A Dozen States Making Marriage Equality Progress

Dozen States for Same-sex Marriage

2014 has seen great progress for the LGBT  community, positive news for bi-national couples.

Those interested in sponsoring their same-sex partners for green cards might soon have more places to marry. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will recognize marriages as long as they are legal where they take place (including in foreign nations such as Canada and Spain).

Guest Post by Daniel Bean, Paralegal.


The good news about the state of marriage equality here is that last month, the U.S. court of Appeals for the 10th circuit announced their in favor; the bad news is that that ruling is on hold and will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Then they will decide whether or not to take up the case. But there is a silver lining: a Boulder County Judge ruled today that marriage licenses will continue to be granted despite the hold on the ruling. Go Utah!


Indiana will be joining Utah in its appeal to the highest court after last month a federal judge there ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. What’s more, yesterday a memo the governor’s office sent a memo to Indiana’s executive branch affirming that the state refuses to recognize same-sex marriage and that the ban would be in “full force and effect.” A reason was not made clear for that decision.


Colorado also took a leap toward equality yesterday when a federal judge ruled its own ban of same-sex marriage “bears no rational relationship to any conceivable government.” The same judge has placed an immediate hold on the decision pending an anticipating an appeal to the Supreme Court.


On May 9, 2014, Judge Chris Piazza decreed: “Let them eat wedding cake!” and we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling Attorney General—who won’t be named here. It’s interesting that the number of marriage licenses reportedly given was around 400: they must have acted fast because just 6 days later all same-sex marriages were put on hold.


In May, a county circuit ruled Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Just days later, the Supreme Court did put a sort of hold on issuing marriage licenses to happy couples, citing that the ruling didn’t have implications for that process, but not before over 450 licenses were issued. There is currently a hold on the ruling.


Texas’ state ban on same-sex marriage was tossed out by a federal judge in late February, and that same judge stayed his own decision in anticipation of an appeal by opponents of dignity and equality for same-sex couples.


Saw slightly fewer days of equality when a judge there said “potato, potatto” and decided that same-sex couples deserved the right to get married same as their heterosexual counterparts on May 13th; not before a hold was put on the ruling on May 16th.


A judge in Michigan had some powerful words when he struck down their state ban. He had this to say: “”Today’s decision… affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.” As you can guess, there is currently a hold on this ruling pending an anticipated appeal.” But in good news, in response to the hold, US Attorney General put out the word that “these families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”


It looks like Judge Terrence C. Kern had the good sense to recognize that Oklahoma’s state ban on marriage was ”an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit;” however, as you may have guessed by now, that decision is on hold, pending an appeal.


Virginians almost celebrated a Happy Valentine’s Day when their ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional on February 13th, but that decision was placed on hold, in anticipation of an appeal. Here’s hoping that any couples who decided to get married on a day we celebrate love had a happy holiday with their special someones anyhow; and to those still looking for “the one,” keep your hopes up, because LGBT rights seem to have picked up steam in spite of the temporary stays on these decisions.


June 6, 2014 was Wisconsin’s day to ring in marriage equality, and it looks like over 400 shiny new marriage licenses were granted to happy couples. This time it took 7 days before an official hold was placed on the ruling—which, after reading about the other cases, seems like a long time.


The sun shone bright on the Sunshine State on July 17th, 2014 in light of the news that a judge had ruled a ban on same-sex marriage unconscionable. An immediate stay was placed on the ruling. I guess our day in the sun will come sooner or later, but that’s okay, Florida, you’re still beautiful.

Information in this post is not guaranteed and may be subject to change. Speak with an attorney for specific immigration advice. As immigration laws can be complicated its best to speak with an immigration attorney even before you marry. Immigration Lawyer, Andre Olivie, helps gay couples throughout the country apply for green cards, marriage and fiancée visas.

Six Countries Leading Gays to Seek Asylum in the U.S.

Gay AsylumWhile gays in the U.S. celebrate the fall of DODT, DOMA and the expansion of marriage equality, much of the global LGBT population continue to suffer under foreign governments that persecute, condemn, criminalize, torture and oppress those who dare to love members of the same sex. Recent news from Russia and Uganda has brought these practices into the limelight and many Americans are asking what the U.S. government can do to help gays and lesbians from these nations.

For those foreign gays who are currently in the U.S. or those who can find their way to the U.S. on non-immigrant visas, asylum might be an option. The U.S. government will grant asylum to gays and lesbians who have suffered persecution, or who have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their sexual orientation.  The following are 6 countries, whose treatment of gays, as reported by our own Department of State, would likely support an asylum claim in the U.S.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs an anti-homosexual bill into law at the state house in EntebbeUganda

On February 24th, 2014, President Museveni signed into a law an anti-gay bill which toughened penalties for gays and could lead to life in prison for homosexual acts which had already been criminalized. According to the U.S. State Department, “LGBT persons faced discrimination and legal restrictions…LGBT persons were subject to societal harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and threats to their well-being, and were denied access to health services. Discriminatory practices also prevented local LBGT NGOs from registering with the NGO Board and obtaining official status.”

Russian Gay RightsRussia

The Sochi Olympics and the actions of punk protest band, Pussy Riot gave recently helped expose the mistreatment of Russian Gays. The Russian parliament recently passed a law banning gay propaganda and Moscow has refused to allow Gay Pride parades. The U.S. State Department reports that openly gay men have been attacked by neo-Nazis with police failing to respond. Gay men and women hide their orientation due to fear of losing their jobs or their homes as well as the threat of violence and medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBT persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice.

Gambian PresidentGambia

Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh has called homosexuality a threat to human existence and “more deadly than all natural disasters put together.” Male homosexual acts are illegal and punishable with five to 14 years in prison. According to the U.S. State Department, “There was strong societal discrimination against LGBT individuals, further enhanced by statements by President Jammeh and the enforcement of a law, nicknamed Operation Bulldozer, designed to enforce harsh penalties for criminals but also directed at gay men. There were no LGBT organizations in the country.”

Ukraine Gay RIghts


This week, President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine stepped down following massive protests. However, it is yet unclear whether any new government would be any kinder to Ukraine’s LGBT population who has suffered under persecution both by the government and the society. The LGBT population has experienced discrimination in education, the workplace and access to medical treatment. Like Russia, Ukraine’s parliament has sought to pass a law against “homosexual propaganda.” Rights organizations have found that LGBT individuals faced “physical violence, abuse, threats, property damage, theft, extortion, bullying, workplace discrimination, discrimination in educational settings, and divulging of personal information.”

Seeking Gay Rights in JamaicaJamaica

In 2006, an article in TIME magazine called Jamaica “The most homophobic place on earth.” Today, Jamaican gays continue to suffer persecution on account of their sexual orientation. Though the government has recently stated that they will be reviewing the law, homosexual acts continue to be illegal in Jamaica punishable by up to 10 years in prison.  A culture of homophobia is perpetuated by popular music and religion and physical violence against gays is widespread. “The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) reported serious human rights abuses, including assault with deadly weapons, “corrective rape” of women accused of being lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of gay and lesbian patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons. Police often did not investigate such incidents.”

kyrgyz_republicKyrgyz Republic

The Central Asian nation was formerly under the U.S.S.R. and like other countries in the region remains a bastion for gay persecution. Despite decriminalizing homosexual relations in 1998, human rights organizations have found that police officers continue to arrest individuals for homosexuality.  LGBT persons face physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of work, and unwanted attention from police and authorities. Human Rights Watch recently published a 65 page report highlighting the abuse of gay men in Kyrgyz Republic who suffered severe physical violence including punching, kicking, and beating with gun butts, batons, empty beer bottles, or other objects.

The latest State Department Human Rights Reports are available here: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/

Further research can be found at the following organization websites: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.




6 Ways To Help Gay Russians Seek Asylum in the U.S.

LGBT Asylum for RussiansIf you’ve been following the news in the last few years you’ve likely heard that the situation for gays and lesbians in Russia has deteriorated significantly. Gay and Lesbian Russians need your help. Anti-gay laws, homophobic protests and anti-gay attacks have increased. For many, it is no longer safe to be gay man or woman in Russia. Fortunately, the United States government may be willing to help gay Russians currently in the U.S. on visitor, student or work visas, including those who have overstayed their visas.  The U.S. may grant asylum to those individuals who have either been persecuted in their home country by their government, people the government is unable or unwilling to control on account of their sexual orientation.

The following are 6 ways that you can help your Russian LGBT friends obtain asylum in the U.S.


If you meet a gay or lesbian individual from Russia or any other country for that matter, show them some U.S. hospitality. It can be difficult being in a new country with a completely different language and culture. Befriend a Russian. Learn about their culture and share your own. Find out what you have in common. If you’ve met at a gay bar or through an LGBT organization, you already have a starting point!


Your friend may not be willing to provide you with all the details of their lives, and unless you’re great friends or in a relationship, it’s probably none of your business. However, individuals who have suffered persecution in Russia or have a fear of returning because they may be persecuted  might not be comfortable discussing it as it may be to personal or traumatic.  In some cases, they may only have straight Russian friends in the U.S. and prefer to keep their sexuality hidden. When you have a good relationship with your friend, ask questions but don’t interrogate. Talk about what you’ve heard in the news and let them tell you if they are having problems at home or are afraid to return because of their sexual-orientation. Your Russian friend may already be a U.S. Citizen or have a green card but those on temporary visas may need asylum if they fear returning when their stay ends.


Many foreigners and U.S. Citizens alike are unaware about LGBT asylum. Your friend may not know that the U.S. will allow gay and lesbians to seek asylum in the U.S.  Let your friends know that there is a possibility for those who fear persecution because of their sexuality to remain permanently in the U.S.  Being informed about the asylum option is particularly important as, generally, asylum must be applied for within one year of entry into the U.S.


Asylum law is complicated and each case is unique. It is generally not a good idea to attempt to apply for asylum without first speaking with an immigration attorney. An immigration attorney can help your friend decide whether or not they want to apply for asylum and also whether or not they are eligible for LGBT asylum. They will prepare a strong application packet which may need to be hundreds of pages. They will also prepare for and attend an asylum interview with the client or represent them at an asylum trial if the friend is in deportation proceedings. The not for profit organization Immigration Equality helps connect asylum seekers with pro-bono and private immigration attorneys with experience in LGBT asylum law.


If your friend is applying for asylum, they will need to prove to the U.S. government that they have suffered persecution or have a reasonable fear of future persecution on account of their sexual orientation. Written statements from friends who can attest that the individual is actually gay will be helpful to their case. An immigration attorney will likely ask their clients’ friends to provide affidavits and guide them as to what is necessary. If your friend is seeking asylum in court, it may be necessary for a friend to testify in person.


The asylum process can be long, sometimes more than one year. After an asylum application has been pending for 5 months, the asylum seeker may be eligible to apply for a work permit, however before this time, unless they have a work visa, asylum seekers are not permitted to work. They might need help with basic needs in the U.S including help with food and shelter. Emotional support can be just as helpful.

If your friend is fortunate to receive asylum, they will be allowed to remain live and work in the U.S. After one year, they will be eligible to apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence). After four more years they may be eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship.


Same-sex Greencards are Here!

Gay Couple

Guest Post by Daniel Z. Bean, Paralegal

Are We Eligible?

We’re overcome with gratitude to those who’ve fought for marriage equality and we’re positively beaming that LGBT bi-national couples are now planning to live their lives together. Couples once separated by restrictions on immigration policy are seeing the green light as foreign partners are approved for residency and visas. Couples who lived in fear of being separated can now breathe a sigh of relief, too. The U.S.C.I.S. and Department of State have fully embraced the defeat of DOMA Section 3 as promised.

There are still a few things to keep in mind for same-sex couples as they apply for immigration benefits:

  • The validity of the marriage still depends on the laws where the marriage took place: whether the country or U.S. state recognizes same-sex marriage is important. If a couple marries in a state or country were same-sex marriage is legal, they are eligible for immigration benefits—even if they no longer live in a state with same-sex marriage laws.
  • For example, a couple married in New York that later moved to Michigan would still be recognized by the U.S.C.I.S. or U.S. Dept. of State.
  • Subsequently, couples living in domestic partnerships or civil unions will need to get married before they can be eligible for these benefits.
  • Derivative benefits will also be extended to spouses and children of same-sex spouses where eligible.

Please be aware that there are many variables to consider before petitioning for loved ones. As always, please consult with an immigration attorney to discuss what options are available.


USCIS. http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=2543215c310af310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=2543215c310af310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD

US Dept of State. http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/frvi_6036.html

Hope for Immigration Reform in 2013

Immigration Reform

Guest Blog by Daniel Z. Bean

Supporters of immigration reform were thrilled when the US Senate passed a bipartisan bill this summer, but House republicans have balked at the idea that they’ll be voting on the Senate bill, insisting that a path to citizenship is out of the question. And now with two time-sensitive political issues topping the agenda—diplomacy regarding Syria and a deadline to approve a new federal budget—it seems that they won’t be introducing legislation any time soon.

However, hope for a vote this fall has not yet faded away. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, addressed the prospect with his own vow to push forward. He told the New York Times last week, “We’re gearing up for late October — we’re going to push really hard for votes this fall.” Additionally, this week women’s groups staged protest in Washington D.C., which drew national attention and led to more than a hundred arrests.

House republicans have good reason to pass a comprehensive answer to the Senate bill sooner rather than later. Support for legislation which includes a path to citizenship is at an all-time high: according to a July 2013 Gallup Poll, almost 90% of Americans are in favor of providing one. Americans also support increases in border security and the creation of more work-related visas for immigrants. It’s in our best interest to push for action before next year’s election, when some House representatives may begin courting their conservative base with bleaker options for reform.

The Senate has done its part, now it’s up to the House of Representatives and President Obama to serve Americans faithfully and give us the immigration reform we are asking for.


Preston, J. and Shear, M. “Immigration Reform Falls to the Back of the Line.” NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/09/us/politics/immigration-reform-falls-to-the-back-of-the-line.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Immigration. Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/1660/Immigration.aspx

4 Steps the U.S. Government has Taken to Implement Post DOMA Immigration Policies

U.S. FlagFollowing the SCOTUS DOMA ruling and prior to her resignation, Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano made the following statement:

“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.”

Director of USCIS Speaks about Same-sex Marriage Green Cards

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Alejandro Mayorkas discussed same-sex bi-national marriages at the American Immigration Lawyers Association annual conference in San Francisco. Director Mayorkas stated that USCIS has kept records of all immigrant petitions that were denied because of DOMA and that the cases could be reopened and gay spouses of U.S. Citizens could be granted green cards.

USCIS approves first Green Card application for same-sex spouse of a U.S. Citizen

Traian Popov, a Bulgarian married to a U.S. Citizen, has become the first same-sex spouse to be approved for a permanent resident visa. Mr. Popov, 41, said he had been living legally in the United States for 15 years with a series of student visas. USCIS made their decision on Friday June 28th only a few days after DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional.

Board of Immigration Appeals Recognizes Same-sex Marriages for Immigration Purposes

The BIA issued its first decision in which it supported a same-sex marriage for immigration purposes. On July 17th, 2013, in its decision In Matter of Oleg B. ZELENIAK, the BIA stated, “The Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor has therefore removed section 3 of the DOMA as an impediment to the recognition of lawful same-sex marriages and spouses if the marriage is valid under the laws of the State where it was celebrated.”

Homeland Security: Working to Implement Greencards and Visas for Gay Couples

Janet-NapolitanoSecretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano issued a statement regarding immigration after the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this morning.

“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.”

US Citizenship and Immigration Services falls under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security. This is an excellent sign that same-sex green cards and visas will be coming soon. I look forward to working with many couples who have been separated for way too long simply because of their sexual orientation.

DOMA STRUCK DOWN : Can I get a Green Card?

gayimmigrationThis morning the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion writing that “the federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity…By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.” In addition, the Court dismissed California’s Prop 8 case on jurisdictional grounds, essentially allowing Californians to continue with marriage equality.

These rulings paves the way for thousands of federal benefits to be available to same-sex couples, from California and through other states that allow same-sex marriage. This includes immigration benefits which come under federal law. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security, has routinely denied same-sex couples green cards and other immigration benefits on the grounds that DOMA prevented them from recognizing a same sex marriage as valid and a valid marriage is a requirement for marriage-based immigration applications and petitions.

Today, it is unclear if, how and how soon USCIS will begin processing marriage-based applications for same-sex couples. Most likely the Director of USCIS will issue a statement or policy memo regarding the matter. As that may take several days, weeks or even months, some immigration attorneys, myself included, plan to file same-sex marriage adjustment and fiancée visa cases as soon as possible to force USCIS to either approve these cases or give a new reason or “legitimate purpose” for denial. Now that DOMA is unconstitutional, I see no good reason to differentiate my opposite-sex marriage cases with gay marriage cases as long as the marriage is valid in the jurisdiction in which it took place.

For those same-sex couples interested in applying for immigration benefits for their spouses, I urge them to speak with an immigration attorney, as I would for any opposite-sex couple in the same situation. Immigration law and the green card process are quite complicated and these are uncharted grounds.

If you are a U.S. Citizen and your spouse entered the U.S. lawfully on a non-immigrant visa such as a student visa they may be able to apply for adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident. You can find out more information on the adjustment of status process here.

DOMA Supreme Court Decision Expected June 20


In only a few hours, on Thursday morning, June 20th, 2013 we expect to hear the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. The Court will decide whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State; whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.”

If Section 3 of the DOMA is struck down, it will pave the way for thousands of federal benefits that are currently available to opposite sex couples to be equally available to same-sex couples who are legally married. The Windsor ruling will not affect whether or not all gay couples have a right to marry.

One federal benefit that is currently denied to same-sex couples is the ability of a U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents to sponsor their spouses for immigrant visas (greencards). We anxiously await a decision that may provide this benefit to same-sex couples and unite families who have been unjustly denied the ability to live in the same country as their spouse.

06/21/2013 UPDATE: The Supreme Court did not issue their decision in U.S. v. Windsor yesterday. Maybe next week!


“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state- sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person.

This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” – Justice Kennedy

5 Questions about Marriage Green Cards

Wedding-RingsMarriage to a U.S. Citizen is one of the quickest ways towards lawful permanent residence. Marriage alone will not change one’s immigration status and in some cases marriage to a U.S. Citizen might not lead a green card. However, for foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on student, work or tourist visas, it may be possible to seek adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident based on a bona fide marriage to a U.S. Citizen. ( As of May 2013, same-sex marriages do not qualify for adjustment of status. This may change in the future. Read my previous blog on the end of DOMA for more information. )

1. How long does the process take?

The adjustment of status process varies depending on where the case is filed and the particulars of each individual case. Generally, one can expect the entire process to take about 4-6 months.

2. Can I travel abroad during the process?

Whether one can travel abroad during the green card process depends on their immigration status prior and during the adjustment process. Individuals who are in a non-immigrant status that does not allow for dual-intent need first to apply for advanced parole so that the adjustment application is not deemed abandoned. Advanced parole will not cure any unlawful presence earned by overstaying or violating an immigration status so it is important not to leave the country if one was previously out of status before seeking adjustment.

3. Can I get a work-permit while I wait for the green card?

Yes. Adjustment of status applicants are eligible to apply for employment authorization while the application is pending. Generally the I-765 application for employment authorization is filed at the same time as the adjustment application and takes about 3 months to be processed and approved. The employment authorization document or EAD will allow you to obtain a social security number but will only be valid until the adjustment application is decided. If the green card is granted an EAD is not necessary.

4. What do I need to show that our marriage is bona fide?

It is not enough to be married to a U.S. Citizen. The marriage must be bona  fide which means it must be a genuine marriage not done merely for immigration purposes. In order to prove this couples can provide evidence that they are living like any other married couple. They can show documents such as joint  bank statements, joint mortgage or lease agreements, photos, holiday cards and affidavits from friends and family. If the couple has children together than birth certificates of children will also be helpful. See my guide on proving a bona fide marriage.

5. I am an international student; do I have to stay in school?

It is a good idea to stay in student status whenever possible. However, if one drops out of school and falls out of status prior to or after the adjustment of status application is filed they will still be allowed to remain in the country while the application is pending and they will not be penalized for being out of status. Nevertheless it is important to first speak with an attorney before deciding whether or not to leave school while your application is pending.