In what can only be described as a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional. In a 5-4 decision with the majority opinion given by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as a violation of the 5th Amendment and Equal Protection of Law. The Supreme Court’s decision in the DOMA case will have a far reaching impact on immigration law.
What is DOMA?
DOMA was passed in 1996 in response to the movement among several states to recognize same-sex marriages. Essentially DOMA stated that the federal government would not recognize same-sex marriages even if they were officially sanctioned by the state. Since the Federal Government refused to recognize same-sex marriages, even if a state or foreign country deemed them valid, same-sex spouses could not receive any benefit from the federal government which required marital or spousal status as a requirement. Why did the Supreme Court say the government cannot do this? The court said that marriage is typically defined by the state, and to treat two sets of legally married couples from the same state differently is unconstitutional..
The particular benefit that was at issue in the DOMA case was the failure to refund an estate tax when property passes from one spouse to another. However, the Supreme Court stated in their decision that DOMA affected over 1,000 federal laws which marital or spousal status is addressed as a matter of federal law. United States v. Windsor, (2013). Because the effect of DOMA was to treat gay and lesbian married couples differently than their heterosexual counterparts, the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. As a result of this ruling, the federal government must grant any federal benefit heterosexual couples are entitled to (including immigration benefits) to same-sex spouses when the same-sex marriage is done in a state or country where it is legal.
How Does This Impact Federal Immigration Law
Marital or spousal status affects over 1,000 federal laws. Many of these federal laws are the immigration laws of the United States, which the federal government alone has the sole authority to make.
One of the many unfair practices by the government, sanctioned by DOMA, was the fact that heterosexual couples could immigrate their spouse based on a valid marriage, but the same-sex spouses could not.
As a result of this decision, the federal government in their immigration laws must recognize a valid same sex marriage. Therefore, if you are married in a state or country that recognizes same-sex marriages the federal government must treat you the same as it does heterosexual married couples. Meaning, this decision has officially paved the way for spouses of same sex marriages to immigrate to the United States based on their marriage. In addition, this will allow same sex partners to get waivers to certain grounds of removability (ex. Cancellation of Removal) based on their marriage to a US citizen.
This is truly a monumental moment in American history, and another victory against discrimination that took far too long. Given the magnitude of this decision there has been reactions from many prominent Americans, including President Obama. President Obama released the following statement regarding the decision by the Supreme Court, “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law….” Later in the statement the President added, “We are a people who declared that we are all created equal—and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” Here, at Scales of Justice, LLP, managing partner Pablo Zamora said, “the battle didn’t end for America on July 4, 1776 to gain freedom for all Americans” he added, “finally, we are on the right side of history.”
America is referred to as the land of the free, and the home of the brave. Today the Supreme Court took another step towards showing why we are the land of the free, as a result of the brave same-sex married couples who stood up for what they believe in.
If you have any questions or believe todays monumental ruling may impact you please do not hesitate to give us a call here at Scales of Justice, LLP, (619)796-1765 or email Pablo Zamora at Zamora@tipthescalesforme.com.