On Friday, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide. The below article was written prior to the issuance of this decision and will be updated accordingly to reflect the current state of the law.
Like many areas of law, immigration is dynamic. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) monitors relevant case law and makes changes to immigration policy accordingly. Same-sex couples have made significant legal strides in the past decade, and these victories are reflected in current USCIS policy. It is crucial that anyone with immigration issues who is in a same-sex relationship finds an attorney who understands how LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) immigrants and their partners are affected by new regulations and procedures.
A Brief History of Immigration Law for LGBT People
LGBT foreign nationals were considered excludable from the U.S. on medical grounds until 1991. This was due to the historical classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. The psychological and medical fields evolved and changed their stance, and public acceptance of homosexuality as a normal human variation has followed. From the mid-1990s, individual states began allowing same-sex marriage or alternatives like domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Until recently, same-sex couples were unable to utilize their marital relationship as the basis for applying for immigration benefits, even if they were married abroad or in a state where the marriage was legal. Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government was prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for federal programs like Social Security benefits or income taxes. This prevented USCIS from considering a same-sex spouse as an immediate family member for immigration purposes. Similarly, any immigration benefit that would normally be derivatively available to the spouse or children of a nonimmigrant or an immigrant visa applicant was withheld from same-sex couples. Immigration benefits were also denied for the step-children of same-sex partners.