What DOMA’s death means for immigrants


DOMA may be no more, but a myriad of questions remain because of the mismatch between federal and state law. In some states, same-sex marriages are recognized, and so same-sex couples enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. In other states, marriage rights aren’t so clear, and here we pose an answer to one issue: immigration, a critical question for the estimated 26,000 same-sex couples in which one partner is not a legal citizen.

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services grants American citizens the ability to sponsor a foreign-born spouse for immigration. The problem was that, before June 26, the organization’s definition of marriage was pulled from Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act: a union between one man and one woman.

Now, with DOMA in the dirt, the federal government will cease to make discriminatory distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual married couples. A marriage is a marriage. Fortunately for LGBT couples, even in states where same-sex marriage is prohibited, all couples are afforded immigration rights, gay or straight.

Some couples can already breathe a sigh of relief. One of the first approvals was issued to a Florida couple days after the ruling. Traian Popov, a Bulgarian immigrant, and his American husband, Julian Marsh, compared the feeling to “winning the lottery.” Though Florida will continue to deny the legitimacy of their marriage, the federal government is singularly responsible for issuing the visa.

Similarly, Irish-born Cathy Davis was approved for her own visa much to the excitement of her wife and three children. The couple, who live in Colorado, had to get married in Iowa due to state law. 

The USCIS had been anticipating DOMA’s repeal. For the last two years, the agency maintained a list of same-sex visa petitions that were denied under DOMA. These denials will be reversed without requiring couples to submit new applications. New same-sex applications will be processed at the same speed and with equal consideration as all other submissions.

The process of applying for a green card includes filling out paperwork, submitting to a medical exam, presenting evidence of financial security and proving legal entry into the States. A few months later, the couple undergoes an interview in which they must demonstrate the legitimacy of their marriage. Evidence can be presented in the form of shared finances, insurance or children. After receiving a green card, the individual can apply for citizenship after three years, provided the couple is still married and living together.



Mike Anderson is an analyst for NerdWallet, a financial-literacy company dedicated to helping consumers make better decisions with their wallet.

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