By Victoria Neilson
8 July a Massachusetts federal district court judge sided with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and with the state of Massachusetts and found that it is unconstitutional for the U.S. federal government to refuse to recognize same sex marriages that are validly entered into in the couple’s state. This is a huge victory and we should all take a moment to celebrate! But, this battle is far from over.
Because this is an important case politically and constitutionally, it will certainly be appealed. The next step will be an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and from there the case will inevitably to to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling by the district court judge will be “stayed” during these appeals, meaning that until the Supreme Court eventually makes a decision, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will remain in effect, even in Massachusetts.
Why would the Obama administration appeal this ruling?
Regardless of the personal beliefs of the president (which are not clear here anyway), the president and attorney general are usually obligated to defend legislation that has been duly enacted by Congress.
What happens to binational couples if the Supreme Court finds DOMA unconstitutional?
If, eventually, the Supreme Court upholds the ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional, same sex couples that are validly married, would be able to receive federal benefits, including immigration, based on their marriage. Basically, this would mean that binational couples who live in the handful of states that allow same sex marriage could get immigration benefits, and couples who live in states with mini-DOMAs could not.
Where do we go from here?
We must continue to pursue rights for binational couples on all fronts. It will probably take several years for this DOMA challenge to reach the Supreme Court, and no one can predict what the outcome will be. Certainly a victory in the Supreme Court striking down the federal recognition section of DOMA would be a huge victory for binational couples (at least giving them the option to move to LGBT friendly states to pursue immigration benefits.) Meanwhile, we must continue to push for passage of an LGBT inclusive Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) and for passage of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).