Gay marriage and immigration are inextricably intertwined. So when the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday, it also solved one of the thorniest dilemmas facing Congress: whether and how to give same-sex couples access to immigration benefits. The Supreme Court has finally decided to extend federal benefits to gay married couples and allow same-sex marriages to proceed in California.
This is no doubt resoundingly joyous news to the roughly 36,000 American citizens who were previously barred from applying for green cards for their same-sex spouses. Following the ruling, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano confirmed that any legally valid marriage of a U.S. citizen would be recognized for immigration benefits. If immigration reform passes Congress, same-sex couples will automatically be covered by the new law without any extra debate or amendments. American citizens and green card holders can submit a petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an international spouse to receive a green card. Furthermore, a green card holder who has lived in the U.S. and been married to an American for at least three years can apply for naturalization if other conditions are met.
The issue had pitted two of the Democratic Party’s most important constituencies against each other. LGBT advocates view the immigration debate as a crucial vehicle to move marriage equality forward. Meanwhile, immigration advocates see gay marriage as someone else’s battle, or at least a fight for another day. The debate was becoming so volatile that an amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to give same-sex couples immigration benefits nearly sunk the entire bill in the Judiciary Committee this year. As Leahy moved to vote in the committee, the most liberal Democrats on the panel implored him not to bring more controversy to the immigration debate than it could bear.
While the Senate is expected to pass the immigration bill easily, the House, as usual, is a different story. But an aide close to the House immigration negotiations said that while the court’s DOMA decision (and its application to same-sex immigrant couples) will stoke opposition among people already dead set against immigration, it would smooth the overall effort to pass reform.
Today’s ruling is literally a life-changing one for those who have suffered under DOMA and our discriminatory immigration laws.
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