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Gay spouses can now apply for US family visas

The US Supreme Court ruled in June 2013 that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) 1996 is unconstitutional. This means that it is no longer permissible in the US to treat same-sex spouses differently from heterosexual spouses. The US government has since changed the law so that same-sex partners and spouses can now apply for US family-based immigrant visas.

DOMA was passed in 1996 with bipartisan support with the stated aim of "defending marriage". To that end, section 3 of DOMA denied certain federal benefits and legal rights to same sex spouses.

Because, in 1996, gay marriage was not permitted anywhere in the US, it may have seemed a purely academic question to ask whether this law might actually, rather than "defend marriage", violate the rights of same sex spouses.

Gay marriage legal in twelve states

But now, same sex marriage is legal in 12 states of the union and the District of Columbia. In 2009, a class action lawsuit was launched by some gay married couples from Massachusetts. They argued that DOMA was unconstitutional because it prevented them from taking advantage of tax and pension arrangements which are open to heterosexual couples.

On Wednesday 26th June 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that DOMA does discriminate against gay married couples and is therefore unconstitutional. After the ruling, President Obama directed federal government departments to end all discrimination against gay couples.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, immediately issued a statement saying 'I have directed US 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'.

USCIS will reopen applications from gay couples

On July 27th 2013, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a statement explaining that it intends to reopen petitions and applications for permanent resident status (green card) made by same sex partners dating back as far as July 2010.

Where the only reason for refusal was that the couple was a same sex one, USCIS has said that it will reconsider its prior decision. Applications made from now on will not be refused on the basis of the gender of the couple.

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