Our VoiceCulture

DOMA Repeal a Major Win for LGBT Immigrants and Families

Imagine 2050 Staff • Jun 28, 2013

As annual celebrations for Pride kick off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle this weekend, many are celebrating Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision as a victory not only for marriage equality, but also for immigration reform. The ruling will benefit tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants who are married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.

The decision overturns key parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and will allow same sex, married binational couples to apply for green cards based on their marriage. Though questions remain about binational couples in a civil union, those who are legally married will now have access to the same options as different sex, married binational couples. The ruling accomplishes much of what Senator Leahy and other congressional representatives have been unable to do with the Uniting American Families Act, a bill and that would have recognized same sex permanent partners in immigration law.

Both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security welcomed the court’s decision. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, reacted Wednesday calling DOMA a “discriminatory law [that] denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits.” She added, “all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

While only 12 states and the District of Columbia currently allow same sex partners to marry, immigration law will recognize married partners as long as their marriage was valid where it was celebrated. This means if a couple is able to travel and marry in a state where the marriage is valid – even if they live elsewhere – they will legally be able to make a marriage-based petition for immigration status. The law also recognizes same sex couples who marry abroad. (More on where same sex couples can marry can be found here.)

Already, several deportation cases have been halted because of the ruling. According to the DOMA Project, on Wednesday, just hours after the Supreme Court ruling was announced, “A New York City immigration judge immediately stopped the deportation proceedings of a gay Colombian man who is legally married to an American citizen.”

Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision is a historic victory, and one that for LGBT immigrant families in particular, means a much better chance – though no guarantee – at legal status through marriage-based petitions.

The ruling benefits not only gay and lesbian partners, but also transgender spouses. According to Ilona Turner, Legal Director at the Transgender Law Center, “Transgender people who are in marriages that may be legally considered ‘same-sex’ can now be confident that their marriages will receive the full respect and recognition they are entitled to from the federal government.”

Masen Davis, executive director at the Transgender Law Center, also lauded the ruling: “These rulings are a significant step toward justice for all;” but Davis added, “there is so much more than marriage that our community needs in order to survive and thrive – health care, employment, and safety, just to name a few.” Others have echoed this sentiment, calling for a renewed focus on intersectional LGBT issues and struggle.

For many, however, the victory is bittersweet. The Supreme Court ruling followed two other Supreme Court decisions that are significant steps backwards in a broader struggle for racial justice – undermining tribal sovereignty and voting rights for people of color. In the 48 hours that followed the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the 1965 Voting Rights act, six of the nine states requiring oversight for changes in voting laws have moved forward to restrict voting access. And for hundreds of thousands of undocumented LGBT immigrants who do not have a US citizen or permanent resident partner, much work is still needed to stop deportations and win legal status for all.

While the repeal of DOMA is a historic step, work still needs to be done. The court has recognized and rightly overturned a discriminatory federal law, but has failed to recognize the continued threat of racist laws that disenfranchise poor people and people of color, and further limit the sovereignty of indigenous nations. As the country moves forward, it is important to remember that struggles for justice and freedom, and against bigotry and racism – are intertwined.

Imagine 2050 Newsletter

  • translate

    English • Afrikaans • العربية • Беларуская • Български • Català • Česky • Cymraeg • Dansk • Deutsch • Eesti • Ελληνικά • Español • فارسی • Français • Gaeilge • Galego • हिन्दी • Hrvatski • Bahasa Indonesia • Íslenska • Italiano • עברית • Latviešu • Lietuvių • 한국어 • Magyar • Македонски • മലയാളം • Malti • Nederlands • 日本語 • Norsk (Bokmål) • Polski • Português • Română • Русский • Slovenčina • Slovenščina • Shqip • Srpski • Suomi • Svenska • Kiswahili • ไทย • Tagalog • Türkçe • Українська • Tiếng Việt • ייִדיש. • 中文 / 漢語