucratic runaround? There is a clear venue for resolving this issue: the United States Supreme Court, but it would seem as though the administration would like solve this issue through internal bureaucratic rule making and unilateral executive actions, but this is not the way law is made and this is not the legal way of effecting change in situations such as the one currently facing the LGBT community. Even a Supreme Court decision on this issue is unlikely to be straightforward as there are many aspects of the Full Faith and Credit Clause which come up in the context of interstate recognition of same sex marriage. However, the decision of the Supreme Court, in this blogger’s opinion, on the issue of FEDERAL recognition of same sex marriages legalized and solemnized in the sovereign States is likely to produce an outcome whereby an avenue would be created to allow same sex bi-national couples to receive immigration benefits of the same quality as those granted to different sex bi-national couples.

The announcement from USCIS on Monday about placing a “hold” on deportations of same sex partners of US Citizens and Permanent Residents came as a relief to many in the United States who may only be subject to deportation due to the onerous (and possibly UnConstitutional) provisions of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) since some same sex bi-national couples have legalized and solemnized a valid same sex marriage in one of the 6 States (along with the District of Columbia) that allows same sex marriage. The only thing precluding Federal recognition of same sex marriages performed within the jurisdiction of the sovereign States which recognize such unions is the questionably Constitutional so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which was promulgated and enacted under the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

In a recent memorandum from the Attorney General (Eric Holder) to the Speaker of the House of Representatives it was noted that the President’s administration has taken the position that same sex married couples ought to be granted the benefit of so-called “strict scrutiny” review from the Supreme Court and that the administration would discontinue in prosecuting DOMA cases against LGBT couples. This blogger has noted that such a position may not be beneficial to the overall cause of equal immigration rights as failure to get a “case or controversy” before the United States Supreme Court could lead to a situation in which this complex legal issue is not adjudicated by the Highest Court in the USA and therefore remains in the “limbo” in which this issue currently continues to languish. The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement further shows that until the provisions of DOMA, which preclude Federal recognition of same sex marriage, are overturned the position of the married LGBT community (at least in the eyes of the law and the immigration authorities) will remain precarious.

One point in the above cited article was of particular interest to this blogger. The following passage was quoted from the aforementioned article:

Bentley declined to release any of the written documents at this time, saying it was privileged communication. He emphasized that the official policy itself within DHS had never changed.

What PRIVILEGE!!!! So now the United States government, in the form of the Department of Homeland Security, invokes privilege (a legal principle generally reserved for individual natural persons when dealing with the US government) to keep their own policy memorandum regarding this issue secret? Why the secrecy? Why all of the pomp and circumstance about how important the administration’s memo was to the LGBT community when in reality it would appear to have done nothing substantive for the cause of LGBT equal rights and might have even placed the LGBT community in a less favorable position compared to their position prior to the administration’s memo to the Speaker of the House? So the Department of Homeland Security is claiming privilege when communicating with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), an American agency under DHS jurisdiction. Does anyone find it strange that the United States government now claims that civilian inter-agency memos regarding official policy which pertains to Americans and their families are privileged? It was this blogger’s belief that the United States governmental authorities are servants of the people and therefore required to provide transparency in their policy making endeavors especially when such policy making can impact a wide spectrum of the United States Citizenry and their families.

Clearly, the struggle to secure equal immigration rights for the LGBT community has yet to be won, but for those interested in this issue it is clear that there may be a long campaign to see equal treatment of same sex bi-national couples under the law of the United States of America. This blogger and this blog will continue to monitor this important and interesting issue.

Another method to gain equal immigration rights for same sex bi-national couples is through passage of legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) which would grant same sex bi-national couples the benefit of applying for an immigrant visa for a “permanent partner” thereby circumventing the immigration restrictions imposed by DOMA. Federal legislators such as Representative Jerrold Nadler have introduced such legislation repeatedly in an effort to provide some kind of relief to those same sex bi-national couples who continue to be denied equal access to family immigration benefits. As of the time of this writing, Mr. Nadler has gone so far as to openly call for a repeal of DOMA and the promulgation of the Respect for Marriage Act a piece of legislation which would restore Federal recognition of State licensed marriage and restore, at least in part, the rights of same sex married couples who merely seek equal protection under the law.

For related information please see: same sex immigration.

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7th February 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that a State Judge in a Nebraska Court appears to have been unwilling to grant a divorce to a same-sex married couple on the grounds that the State of Nebraska does not recognize the existence of the underlying marriage. It would appear as though the parties in question were originally married in Vermont (a State which recognizes and solemnizes marriages between individuals of the same gender), but wished to have their marriage dissolved in Nebraska (a State which does not solemnize nor recognize same sex marriage). To quote directly from a posting on WCAX.com, a website dedicated to providing news pertaining to Vermont:

According to Judge Randall Rehmeier, the state can’t dissolve their marriage because gay marriage isn’t recognized by the Nebraska Constitution. That means their marriage doesn’t exist in the state’s eyes.

The administration of this blog highly recommends readers go to the website noted above to read the full posting. The Judge’s reasoning may go to the heart of the overall conundrum that arises from what some would consider to be the uncertain nature of the current legal status of same sex marriages in the United States. As noted previously on this blog, within the USA there are currently 5 sovereign American  States that recognize and perform same sex marriages. Meanwhile, there are many other States and jurisdictions which do not recognize such marital relationships. Furthermore, there are even some American States which have State constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage or defining marriage as exclusively to mean a marital union between two people of differing gender. Concurrently, the United States Federal Government does not recognize same sex marriages pursuant to the language of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). Under the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act the Federal government is legally barred from recognizing marriages between two people of the same gender. This is a significant issue in the area of United States Immigration law as same sex bi-national couples are unable to obtain the same family based visa benefits as different-sex bi-national couples, regardless of the fact that the couple may have been lawfully married in one of the American States which recognizes same sex marriage.

In the midst of all of these conflicting policies and laws there are currently cases pending in the United States Federal Courts which address the issues associated with same sex marriage and government recognition thereof. At the time of this writing, Federal District Courts in Massachusetts and California have ruled that Federal failure to recognize State sanctioned same sex marriage is unconstitutional. However, those decisions have been stayed pending appeal. Those appeals could very possibly go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

At the time of this writing, the issue of same sex marriage is far from settled, but one thing is clear: it is unlikely that a solution will be easy to find. It is this blogger’s opinion that the issues associated with same sex marriage touch most particularly upon legal notions inherent in the Constitutional doctrine of Full Faith and Credit pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. However, analysis under the Full Faith and Credit Clause may not lead to uniform State acceptance of same sex marriage. In this blogger’s opinion, the Defense of Marriage Act was rendered unconstitutional the moment that a sovereign American State began recognizing and performing marriages for people of the same sex. This opinion is based upon the belief that the right to solemnize marriages between parties within the jurisdiction of a given State is a right reserved to said State under the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under certain circumstances, States have cited their power to promote “public health and safety” as a basis for issuing marriage licenses.

In this blogger’s opinion, if a State has duly legalized a same sex marriage within their jurisdiction pursuant to the laws and procedures of said State, then the Federal government must recognize that marriage pursuant to what this blogger would describe as Vertical Full Faith and Credit (i.e. Federal recognition of certain State prerogatives regarding intrastate matters pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause). However, the law dealing with what this blogger would describe as Horizontal Full Faith and Credit (State to State recognition of State adjudicated matters) can be opaque especially with regard to issues which one state has deemed to be in violation of State public policy. If a sovereign American State has a Constitutional Amendment which specifically defines marriage as a marital union between a man and a woman, then there is a strong argument in favor of denying divorces to same sex couples within that State since it would violate State public policy to recognize the existence of the marriage in order to dissolve it.

As more and more same sex couples legalize marriages in the United States, it stands to reason that more such couples may one day seek divorce. The issues associated with Full Faith and Credit and LGBT rights have yet to be fully resolved, but it seems likely that this issue will remain controversial both from a political perspective as well as a legal perspective.

Those reading this posting should take note of the fact that there are myriad legal and political opinions on this subject and until such time as a binding decision is made in the US Courts or Federal legislature this issue will probably continue to remain unresolved.

For information about legislation designed to deal with the immigration restrictions placed upon same sex bi-national couples please see: Uniting American Families Act or UAFA.

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5th November 2010

As the recent mid-term elections dealt something of a blow to the Democrats in the United States Senate and a significant setback for said party in the United States House of Representatives many are pondering the future of legislation such as UAFA (Uniting American Families Act). Those unfamiliar with LGBT Immigration issues should note that under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex bi-national couples are not permitted equal access to US family visa benefits even in cases where the same sex couple has legally solemnized a marriage within a jurisdiction of the USA. Due to the fact that bi-national LGBT couples still cannot receive equal immigration rights compared to their different-sex counterparts many couples are left separated from their loved one(s), sometimes by great distances. Other websites are noticeably vocal about their opinions regarding the future of UAFA, the past strategies utilized by LGBT Immigration Rights activists, and the future tactics that may be employed in the quest to see bi-national same-sex couples receive the same immigration benefits as different-sex couples. To quote directly from the website lezgetreal.com:

The Uniting American Families Act was introduced into Congress during January of 2009, by Rep. Jerold Nadler, D, NY.  Since that time there have been more co-sponsors than any other LGBT equality legislation on record.  Yet instead of pursuing UAFA as a stand alone Bill – with the fervor and impetus provided by the June 03, 2009 hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rachel Tiven, of Immigration Equality turned its limited resources to Immigration Reform and has spent the past 18 months chasing Comprehensive Immigration Reform for the longest time when it did not even exist. Now we have been included in the Menendez Senate version – but so what? Who in heavens name imagines Immigration Reform with Amnesty in it passing through the new Congress? And it is way to complicated and far behind to get through during the lame duck. I assure you of that!

The aforementioned website is often quite vocal in its support for LGBT Immigration rights. It would seem that some feel as though UAFA should not necessarily be pursued within the context of a broader Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. This is likely due to the fact that Immigration reform remains a very controversial issue and some LGBT-rights advocates feel that pursuing a unilateral strategy of seeking equal equal rights for same-sex bi-national couples outside of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) would be more effective than trying to pass CIR with UAFA-like language included since CIR may not pass at all. Bearing this in mind the reader should note that the website ImmigrationEquality.org made a clarification regarding their overall strategy for securing equal rights for same sex bi-national couples:

Our philosophy has always been the same. We will pursue every available option for ending discrimination against our families. When we opened our Washington, D.C., office last year, we were clear: When it comes to passing UAFA, we mean business. Since then, our policy team has been working around the clock on a strategy that builds support for UAFA either as a stand-alone bill, or as part of comprehensive immigration reform. If Congress tackles comprehensive legislation – and it offers the first opportunity to win – we want to be part of that bill. And if the political reality becomes one that presents an opportunity to pass UAFA on its own, we want to be prepared to seize that opportunity as well.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to UAFA in the upcoming “lame duck” legislative session. There are some who would argue that a “lame duck” Democratic Congressional session is the perfect environment for pursuing UAFA as a stand alone piece of legislation since there are presumably still many supporters of such a policy on Capitol Hill who may have little to lose politically by supporting such legislation. As the future of UAFA has yet to be determined, but the plight of many same-sex bi-national couples remains untenable under the current circumstances.

It should also be noted that the US Congress is not the only forum in which this issue may ultimately be decided as the US Courts, and possibly the United States Supreme Court may be the body that ends up adjudicating this issue since the lower Courts’ hearing of cases challenging the Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

For related information please see: Same Sex Visa or K1 visa.

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24th April 2010

Many Americans are aware of the recent legislative changes enacted by the United States Congress with the support of President Obama. Recently, a blogger discussed this legislation:

“Having now accomplished Health Care Reform, it is apparent that President Obama has acquired the momentum and political capital to fuel the leadership necessary to fulfill the next campaign promise, that of  immigration reform.  Why then are our congressional leaders still asserting impossible?”

What is this so-called “impossible” legislative task that this writer is concerned about? Put simply, it is equal immigration rights for those bi-national couples of the same sex. Recently, Congressional Representative Gutierrez introduced a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, but many in the LGBT immigration community are unhappy with the Bill in its current form:

“Rep Gutierrez’s Bill, however, snubbed gay and lesbian couples, much to the upset of the LGBT community and bi-national same-sex couples, by failing to attach UAFA, the Uniting American Families Act, H.R. 1024, S. 424) a U.S.Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws against gay couples seeking spousal/ partner sponsorship for green cards,  as a critical component to his version of comprehensive immigration reform.  Is he thinking that we should not have immigration equality?  Is he going to attach UAFA later in the process? Does he think UAFA should be a stand-alone Bill.”

UAFA, or the Uniting American Families Act, is an important piece of hotly debated legislation in the United States that, if enacted, would provide immigration benefits to the same sex “permanent partners” of American Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. US Congressman Jerrold Nadler has be a strong proponent of UAFA and immigration rights for the “permanent partners” of American Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. Exactly what the term “permanent partner” means is left open to further debate, but presently a debate is raging over placing the provisions of UAFA into a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill:

“Nadler asserted that this would be the only way – for UAFA to pass- and that would be via passage with a larger immigration reform bill.  The votes would need to be 217 in the House and at least 51 in the Senate.  Congressman Nadler has led the fight for UAFA and is highly respected by activists and the LGBT community, reputed to be one of the most dedicated in the fight for immigration equality.  His ideas are to be trusted and his leadership followed.”

If Representative Nadler believes that same sex visas for bi-national permanent partners will ultimately come to fruition through use of a broader legislative vehicle, then this author is inclined to believe that this is the truth. However, when that broader legislative action will come about remains to be seen.

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26th March 2010

In a recent posting on the Immigration Equality.org web log, the organization described the current situation with regard to Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

With healthcare out of the way, now is the time to act!

In the last few weeks, comprehensive immigration reform has been moved forward through a series of events. Senators Schumer and Graham have met with President Obama to outline a comprehensive immigration proposal. They presented that proposal in the Washington Post, and Obama released a statement of support. The President has also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about moving comprehensive immigration reform forward. Finally, the March For American last Sunday brought over 200,000 supporters to Washington, DC demanding comprehensive immigration reform.

For those with loved ones in the Immigration system, an overhaul of the current apparatus is believed to be increasingly necessary. This belief is even more acute in the LGBT community as current United States law precludes bi-national same-sex couples from being accorded that immigration benefits that are regularly provided to different-sex couples. At the heart of this issue is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which legally defines the term “marriage” as being between a man and a woman. Many in the LGBT community feel that this legislation should be repealed or thrown out by the US courts, but so long as it is the law it has a very detrimental impact upon those bi-national same sex couples who wish to receive American family based immigration benefits. The aforementioned blog post describes ways in which supporters of LGBT immigration rights can contact their representatives about Immigration reform:

“Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative and Senators. Tell them:

‘I urge you to support and to work to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes the Uniting American Families Act.’

Call 3 times so you can talk to your Representative and two Senators!

If you want to speak to your representatives in person, the best time is during a Congressional Recess or on a weekend.

Congress is in recess during the following times:
• March 29 – April 9
• June 1 – June 4
• July 5 – July 9
• August 9 – September 10″

As with any legislative initiative, support must come from concerned citizens and the best way for citizens to voice their concerns is by contacting their elected representatives. Hopefully, through community action, legislative proposals such as Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) the dream of a better and more egalitarian immigration system will become a reality.

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22nd March 2010

The authors of this blog keep a close eye upon pending legislation in both the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America. Vigilance must be maintained in order to be fully aware of all of the current Immigration policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and laws in both countries. This blog has repeatedly reported on issues involving same-sex couples seeking United States Immigration benefits as this poses one of the most politically pressing and legally confusing issues of United States Immigration at this time.

Currently, the United States Congress is debating legislation that would attempt to tackle some of the major problems in the area of US Immigration. Recently a bill was introduced that would reform current American Immigration law with regard to refugees. Some feel that an even more pressing piece of legislation is that which would provide comprehensive immigration reform in the USA.

Same Sex Immigration issues have been dealt with in separate proposed legislation called the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), but there are those who hope that a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill will eventually include immigration benefits for same sex couples. A very popular website and blog, Immigration Equality.org, has been posting updates regarding the situation in Washington D.C. where marchers will be falling upon the US Capital to demand Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation. Most notable, is the fact that among the marchers LGBT rights activists are campaigning for equal rights in the US immigration process. To quote Immigration Equality’s blog directly:

“In the midst of the tens of thousands rallying for reform, a contingent of 300 to 500 people will on hand, with rainbow flags in hand, to bring attention to the struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants and their families. And before they set their first foot on the grassy lawn off Constitution Avenue, their presence is already being felt and making change.”

The blog added a personal touch to its report of this demonstration:

“[Laurie] Larson will be marching with the Immigration Equality contingent in honor of her close friend Steve – an American citizen – whose partner of nearly a decade, Joe, was recently forced to leave the country after losing his job and, by extension, his work visa, too. Had Steve been in a heterosexual relationship, he could have married his partner and they would have qualified for residency. But because Steve and Joe are both male, that option doesn’t exist for them. Under current U.S. immigration law, Steve cannot sponsor Joe for residency simply because they are gay.”

The idea that an American Citizen, who could legally marry a foreign national of the same sex in some US jurisdictions, cannot obtain a US family based visa for their same sex loved one definitely smacks of inequality where the same American could petition for visa benefits for their loved one if the loved one was of a different sex. That being said, these issues have yet to be played out and there are some who believe that the issues of same sex family based immigration will likely be dealt with in the US Courts as the Defense of Marriage Act‘s (DOMA) constitutionality is currently being challenged by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

For information on US Immigration in general please see: US Visa Thailand.

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