We've been closeted: How do we prove to USCIS our same-sex marriage is bona fide?

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Question:

My husband and I live in a small town – in separate apartments within the same complex. I'm a U.S. citizen, he's a visa overstay from Pakistan. We had a small, private, same-sex wedding in Massachusetts, but we don't live there. In fact, in the small, conservative town where we live, coming out would probably cause us to lose our jobs and many of our friends. We're realizing this could complicate our plans for me to petition for him to get a green card.

Needless to say, we don't have lots of pictures of a big wedding, we can't get affidavits from employers and haven't made each other beneficiaries on our health insurance or 401(k)s, and we hesitate to approach even the few friends whom we suspect are sympathetic and confirm our homosexuality to them, in case they gossip. We didn't buy wedding rings. We don't plan to arrange to raise a family. We don't have joint bank accounts. Even our Facebook statuses say "single!" Get the picture? How are we going to be able to satisfy the immigration officials that this marriage is the real thing?

Answer:

You're in a similar situation to many same-sex couples right now. And you're right to give this issue your full attention, since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is perpetually on the lookout for cases where people get married not out of love or to establish a life together, but simply to obtain U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) for the noncitizen.

USCIS does not plan to scrutinize same-sex marriages any more closely than it scrutinizes opposite-sex marriages – but it has always scrutinized those plenty closely.

Don't panic, however: With a little creativity, you can find a way. Although USCIS and various experts provide lists of suggested documents for proving the bona fides of a marriage, none of the items on these lists is absolutely required.

What you supply is up to you. Here are some suggestions:

  • File your next tax return jointly, and amend your previous returns so that you do so. See "The IRS Will Recognize All Same-Sex Marriages" for details on your eligibility to do this.
  • Contact any faraway friends who know about your relationship or whom you told about your wedding, and ask them to write statements detailing their observations of you as a genuine couple or supply copies of letters or emails you've written to them about your relationship or photos they've taken of you together.
  • Get copies of plane tickets and hotel bills from trips or vacations you've taken together. If, for example, you went on a romantic LGBT cruise, print out some of the literature highlighting this for USCIS.
  • Have either of you spoken to any therapists or other people in a counseling position about the difficulties of maintaining a closeted relationship in a small town? If so, ask that person to provide copies of your records or a statement on your behalf.
  • Look back through your records for purchases you made for the other person that were romantic gestures – dinner for two on your birthdays, gifts of chocolate and flowers, and so forth.
  • Take photos of your apartment complex to show that, even though the addresses are slightly different, you live within close proximity to each other.
  • Write up statements explaining the history of your relationship and why you've felt it necessary to live as you do.

These are just ideas to get you started. For additional help, consult an experienced immigration attorney – perhaps in another city from the one you live in!

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