Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, by holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. What does this mean? This decision means that under federal law, same-sex couples who are legally married (per their state’s laws) must now be treated the same as married opposite-sex couples when it comes to federal law.
While the case did not consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage itself, this historic decision clears the way for same-sex couples to be eligible for once unattainable federal benefits. In an immigration context, same-sex marriages may now be fully recognized by the federal government, thereby giving individuals the right to sponsor their same-sex foreign national spouses to become lawful permanent residents of the United States. Prior to this decision, a U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Resident could petition for their opposite-sex spouse to obtain Lawful Permanent Resident status by filing the necessary paperwork and meeting the eligibility requirements; under DOMA, this same ability was denied to same-sex couples because their marriage was not recognized under federal law. For many, DOMA forced same-sex couples to live in the shadows, separate, or leave the country, despite being in a committed and loving relationship with a U.S. citizen and/or Lawful Permanent Resident.
Over the ensuing weeks/months, federal agencies that deal with immigration related issues, including the Dept. of Homeland Security (it’s sub-agencies include United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)) and the Dept. of Justice, will likely begin implementing new policies affecting the immigration rights of same-sex couples. The impact and timing of such policies are unknown at this time, but please stay tuned to our blog for the latest updates.
If you have any questions regarding how the Supreme Court’s decision may affect you or your partner’s immigration status, please feel free to give us a call at our office to set up a consultation to speak with us.