Challenges and solutions
by Grace S. Yung
In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that changed the lives of many in the gay and lesbian community. Yet, while the overturning of a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) impacted LGBT Americans and their families in a number of different ways, bi-national same-sex married couples had a particularly large amount to gain from this decision.
This is because not only were these couples previously denied the overall range of federal benefits and rights that are associated with marriage in general, but they also typically deal with the additional stresses of having to find the legal means to remain together in the same country.
The Additional Hurdles that Are Faced
Today, there are many thousands of bi-national same-sex couples who reside in the United States. Previously, based on the Defense of Marriage Act, neither a United States permanent resident nor a U.S. citizen was able to sponsor a same-sex spouse for immigration the way that an opposite-sex spouse can, with the eventual movement toward United States citizenship.
Likewise, U.S. permanent residents have always been able to sponsor an opposite-sex foreign spouse for permanent residence via marriage. These rules, however, have traditionally forced same-sex bi-national couples to take other measures in order to continue and maintain their relationships within the United States.
In some cases, the non-U.S. partner has been able to obtain a temporary work, student, or tourist visa. Unfortunately, this route really only allows the couple to stay together physically for a set and limited amount of time. It can also be quite costly—and it leaves a lot of “loose ends” because it is not a permanent solution in terms of residency or citizenship.
In other instances, the non-U.S. citizen partner will simply take the chance of staying in the United States without having legal status. This, however, can cause a substantial amount of stress and anxiety, not to mention the difficulties that it places on obtaining employment, applying for loans, and participating in other types of activities.
For other couples, when the non-U.S. citizen spouse has been unable to obtain a visa, it may mean having to leave the U.S. altogether and move to another country. As of now, there are more than 30 countries worldwide that offer immigration benefits for same-sex couples—regardless of whether they are married or not. While this option has allowed numerous same-sex couples to stay together, it has also meant that many U.S. citizens have had to leave their homeland and other family members and friends.
Providing Strategies and Solutions
Due to the 2013 overturning of a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex foreign spouses of United States citizens and permanent residents are now eligible to apply for Green Cards. This means that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will now be required to treat same-sex married couples equally when it comes to administering U.S. immigration law.
Non-U.S. citizens have also been getting some help from President Obama and Washington DC. A potential upcoming overhaul of the nation’s immigration enforcement system could protect several million unauthorized individuals in the U.S. from being deported—and could provide many with work permits, too.
Over the past several years, several organizations have also been active in assisting bi-national same-sex married couples with the challenges that they face, as well as with outlining various strategies for moving forward. Some of these entities include: The Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, Freedom to Marry, and Immigration Equality.
In addition, a number of projects have also been launched with a focus on overcoming the many hurdles that bi-national same-sex couples encounter. For example, the Uniting American Families Act was introduced into the U.S. Congress in a variety of forms for several years. Its key goal is to offer a federal path for United States citizens to sponsor a same-sex spouse for the purpose of immigration.
As couples move forward, it will be important to keep other aspects of their relationships secure as well. For example, ensuring that both spouses are protected financially if something should happen to one of the partners is essential.
Working closely with a financial professional who has a focus on the LGBT community can help to put the proper plans into place in terms of growing your savings, creating and maintaining a retirement income for both spouses, and protecting assets from unnecessary taxation at the death of one or both individuals.
Personal finance-related questions may be e-mailed to [email protected]
Grace S. Yung, CFP, is a certified financial planner practitioner with experience in helping domestic partners plan their finances since 1994. She is a principal at Midtown Financial LLC in Houston and was recognized as a “Five-Star Wealth Manager” in the 2014 September issue of Texas Monthly.