June 26, 2013, Newark, NJ- The Supreme Court ruling which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act was a seminal moment in American history and a monumental victory for same-sex couples across the nation. The immediate impact of the decision was felt by hopeful immigrants who now have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
The Defense of Marriage Act, commonly known as DOMA, was signed into law in 1996. The legislation prevented the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages, barring couples from over 1,000 different federal benefits granted to traditional married couples. Those denied rights included a variety of tax breaks, health and survivor benefits, and special immigration privileges. DOMA also put thousands of LBGT immigrants in danger of deportation and deprived them of numerous immigration opportunities.
The ruling for the case United States vs. Edith Schlain Windsor determined that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional on June 26, 2013.
The 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court did not make same-sex marriage unilaterally legal (that will have to be litigated on the state level), but it effectively ended federally institutionalized discrimination.
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
Justice Kennedy also wrote, “DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government. Under DOMA same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways.”
Under U.S. immigration law, spouses of American citizens can apply for permanent legal resident status, also known as a green card and eventually citizenship. If one spouse happens to be undocumented, they are able to fight deportation if they are legally married, and can prove that their removal causes undue hardship on their spouse. However, the DOMA ruling made it impossible for immigrants in same-sex marriages to be considered for either of these special immigration statuses.
The impact of the Supreme Court decision was felt immediately by the LBGT community. Just moments after the historical decision, a New York immigration court suspended the deportation of a Colombian man, who is legally married Sean Brooks, an American citizen, according to Think Progress.
In 2011 Sean Brooks, filed a green card petition, so that his husband Steven could avoid deportation and remain in the U.S. legally. Like many immigrants, Steven had been living in the states and hadn’t visited his native Colombia for twelve years, but his union with Sean was not legally recognized and his petition to stop deportation based on the hardship it would cause his spouse was denied by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services because the federal government did not recognize his marriage.
Sean and Steven Brooks faced the same dilemma that an estimated 27,400 bi-national gay couples were forced to contend with before the Supreme Court ruling. Now that DOMA has been overturned same-sex couples can enjoy the same immigration rights as traditional married couples.
When the currently pending immigration bill was in committee, LBGT activists lobbied Democrats in Congress to add additional protections for same-sex couples in the final draft of the bill. Democratic lawmaker Patrick Leahy of Vermont was bold enough to propose such an amendment, but lawmakers were forced to drop the amendment because Republicans in Congress threatened to kill immigration reform altogether. The Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA makes that issue moot.
The DOMA ruling was a win for all immigrants; it helped save immigration reform legislation and now allows same-sex couples new rights they had been previously denied. This was a historical victory for American civil rights.
At my Newark office, I have assisted immigrants with all their immigration-related needs, whether they are trying to obtain a marriage visa, fight deportation or wish to apply for citizenship. I have a thorough understanding of immigration laws and have helped immigrants navigate the intricacies of the immigration system. If you want an ardent and devoted defender contact me, Eric Mark.