Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘same sex visa’

26th June 2015

In a historic decision the United States Supreme Court has legalized same sex marriage across the United States of America. The decision coming approximately 2 years after the important decision which provided Federal recognition to same sex marriages performed in States where  such unions were legal; the Supreme Court has ruled that same sex couples have a right to marry in any State throughout the country. As noted in a recent article in the Washington Post, Justice Kennedy pointed out the blatant inequality of the legal situation prior to this ruling:

“The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest,” he wrote. “With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

This ruling is certainly a major victory for the LGBT community. For those who live overseas or who have a same sex partner abroad the ruling smooths out some of the rough edges of the United States Immigration process for same sex couples. In the past, a same sex couple could obtain a K1 Visa (for a fiance) in much the same way that a different sex couple could. However, if the couple intended to reside in a State that did not recognize same sex unions, then the couple might then be required to travel to a State which recognized such unions. With this recent ruling, that issue is effectively resolved. As has been previously noted on this blog, the US visa process for same sex couples has become essentially the same as the process for different sex couples. A Thai-American same sex couple may now opt to seek a fiance visa based upon an intention to marry in any US jurisdicition, or if already legally married the couple may choose to seek either and IR-1 or CR-1 immigrant visa based upon legal marriage to an American citizen.

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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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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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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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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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21st June 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the highly informative website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association has noted the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and the Reuniting Families Act (RFA) in a recent posting. Perhaps it is best to quote directly from the official website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

Uniting American Families Act of 2011 (H.R. 1537)
Introduced by Rep. Nadler (D-NY) on 4/14/11
Summary: Includes a “permanent partner” within the scope of INA. Defines a “permanent partner” as an individual 18 or older who: (1) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 or older in which both individuals intend a lifelong commitment; (2) is financially interdependent with the other individual; (3) is not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, anyone other than the individual; (4) is unable to contract with the other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and (5) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of the other individual. Defines: (1) “permanent partnership” as the relationship existing between two permanent partners, and (2) “alien permanent partner” as the individual in a permanent partnership who is being sponsored for a visa…

Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 1796)
Introduced by Rep. Honda (D-CA) on 5/6/11
Summary: Amends the INA to establish the fiscal year worldwide level of employment-based immigrants at 140,000 plus: (1) the previous year’s unused visas, and (2) the number of unused visas from FY1992-FY2011. Establishes the fiscal year worldwide level of family-sponsored immigrants at 480,000 plus: (1) the previous year’s unused visas, and (2) the number of unused visas from FY1992-FY2011.

Revises the definition of “immediate relative” to: (1) mean a child, spouse, or parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (and for each family member of a citizen or resident, such individual’s accompanying spouse or child), except that in the case of parents such citizens shall be at least 21 years old; (2) permit a widow or widower of a U.S. citizen or resident to seek permanent resident status if married at least two years at the time of the citizen’s or resident’s death or, if married less than two years, by showing through a preponderance of the evidence that the marriage was entered into in good faith and not solely to obtain an immigration benefit; and (3) include an alien who was the child or parent of a U.S. citizen or resident at the time of the citizen’s or resident’s death if the alien files a petition within two years after such date or prior to reaching 21 years old…

This blogger encourages readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks noted above to read further into the details of all of the proposed pieces of legislation noted in the aforementioned quotation. Frequent readers of this blog may recall the initial introduction of these bills by Representative Jerrold Nadler and Representative Mike Honda, respectively. It could easily be inferred that many in the LGBT community and same-sex bi-national couples from around the globe are anxiously awaiting positive news on any of these legislative proposals.

Readers are reminded that Representative Nadler is the legislator who also proposed the Respect for Marriage Act which would provide federal recognition of the State licensure of same sex marriage. It should be noted that several sovereign American States currently legalize and/or solemnize such marital unions and jurisdictions such as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of California have seen cases in the federal judicial branch which may result in an end to the current discrimination felt by many couples as a result of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA).

This news comes upon the heels of interesting possible political developments in Texas which may result in State legislation pertaining to TSA activities in airports. To quote directly from the official website of 1200 WOAI News Radio out of San Antonio, Texas:

Texas lawmakers will reconsider a bill that would criminalize ‘enhanced pat downs’ by Transportation Security Administration agents at the state’s airports, after Gov. Rick Perry placed the item on the agenda for the current special session of the legislature following intense pressure from conservatives and tea party groups, 1200 WOAI news has learned. “I am grateful that the governor heard the calls of the people demanding that lawmakers stand up for the liberties of Texans,” Wesley Strackbein, a conservative activist and founder of’ TSA Tyranny.com’ told 1200 WOAI news.  Strackbein Saturday traveled to New Orleans to confront Perry at a book signing event and demand that the item be placed on the legislative  agenda…

The administration of this web log strongly encourages readers to click upon the hyperlinks noted above to learn more.

TSA‘s (Transportation Security Administration) usage of so-called “enhanced patdowns” upon children and physically/mentally challenged individuals, not to mention the public-at-large, has apparently caused intense political pressure at the grassroots level calling for restriction of these activities. It would appear as though tangible results of such pressures could be forthcoming, but until such time as a bill has actually been enacted it is difficult to say if, or when, offensive policies and procedures will actually change.

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

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16th April 2011

Those who read this blog with any degree of frequency may have noticed that the administration of this resource considers the issue of same sex marriage; and Federal recognition thereof, to be one of, if not the, foremost pending political and legal issues of the age. This opinion is based upon the fact that currently discriminatory Federal policies regarding recognition of properly solemnized and legalized State marriages between same sex couples are clearly operating in violation of long held Constitutional notions regarding State Sovereignty, Federalism, Separation of Powers, Full Faith and Credit, and Equal Protection.

Bearing the above in mind, it should be noted that there are legislators in Washington D.C. who seem committed to the cause of Equal Rights for the LGBT Community. To quote directly from a post on the website ImmigrationEqualityActionFund.org, apparently authored by Steve Ralls (Contact Details: 202-347-7007, sralls@immigrationequality.org):

Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, and Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO), Mike Honda (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Jackie Speier (D-CA) announced the re-introduction of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). This overdue legislation would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for legal residency in the United States, a right currently enjoyed only by married heterosexuals under immigration law. Because the U.S. does not legally recognize gay and lesbian couples and their children as families, many same-sex binational couples are torn apart. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also introduced UAFA today in the Senate.

In previous postings on this blog, the efforts of Representative Jerrold Nadler in support of the LGBT Community and same sex bi-national couples have been noted and Representative Nadler’s current reintroduction of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) is simply one more example of this legislator’s continuing dedication to the cause of Equal Rights for the LGBT community. On a related note, it was recently pointed out that Representative Nadler is also a proponent of the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” (RFMA) which would provide Federal recognition for same sex marriages solemnized and legalized in a sovereign State.

At the time of this momentous event this blogger would ask all interested parties in matters pertaining to Liberty, States Rights, Civil Liberties, and Personal Freedom to take heed of the current events involved in the struggle to obtain equal protection under the law for the LGBT community as a whole as well as same sex bi-national couples who are currently separated due to the current state of American Immigration law. On that point, it should be noted that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) recently attempted to put policies in place to halt deportations of foreign same sex partners of American Citizens. It would appear as though USCIS’s policy was aimed at providing some relief, akin to that once accorded to individuals impacted by the so-called “Widow’s Penalty,” to those who are currently subjected to Federal non-recognition of same sex marriages, even those lawfully solemnized and legalized in a sovereign US State,  pursuant to what are clearly Unconstitutional provisions of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). That said, as of the time of this writing it is this blogger’s understanding that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has rescinded USCIS’s hold on such deportations thereby allowing the same sex bi-national spouse, even if the underlying marriage was solemnized and legalized in one of the Several States, to be deported.

The current discriminatory practices, pertaining to the LGBT community, on the part of the United States government are so pervasive that even first-year law students are aware of the issue. The current legal discrimination faced by a same sex bi-national couple seeking immigration benefits in much the same manner as their different-sex counterparts is so noticeable that even those with only an elemental grasp of the dynamics of United States law can discern many of the issues. To quote directly from a blog post titled Why Denying Homosexuals the Right to Marry is Completely Unconstitutional, authored by Sarah McCarthy on the site My Dog Ate My Blog:

Our country (as I’ve learned over the past week) essentially works like this: states are presumed to have all the power. Our founding fathers were most worried about tyrannical government, and hence wanted to give individual states the power to govern themselves and make their own laws in almost every situation. Hence, in the U.S., we really do have 50 different sets of law governing 50 different states.

Some of these 50 States have opted to use their lawmaking powers to provide marital benefits to same sex couples wishing to marry within their jurisdiction. The administration of this blog would strongly suggest that readers click on the hyperlinks noted above to read more from the above cited posting.  As noted by Ms. McCarty above, pursuant to the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution, those powers not specifically enumerated to accrue to the Federal government are to be reserved to the States and the People respectively. Therefore, pursuant to the explicit language of the 10th Amendment and the implications present throughout the Constitution as a whole inherent State rights, such as the right to marry those within the jurisdiction of a given State, are generally considered to be beyond the bailiwick of the Federal government.

Even though legislative initiatives may ultimately prove to be effective for the LGBT community in securing some of the rights, privileges, and immunities associated with marriage it is this blogger’s opinion that only through full repeal of DOMA by the US Congress or the overturning of that legislation on Constitutional grounds by the US Supreme Court can the issue be laid to rest. In this blogger’s opinion, it is especially desirable that a “case or controversy,” such as that which recently arose in Massachusetts Federal Court, be brought before the United States Supreme Court as only that body has the authority, and possibly expertise, to delineate the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause with regard to interstate vs. State-Federal recognition of same sex marriages.

There are some who have raised the argument that the same sex marriages which are legal in certain jurisdiction are only legal as a result of judicial fiat. However, this blogger would argue that, especially in the case of Massachusetts, there are strong indications that there is a political will manifesting itself in favor of same sex marriages, at least within that jurisdiction. To support this claim it may be best to quote directly from an article written by Pam Belluck and published by the New York Times on June 14, 2007:

Same-sex marriage will continue to be legal in Massachusetts, after proponents in both houses won a pitched months-long battle on Thursday to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure,” Governor Deval Patrick said after the legislature voted 151 to 45 against the amendment, which needed 50 favorable votes to come before voters in a referendum in November 2008.

The administration of this blog strongly encourages readers to click upon the hyperlinks above to read this story in detail. Clearly, there are those within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who support equal marital rights for same sex couples. However, Federal recognition of same sex unions remains to be seen. Hopefully, through continued action on the part of legislators such as those mentioned above the notions of Equal Protection under the law and State sovereignty will be upheld to the benefit of all American families.

For more information please see: Same Sex Visa or same sex marriage.

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