Home / Issues / Couples and Families

Couples and Families

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling striking down a core provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), lesbian and gay Americans will now be eligible to apply for green cards on behalf of their foreign national spouses, the organization Immigration Equality announced today. The court ruled on July 26, in United States v. Windsor, that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited the federal government from conferring benefits to married same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. That provision of the law made it impossible for lesbian and gay couples to receive immigration benefits, including green cards.

“At long last, we can now tell our families that yes, they are eligible to apply for green cards,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “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. Today’s ruling is literally a life-changing one for those who have suffered under DOMA and our discriminatory immigration laws.”

Immigration Equality provides pro bono legal counsel to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants and asylum seekers. The organization has trained more than 100 immigration attorneys across the country in preparation for today’s ruling, and will work to connect families with a lawyer specifically trained to help LGBT couples through the green card process. Immigration law recognizes marriages that are valid where celebrated – so couples who marry in a state or country that allows them to do so will be eligible to submit a green card application, even if they live in a state that does not recognize their marriage.

The Court’s 5-to-4 ruling on July 26, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, noted that, “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality… cannot justify disparate treatment of” lesbian and gay couples. Under the law, the Court found, “same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound.” By “treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others,” the Court ruled, “the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Immigration Equality, which is representing five binational couples in a federal court challenge in New York, announced that it had applications pending, and others ready to file immediately, which should be processed and approved soon.

“Today’s decision closes a discriminatory chapter in American immigration law. For 40 years, LGBT individuals were turned away at our borders; Congress called us unfit to be Americans. For LGBT couples, that exclusion continued until today,” Tiven said. “The Court did what Congress would not, and recognized that all loving couples are the same under the Constitution.”