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Could same-sex couples soon have more immigration rights?

United States citizens who are married or engaged to foreign nationals have the opportunity to apply for a K-1 fiancé visa or a K-3 spouse visa. That is, if the fiancé or spouse is of the opposite sex. On the other hand, same-sex couples have an extremely difficult time obtaining green cards for their foreign-born spouses, even if the couple is legally married in one of the states that recognize same-sex marriage.

This unequal treatment under the law has caused many bi-national same sex couples to choose to move out of the country instead of facing permanent separation. One gay couple that found themselves in this situation lived in New York City, where the American-born man owned and operated his own law firm. However, the other man, who was born in London, had been living in the United States for seven years on temporary visas that were running out.

After the couple tried and failed to secure permanent residency for the London native, the two picked up everything and moved to London instead of risking being separated for good. The problem is that the federal government currently does not allow American citizens to petition for green cards for their same-sex spouses or partners. This has forced thousands of couples to choose between risking deportation and moving out of the United States.

Luckily, this policy is expected to change with the upcoming immigration reform. Last month, President Obama said he would fight to obtain the right for citizens (as well as immigrants who are legal residents) to petition for a green card for their same-sex foreign partner so long as they can show they have "a permanent relationship." This is the first time President Obama included gay couples in his outline for immigration reform.

Additionally, the United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is the law that stands in the way of same-sex couples having equal rights under federal laws, including immigration laws. The important decision comes at a time when the collective attitude toward same-sex marriage appears to be shifting toward acceptance, but is still hotly contested.

Source: The New York Times, "With No Shortcut to a Green Card, Gay Couples Leave U.S.," Julia Preston, Feb. 17, 2013

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