According to NPR, there are approximately 28,000 homosexual binational couples living in the U.S. Before June of 2013, those couples did not have the same immigration rights as straight couples. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, gay couples now have access to the same benefits – such as hospital visitation – that straight binational couples have enjoyed for years.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a 1996 law that defined marriage as being between a man and woman. However, when the act was deemed unconstitutional – the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantees – homosexual marriages were given legal benefits and protections that are more similar to those awarded in heterosexual marriages. Now, same-sex married couples have hospital visitation rights, can claim joint ownership of assets and can petition for their spouse to get legal immigration status.
Same-sex immigration rights remain a tricky subject. Citizens can petition for their immigrant spouses to receive a green card. However, as gay marriage is not federally legal, couples must be married in states that recognize their union. Fortunately, couples can live in a state that does not recognize their marriage and still sponsor a spouse for citizenship.
Stories of success
A gay couple living abroad traveled 2,000 miles to be married in New York, according to WRCB, Chattanooga, Tenn.’s NBC affiliate. Richard Hurtado of Texas and Hugo Rendon of Mexico had been living abroad, unable to live as a married couple in the U.S. But when DOMA was overturned in June, Hurtado was able to sponsor his foreign husband for citizenship. The two drove to New York to be married in the U.S.
Thousands of couples like Richard and Hugo can now file Form I-130 to petition for their spouse’s citizenship. Supporters of same-sex immigration rights see the DOMA decision as a step toward federal acceptance of gay marriage.