Same-Sex Marriage Petitions: New Grounds for Attorneys and Immigration Officers

Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the DOMA case that granted same-sex couples federal benefits in states that recognize same-sex marriages. This decision also had a far-reaching effect on immigration laws that allows for same-sex couples to remain together in the U.S. by petitioning for their spouses. Our office recently had some immigration interviews for these marriage cases, which was new for our attorneys and for the immigration officers who must handle these types of cases.

When it comes to a marriage interview, the interviewing officer asks questions to determine the bona fides of the marriage. Some of these questions concern relationships with family members to see how involved the families of the petitioner and beneficiary are in the lives of the couple there at the interview. This notion does not necessarily apply when it concerns a same-sex relationship, since the families of the couple may not approve of the relationship. For some cultures, because it is wrong to be in a same-sex marriage and is constantly disapproved, leaving the couple alienated from their families. In this context, it is interesting for our clients when they are faced with questions from the officer regarding family relationships.

For one of our interviews, the immigration officer was presented with correspondences between the couple where one of them was referred to by a female name because they were pretending to their family to have a girlfriend when they had a boyfriend. This sort of difference would be a concern for the immigration officer in the past, but because of the sensitivity that same-sex couples face with having to address this issue with their families, the officer understood the circumstances and accepted those reasons while accepting the correspondences as genuine between the couple.

For many couples facing this situation, there is still some concern with going through the process for their spouse, but they should not be concerned if there is a good attorney working on the case. At another interview, the immigration officer understood how the beneficiary would visit the U.S. citizen spouse more often during the relationship because of how these relationships are viewed in their home countries. The extent of the cultural stigmas that exist elsewhere have caused the immigration officer to look at the time spent together by the couple and what they have done during the course of their relationship, rather than focusing on other things that do not necessarily have any bearing on the relationship. In our other interview, the pictures during the relationship told the officer that they had made their lives together years ago and it was clear that the relationship was real to them. This is the exact outcome any couple wants to see when they have their interview during the marriage petition.

From these marriage interviews, it is clear that the officers are focused on knowing how things developed with the couples and what they are doing with their lives together to be in a relationship instead of focusing on how many other people know of and are involved in their lives. While it is still good to show friends and family that are supportive of the relationship, immigration knows that same-sex relationships are not completely accepted by society and must take a more holistic view of the relationship based on other details that really demonstrate it to them. Given this mindset, marriage interviews for opposite-sex couples might face the same level of deference if the circumstances permit it for their given situation. In time, immigration officers that have taken very traditional views of what constitutes a bona fide relationship will have to adjust that view to account for these circumstances, something we hope to see more of with future interviews to come.