U.S. Supreme Court Decision Broadens Rights Afforded to Same-Sex Couples
In our past news item, DOMA Ruling and Immigration Benefits for Same-Sex Partners, we discussed the implications of a June 2013 Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision invalidating an operative provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) affecting same-sex marriages.
More specifically, in U.S. v. Windsor, the SCOTUS struck down Section 3 of the DOMA as unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex married couples as married for federal purposes.
Prior to U.S. v. Windsor, DOMA, Section 3, had far reaching consequences because many federal laws addressed or hinged upon marital or spousal status.
With respect to federal immigration law, under DOMA, same-sex partners were disallowed immigration benefits conditioned upon the existence of a marriage or spousal status. For example, persons in same-sex unions were excluded from the same immigration benefits obtainable by persons in opposite-sex marriages such as those related to family-based visas, employment-based visas, refugee status, asylum, naturalization, and discretionary waivers.
After Windsor struck down DOMA’s confinement of marriage to heterosexual couples, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began to recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes. In this regard, USCIS issued a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) specifying how the Windsor decision implicated certain immigration based benefits contingent on marital or spousal status.
In one key FAQ, USCIS concluded the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated determines whether the marriage is legally valid for immigration purposes. Therefore, under this “State of Celebration” FAQ, same-sex couples living in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage could still apply for federal immigration benefits as long as they were validly married in another state that recognized same-sex marriage.
Notably, but for the 2013 SCOTUS Windsor decision, more recent spousal immigration benefits related to the ability to study and work in the U.S. and discussed in our news items DHS Permits Part-Time F-2 and M-2 Study and Removes DSO Cap and H-4 EAD for Certain Dependent Spouses Now in Effect, would not have applied to persons in same-sex marriages under the pre-Windsor Defense of Marriage Act.
On June 26, 2015, as the title to the present article suggests, the SCOTUS issued another decision in Obergefell v. Hodges which effectively broadens the scope of the Windsor decision.
Whereas Windsor invalidated a provision of a federal law (DOMA), Obergefell addresses the more global issue of whether individual states are permitted to limit the definition of marriage to the union between one man and one woman.
In Obergefell, the SCOTUS found the right to marry is a fundamental liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that exists between two people of the same sex. In doing so, Obergefell now requires all 50 states to license same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed out of state.
Accordingly, de facto expansion of the above mentioned “State of Celebration” FAQ is one result of the Obergefell decision because pre-Obergefell variation in state law as to the validity of same-sex marriage is no longer an impediment to immigration benefits conferred under federal law.
Over the years, Sharma Law Offices, a top rated Atlanta Immigration Lawyer, has handled thousands of marriage-based and employment-based petitions and is proud to work on behalf of individuals and businesses seeking same-sex immigration benefits.