Same-Sex Marriage and Immigrant Rights - the Impact of DOMA on Immigration Reform
by Hiba Ghalib, Associate Attorney
This past weekend was a busy one for both gay rights activists and immigrant advocacy groups. After the Supreme Court announced last Friday that it had agreed to hear two cases that challenge laws challenging same-sex marriage, over 50 groups supporting gay rights and immigration reform joined together to write a letter to the White House requesting President Obama hold off on deciding any immigration cases involving same sex couples until the Supreme Court issues its decision on gay marriage.
In 1996, Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act, most often dubbed DOMA, denying same-sex couples federal benefits, including immigration benefits. (It was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton). This prohibited U.S. Citizens from sponsoring their foreign national spouse for permanent residency if their spouses were of the same sex. To date, the administration continues to enforce DOMA and uses it to routinely deny green card applications from legal same-sex couples, even after the Department of Justice announced in January 2011 that it would no longer defend DOMA in court. Until a decision is reached questioning the constitutionality of DOMA, the Executive Branch will continue to enforce it.
Since it has not been long since the recent election cycle and the nonstop campaign ads, the issues the American people find most important are still echoing in our ears. After the economy - immigration reform, health reform, and gay marriage are among the top issues voters identified as important to the American people.
While many have criticized the slow progress of immigration reform in recent years (if you can even call it that), it’s not hard to see how quickly the legal climate is changing generally. Only 26 years ago, the same High Court that has agreed to take a case challenging same-sex marriage upheld laws against sodomy (a decision it reversed in 2003).
Whether or not you support gay marriage, the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage will clearly have ripple effects that impact immigration reform and groups in support of both have set aside any differences yesterday in recognition of the notion encapsulated by John F. Kennedy: “The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.”
One can expect that this quick changing legal climate will cause the ‘storm of reform’ that’s currently hovering over the area of gay marriage rights to soon find its way over other lands, including immigration reform, and we can only hope that along with the clouds of change, it will rain down progress.