DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

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 Among the legal barriers that today’s dramatic Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage sends tumbling down is the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage-based immigration benefits. As Congress debates immigration reform, the rights of LGBT immigrants and their U.S. citizen partners has been a central sticking point, with Republicans threatening to kill the immigration bill if Democrats insist on legislating LGBT rights. Today’s historic decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, largely puts that debate to rest, by allowing gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to apply for legal residency for their partners.

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision. “The federal statute is invalid.”

Immigration through marriage has long been a core component of U.S. citizenship policy. Under existing law, U.S. citizens in opposite-sex marriages can sponsor their immigrant husband or wife to come to the U.S. or remain here with legal authorization. But same-sex couples have been excluded and countless partnerships have been thrown into limbo.

Twelve states currently have laws that permit same-sex marriage. This limits the reach of the court’s decision, because the remaining 38 states retain heterosexist marriage laws. The decision does not create a constitutional right to marriage and thus does not immediately impact laws in those states. But the decision is likely to have a ripple effect, as states may now move to pass marriage equality laws. And the court’s DOMA decision means that marriages performed in one of the 12 states that recognize same-sex unions will be considered valid for federal benefits, even if couples reside in another state.

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