Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Does My Previous Straight Marriage Matter?

same sex marriage green card after straight marriage
I would say that about one third of my same sex marriage green card  clients were married previously in a straight marriage.  About half of those have children from their previous marriage.  In cases where they had children, their ex-spouse is still a big part of their life due to co-parenting.

This is no surprise when the statistics reflect that about 4 million straight women are, or were, married to gay husbands in the U.S.

It is important to know that it is well within the immigration officer's right to ask why an applicant or his/her spouse was previously in a straight marriage when making a decision about their same sex marriage green card. I have been representing same sex clients at their marriage green card interviews for a few years now, sitting beside them when they are questioned about their marriage history.

My clients know that the Immigration Officer may ask, "If you are a gay man or lesbian woman, why did you get married to your previous [straight] spouse?" Here are the reasons that usually come up at the marriage green card interviews:
  • Family/Societal/Religious Pressure
Some of my clients answer that they got married, and stayed married, in a straight relationship because they made a commitment and they wanted to honor their commitment. Society informed all of us for many years that only same-sex relationships were valid.

Some of my clients tell the Immigration Officers that due to societal pressure they were afraid that if they told the truth to their "straight" family, the family would disown them and that their church would ex-communicate them.

Many of my clients explain to the Immigration Officers they felt they were part of a generation that discouraged them from making a change, and they were eager to try to fit into the "norm" and not only that - they loved their children and did not want to disrupt their childrens' upbringing. 
  • Confused Sexual Identity
Many of my clients explain that they got married to their straight spouse when they were very young and still confused about their sexual identity.  The Immigration Officers don't usually want more details at the marriage green card interview, but if they did, my clients would tell them they were confused when they were young and didn't want to come out as gay.  But over time, they discovered exactly what their sexual identity was and eventually it became more and more important to let his/her true identity come out.

True Story

same sex marriage green card after straight marriage
This past year I represented a couple who actually met at their local LGBT center at a "coming out" meeting. One was an established, older, military contractor civilian man who had recently been divorced from his wife (after their 4 children became adults).  The other was a younger artistic type of man who was a tourist visa overstay from one of the South American countries.

Slowly they got to know each other, and eventually moved in together.  With great caution they let the adult children know about their father's true sexual identity and revealed that the roommate was really a boyfriend.  The kids' attitudes were great.  Even the ex-wife was on-board and became part of the extended family, participating in Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.

I let my clients know that at the marriage green card interview the Immigration Officer had the authority to ask about the previous straight marriage. My client told me the reasons he divorced his wife after a long term marriage, and why he got married to his new partner,  and I let my clients know that the truth was the best approach. Their marriage green card was approved that day.

FYI, I have found that the Immigration Officers are open to respectfully learning about how/why a person who is initially in a straight marriage is later married to a same sex partner, so kudos to the applicants who have come before you for contributing to the expansion of their knowledge.

Danielle Nelisse, Immigration Attorney

Danielle Nelisse, Immigration Attorney

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Other Immigration Questions Concerning Same Sex Married Couples:

What are the issues if my gay spouse entered the USA as a B-2 Tourist ?

Exactly what happens at a marriage green card interview?

How does a person get married in the USA? 

Tips on how to help your helping your partner adjust to America during the Adjustment of Status process.

What if my spouse entered the USA legally, but overstayed their visa?

What if my spouse is HIV positive?

Is “coming out” important to the Immigration Officer who conducts the marriage green card interview? Call (619) 235-8811 or  Email

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