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Vedder Thinking | Articles Effect of Supreme Court DOMA Decision on Immigration Benefits


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On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The decision of the Court applies to same-sex couples who are legally married as defined by their state of residence. Currently 13 states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia—allow same-sex marriage. We expect that this decision will expand the ability of same-sex married couples resident in these states to successfully apply for immigration benefits for their foreign national spouses.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that she would begin working to extend same-sex benefits to legally married couples. “Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws,” Napolitano said in a statement.

We do not yet know how or when this decision will begin to impact the adjudication of benefits by U.S. Consulates and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). We await practical guidance on implementation of this decision, and will publish a more detailed Immigration Alert as soon as more information is available.