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Same-sex marriage ruling impacts immigration law too

July 03, 2013|By Sandra Hernandez
  • The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a section of the Defense of Marriage Act and declined to rule on California's Proposition 8.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a section of the Defense of Marriage Act… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

Two months ago, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was pressured to withdraw an amendment from a Senate immigration bill that would have allowed U.S. citizens to apply for green cards for their same-sex partners. He did so, he said, with a heavy heart, acknowledging that such a concession was necessary to prevent Republicans lawmakers from derailing the bill.

Now, it turns out that provision is unnecessary in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied same-sex couples a range of federal benefits and protections. 

The high court’s ruling means that U.S. citizens will be able to request visas and green cards for their same-sex spouses.

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And it also means that immigration judges will be able, for the first time, to consider a reprieve for some immigrants whose deportation would result in exceptional hardship to their same-sex citizen spouse.

While those two changes could affect thousands of couples, it remains to be seen whether the Department of Homeland Security takes a very broad interpretation and allows, for example, refugees to petition to have their same-sex spouses come to the United States.

It stands to reason, however, that if the high court’s decision was intended to lift the stigma that Congress placed on same-sex couples, who were denied federal benefits and protections because of their sexuality, then immigration officials should take the most expansive view to ensure that same-sex couples are treated the same under immigration law.

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