In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provision that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In addition to changing individual states’ and the federal government’s legal views of marriage, this decision had tremendous effects on U.S. immigration law.
Prior to this landmark decision, a U.S. citizen wishing to sponsor a same-sex foreign national spouse for permanent residency based on marriage was unable to do so. Same-sex couples were forced to wed and live abroad, apply for an alternate visa in order to maintain lawful status in the U.S., or remain in the U.S. illegally in hopes one day they could lawfully remain in the U.S. with their partner. Such scenarios proved devastating for these couples and their families, as they were forced to rearrange their life plans in order to comport with immigration laws.
Thanks to this decision, these couples do not have to face such inequities any longer. According to the 2010 U.S. census, approximately 79,000 same-sex couples of bi-national original lived in the U.S. as of that time. For these couples, and all the couples who had wished to live in the U.S. but were unable to do so under DOMA, the Supreme Court decision is a milestone in the quest for equal representation under the law and access to legal benefits. In the debate over immigration reform, the decision also removes the question of whether provisions related to same-sex couples would have been included in a prospective immigration bill.
It has been 4 months now since DOMA was repealed on June 26th, 2013. During this time there has been sufficient time to observe the government’s application of this landmark decision. USCIS is now regularly processing applications to register same-sex couples for permanent residency, to the same exact extent as opposite-sex couples, and such individuals can now move forward with planning their lives in the U.S. The decision represents a progressive step in the quest for immigration reform, and opens up the opportunity for an even more diverse pool of individuals to seek residency in the U.S.