DOMA Overturn: How Will It Affect Gay Immigrants and Foreigners?


Wednesday's Supreme Court rulings marked an enormous victory in the struggle for gay rights in America. By striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996, the court ruled that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriage in states where it is already legal. That means that gay couples who have enjoyed the benefits of marriage in their home states will also be recognized as legally married under federal law. While some advocates argue that the rulings did not go far enough so as to formally legalize gay marriage nationwide, it is clear that significant changes are already underway. One major group who will surely be affected are binational same-sex couples, made clear by the ruling of a New York state immigration judge in the moments following the DOMA decision.

Sean Brooks of New York City and his husband Steven, born in Colombia, had faced a long battle as a binational gay couple, which Brooks detailed in a blog post in 2011. After finally achieving the right to marry in the state of New York, the couple realized that Steven’s green card application would interfere with his visa, and he could ultimately face potential deportation. The couple petitioned the deportation on the grounds of the hardship that it would cause Brooks, but were denied on the basis that their marriage was not legally recognized under national law. But that all changed when DOMA was deemed unconstitutional. According to the advocacy group The DOMA Project, a judge presiding over the couple’s case received the ruling and subsequently halted Steven’s deportation.

Regardless of one’s opinion on same-sex marriage itself, the New York judge’s ruling seems appropriate in accordance with the Supreme Court decision. If the federal government must recognize same-sex marriage in states where it is legal, it must recognize all of the rights contained therein, and that includes immigration rights for married couples. The question is not whether or not the ruling was just; it is whether or not it will usher in a larger reform of immigration practices for binational gay couples, or whether it will get lost in the continued debate on national legalization. In all likelihood, similar rulings will follow. But the reality is that they will be contested and many couples and individuals will slip through the cracks. It is ultimately clear that until the question is resolved once and for all on a national scale, people in states where gay marriage is not legal, and even those where it is, will continue to suffer discrimination in the eyes of the law.