DOMA Decision a Win for Binational Married Gay Couples

DOMA Decision a Win for Binational Married Gay Couples

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NEW YORK — For Lee Golson and Sandro Arce, the wait is over.

As the Supreme Court today struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Golson and Arce can now get married and have the same federal rights, including immigration, as heterosexual couples have.

The Supreme Court decision to strike down a key provision of DOMA -- the 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage between one man and one woman -- is a landmark win for the gay rights movement. The court did not decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, but ruled that the law violated equal protection laws by providing benefits to heterosexual couples, while denying them to same-sex couples.

For Golson, a U.S. citizen, and Arce, who is from Argentina, the high court’s ruling allows the binational couple, once they are married, to take advantage of immigration options open to hetersexual couples.

Over the course of their 10-year relationship, Golson, 47, who lives in Atlanta, Ga., and Arce, 35, who is from Buenos Aires, have had to travel thousands of miles back and forth between two continents. Once the couple marry, Golson will now be able to sponsor his partner, so Arce can apply for a green card.

“I can’t even express my happiness right now,” said Arce. “I think I need a few hours to calm down.”

Although Georgia does not currently recognize same-sex marriage, the couple is planning to make a trip to New York or Massachusetts— or any of the 12 states and the District of Columbia— where same-sex marriage is legal. The court’s repeal of DOMA means that the couple will have access to federal benefits, including immigration, regardless of whether they reside in a state that recognizes gay marriage or not.

The Supreme Court ruling on DOMA was 5-4. Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts all filed dissents, while Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Ginsburg, and Anthony Kennedy—who had majority opinion—voted to repeal DOMA.

The Court also dismissed Prop. 8 on jurisdictional grounds, ruling that private parties do not have standing to defend California’s voter-approved measure barring LGBT couples to marry. That decision opens the door to gay marriage in California.

Kate Kendell, executive director of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), said: “This is an enormous victory for the LGBT community and for the nation. We have long fought against such venal, discriminatory and corrosive law— and now we can be recognized and treated equally.”

Kendell admitted that there could be some “complications and uncertainties” that require additional statutory changes, as far as tax benefits are concerned, particularly for LGBT couples who don’t live in states where same-sex marriage is recognized.

But, the immigration benefit for binational married couples is a clear-cut case. It is the state where the marriage was performed and not the state of residence that matters.

In Washington, D.C., the advocacy group Immigration Equality has been matching binational married gay couples with lawyers affiliated with their organization to begin their green card application process immediately for their foreign national spouses.

“Those same-sex couples who have already submitted their immigration application before DOMA will just be ahead of the game,” said Steve Ralls, communications director for Immigration Equality. “But we want to make sure that they are represented properly by an immigration lawyer.”

However, federal benefits, including immigration, do not apply to same-sex unions where one partner entered the country illegally.

Immigrant and gay rights advocates are closely watching a provision reintroduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate immigration bill that would allow U.S. citizens in gay marriages to sponsor green cards for their partners, even if they did not enter the country legally.