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Monday, December 9, 2013

Same-sex couple gets fiancé visa from US embassy

The United States Embassy in Manila on Friday said it had issued its first fiancé visa to a same-sex couple, a Filipino and an American soldier serving in Afghanistan who will get married next month. In a statement, the embassy said the fiancé visas were issued to Noel “Aeinghel” Amaro and Robert Cotterman on Dec. 2.
The two met via Facebook two years ago and will be married next month in California. “He proposed to me at the airport. I was so happy, and the people were clapping their hands for us,” Amaro said in an interview on Facebook. They applied for a fiancé visa “around June 2012.”

Amaro said he would spend Christmas in the United States with Cotterman and his parents. “They are happy for us. They are excited to see me,” Amaro said of his future parents-in-law. Amaro, who is unemployed, said he was born and raised in Taguig City. He said they have had a “union” solemnized by Myke Abaya Sotero of the Holy Union Church in Baguio City.

“Although same-sex marriage is not yet recognized in the Philippines, gay Americans are now able to petition for family-based visas on behalf of their Filipino spouses, fiancés and their children,” the embassy said in a statement. Amaro, a resident of Taguig City, posted a picture of a portion of his visa on his Facebook account; he said he was interviewed at the embassy on Nov. 5. His account also showed public pictures of him and Cotterman together in a religious ceremony and visiting tourist spots in the Philippines.

On his own Facebook account, Cotterman listed his occupation as a “Chinook repairer.” He is a resident of Sumter, South Carolina, and a member of the South Caroline Air National Guard currently detailed with the US Army. The embassy said the change came months after a momentous decision by the US Supreme Court, which struck down the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“Overturning Doma signifies that the US federal government must extend all federal rights and privileges of marriage to any married couple, regardless of sexual orientation. Currently, gay couples can marry in 16 of 50 American states, and the nation’s capital,” the embassy said.

This extension of rights includes immigration benefits, it added. Another couple, Maria Cecilia Limson Gahuman and Maria Carla Antonio, were also the next to be given fiancé visas. The embassy said the two met through a mutual friend over a decade ago. They will get married on Dec. 30 in California.

The embassy said advancing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality has been one of US President Barack Obama’s top priorities. It quoted US Secretary of State John Kerry saying that the “most important export, by far, is America’s belief in the equality of all people.”

Kerry noted that “the State Department, which has always been at the forefront of equality in the federal government …, is tearing down an unjust and an unfair barrier that for too long stood in the way of same-sex families being able to travel as a family to the US.” The embassy said it wanted to educated gay Filipinos about new visa opportunities. Filipinos in same-sex relationships with Americans are encouraged to view the visa section of the embassy’s website for more information.

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