The United States Supreme Court recently declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that DOMA encouraged, “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” As such, DOMA, which defined marriage as “a union between one man and one woman,” has been struck down. This decision is set to have long-term implications for many gay couples who, up until now, have faced the insurmountable burden of an immigration policy that didn’t recognize their relationships as legal and valid under federal law. The change opens the door for family union and reunification, which has always been a central focus of our immigration system. According to Immigration Equality, a gay rights and immigration advocacy group, an estimated 36,000 couples may benefit from the change in law. American citizens and permanent residents can petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for their spouses to be granted a green card, and now same-sex couples are to be given the same benefits, rights, and considerations extended to heterosexual couples.
This is a welcome development for many who have fought for this change. After the decision, President Obama, who previously described DOMA as “discrimination enshrined in law”, directed the Attorney General to ensure that all federal benefits and obligations incidental to the decision be “implemented swiftly and smoothly”. Rachel B. Riven, executive director of Immigration Equality, called the Court’s ruling “life changing” and said, “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion.”
The decision is also likely to have significant, long-term consequences far beyond the immediate benefits that will be enjoyed by same-sex couples. The non-citizen spouse who marries a citizen will eventually have the option of petitioning for other family members from his or her country of origin. These family members may not have otherwise had any legal pathway to the United States, though family petitions can take years to be approved. Only nine states and the District of Columbia currently recognize same-sex marriage. A couple would need to be legally married in one of these states in order to receive the benefits of any immigration policy. While proponents are hopeful more states will recognize gay marriages, the decision has its opponents, including political conservatives and some religious groups. Nonetheless, with the Supreme Court declaring DOMA unconstitutional, there is no legal reason or justification to continue to deny these benefits to same-sex couples who are married in a state which acknowledges their marriage as equal and deserving of government recognition.
Bi-national couples nationwide are celebrating the Supreme Court decision and its effect on immigration policy. The decision reinforces the idea that, if we are going to demand equality for some, we must demand equality for all, in all aspects and in every way.
By Being Latino Contributor, Lissette Díaz. Lissette Díaz is a Cuban-American writer and attorney living and practicing law in New Jersey. She can be reached at email@example.com.