— It’s official. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national can now sponsor their spouse for a family-based immigrant visa, according to a directive issued by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Monday.
The move follows last week’s Supreme Court decision ruling that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage between a man and a woman, as unconstitutional. U.S. President Barack Obama has directed federal departments to swiftly and smoothly ensure the court decision and its implication for federal benefits.
“To that end, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse,” Napolitano said in a statement
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According to the new procedures, USCIS will look to the law of the place where the marriage took place in determining its validity for immigration law. That means if a couple was married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but lives in a state that does not, the couple’s petition for an immigration visa will still be considered. Thirteen states and Washington, DC have legalized same-sex marriage.
There are nearly 30,000 binational same-sex couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and one is not, according to estimates
based on U.S. Census Bureau data. Until now, those couples were not eligible for family-based immigrant visas, forcing many to choose between love and country.
A landmark immigration reform bill passed by the Senate almost stalled out because of a proposal to allow U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex spouse for immigration. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy withdrew the amendment after opponents threatened to kill the entire bill. The Supreme Court decision accomplished what Leahy was hoping to do.