What the DOMA Decision Means for LGBT Binational Couples

(Credit: AP)

On the 10th anniversary of its landmark decision decriminalizing LGBT people, the Supreme Court handed down a historic decision repealing the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which required the government to ignore legal marriages of same-sex couples and prevented them from accessing federal benefits.

Today’s ruling is especially significant to the estimated 24,700 binational LGBT couples in the United States. Among the many policy implications as a result of the decision, the repeal of DOMA will permit legally married LGBT United States citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) to sponsor their foreign-born spouses for green cards.

DOMA defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and denied LGBT couples access to more than 1,000 federal programs and benefits available to opposite-sex married couples. That included the ability to sponsor a foreign born spouse for family-based immigration United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Now, families like Ness Madeiros and her wife Ginger, who have lived in fear of separation for too long, will finally get relief. Though they were legally married in Massachusetts in 2008, DOMA barred Ginger, an American citizen, from sponsoring her wife Ness, an immigrant from Bermuda. Without a green card, Ness is unable to officially adopt their 8-month-old son, Jamie — and worse, risks being deported back to Bermuda when her student visa expires. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ginger can now sponsor her wife for an immigration visa and her family no longer has to fear being torn apart.

To provide relief for LGBT binational couples, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced an amendment to the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill that would allow LGBT U.S. citizens and LPRs to petition for their foreign spouses to become permanent residents. The court’s decision is an important step towards giving equal treatment to same-sex binational couples under immigration law and accomplishes much of what Sen. Leahy’s amendment sought to do.

While today’s decision is a good first step that provides hope for a future together for 24,700 same-sex binational couples, there are still 11 million undocumented immigrants, including more than a quarter of a million LGBT immigrants and their family members in dire need of relief. Passing the bipartisan Senate immigration bill would add tremendously to the gains made by the Court’s decision.


Leahy withdrew his amendment to the Senate immigration bill, explaining that the Supreme Court’s decision renders it unnecessary.

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