Defense of Marriage Act and Impact on Immigration

Posted on 07/01/13

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a key component of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which barred gay and lesbian marriages from being federally recognized, therefore denying them the same marriage rights of straight couples. Now, gay couples finally have the same marriage rights as straight couples, and that includes immigration rights.

During the markup of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy pushed for an amendment that would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign spouses for a visa like any other married couple can. However, democrats were forced to abandon the gay rights amendment for the immigration reform to pass. Senator Leahy didn’t bring up amendment in the committee because Republicans who initially supported the bill would no longer support it if it included a gay rights amendment, thus killing immigration reform. Besides, shouldn’t the bigger question have been: Why don’t gay couples already have the same rights as straight couples?

They did not, because of DOMA. Democrats abandoning the marriage equality amendment led to criticism that they were compromising too much with the Republicans. However, at the same that Senators were debating immigration reform, a ruling on DOMA was before the Supreme Court, so advocates for both gay rights and immigration could just wait for the decision. Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled to strike DOMA down, giving equal rights to all marriages.

The Court’s decision takes pressure off of the House of Representatives, where the future of Comprehensive Immigration Reform lies, to pass immigration reform more easily because there is no need to address a marriage equality issue.

An immediate effect of the Supreme Court’s decision was a happy story for one New York couple. An Immigration Judge in N.Y. halted the deportation of a man back to Columbia whose husband was a U.S. citizen.

If reform passes, same-sex couples will have same treatment without any additional debate or amendments, but no matter what happens with immigration reform, legally married same-sex couples now have same immigration rights as any straight couple. Binational same-sex married couples can now sponsor their spouses for green cards just like any other married couple. Additionally, married couples who were forced to live outside of the U.S. because of DOMA can finally come home.

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