Same Sex Marriage and Immigration – America vs the World

In honor of gay pride month, I wanted to celebrate the fact that five years ago the United States chose to join the group of (now close to 30) nations that have legalized same sex marriage. Same sex marriage was legalized in the US  in the summer of 2013, and since then our firm has helped many same sex couples stay in the US by assisting in same sex immigration through marriage.

The United States Supreme Court’s ruling in the Windsor case in the summer of 2013 resulted in the brand new eligibility of gay and lesbian couples to marry and file green card applications when one of the spouses is an immigrant. This impacted the immigration world enormously – opening an avenue for same sex couples to apply to stay together through marriage-based immigration.

We might not be at the cutting edge, and we still have a long way to go, but we are at the top of the pack globally in terms of our legal acceptance of same sex marriage and couples.

While globally, a host of countries have legalized same sex marriage, many still oppose it on penalty of death.

How do other places in the world compare to the US in same sex marriage?

Countries that oppose same sex marriage – There are more than 80 nations where same sex marriage is illegal, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.

  • A 14-year prison sentence may be imposed in Nigeria on people who are convicted of entering a same sex marriage or civil union. The Nigerian law voids same sex marriage from outside the country as well.
  • Uganda passed law that would make “some gay acts punishable by life in prison.”
  • Russia too has made news lately with anti-gay policy. In 2013, Russia made it a crime to distribute “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships.” And there were reports of gay men and women being rounded up into camps and tortured in Chechnya.
  • Countries where the death penalty is enacted for same sex acts:
    Saudi Arabia

Many in the LGBT community now come to the US for asylum

The abhorrent treatment of gay people in other countries has resulted in many immigrants fleeing their homelands to seek relief in the United States.

A viable protection for anyone seeking safe harbor from sexual persecution is political asylum. Our law firm has won asylum and related protection for gay individuals from Jamaica as well as  countries in Africa and South America.

While cases like the baker who was legally granted to the right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple by the Supreme Court may make it challenging to believe we are moving forward, it is fair to say that -in immigration law at least- there is a more enlightened stance. This phenomenon may occur because:

  • Human rights issues are often at the forefront of immigration law.
  • The United States of America has come a long way in a short time in protecting the rights of immigrants involved in same sex marriage.
  • That said, the law is still very complicated.
  • Be careful if you are gay or lesbian and from another country, seeking to reside permanently in this country.

Be aware that although we live in a great nation which has laws that are the opposite of those in more than 80 countries, you will still need professional help if you are hoping to be granted legal residence in the US.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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