New York Times
By Julia Preston
June 27, 2013
The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday to strike down the federal law against same-sex marriage brought a stunning improvement in the lives of Steven Infante, an immigrant from Colombia, and his American husband ― less than an hour after the ruling was announced.
Mr. Infante and his spouse, Sean Brooks, were on their way to an immigration court in Manhattan where Mr. Infante would face what might have been his last hearing before he would be deported from the United States.
But just before they arrived, the couple’s lawyers heard the news from the Supreme Court.
“I thought it must be good news, because they were screaming like a soccer game, ‘We won 5 to 4,’ ” Mr. Infante said, referring to the justices’ tally in ruling that the law, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was unconstitutional. Instead of ordering Mr. Infante’s expulsion, the immigration judge examined the decision and cleared the way for him to remain in this country with his husband as long as he wanted, as a legal permanent resident.
For gay Americans married to foreigners, the impact of the federal marriage act had been severe, leaving many living in fear that they could be separated from their spouses. After the Supreme Court invalidated the law, the change for many couples promises to be significant and swift.
For most American citizens, it is relatively easy to obtain a permanent resident visa, known as a green card, for a foreign-born spouse. But because of DOMA, tens of thousands of citizens in binational same-sex marriages had not been able to apply for green cards for their partners. The immigrants ran out of options to remain here legally. Over the years, many couples chose exile, moving to countries that offered residency to same-sex couples.
But with DOMA out of the way, lawyers said, no large obstacles remain in immigration law to prevent American citizens, and also immigrants who are already legal permanent residents, from starting to apply for green cards for their same-sex spouses.
To make that clear, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed on Wednesday that her department would move quickly to adapt. “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,” she said.
Lavi Soloway, an immigration lawyer who has represented many same-sex binational couples, including Mr. Infante and Mr. Brooks, said, “There will be immediate tangible effects on the lives of lesbian and gay couples who have been struggling for a very long time.”
Mr. Infante and Mr. Brooks were among the first couples to see results of the DOMA decision. Mr. Infante, 34, had been living in the United States since 1999, and he met Mr. Brooks, now 46, almost a decade ago. They married in New York in 2011, one month after marriage became legal in the state. By then, Mr. Infante’s visa had expired, and immigration authorities denied his petitions to regain his legal status and placed him in deportation proceedings.
For Mr. Brooks, a musician, “the end of the line was clearly in sight” for the couple’s life in this country as they headed to immigration court. After their turn of fortune, Mr. Brooks was almost speechless. “The relief,” he said, “and the hopefulness.”
Many other Americans have already applied for green cards for same-sex spouses, and their applications were moving slowly through the bureaucracy while Obama administration officials waited to see what the Supreme Court would do.
Mr. Soloway said that his office has 70 active applications for green cards for immigrants in same-sex marriages and that he expected to present dozens more in coming days. Immigration officials assured him on Wednesday that those applications would move toward approval if they were otherwise in order, he said.
Mr. Soloway said he would also seek to close deportations of gay immigrants married to Americans. As a matter of policy, the Obama administration has not been carrying out deportations of immigrants in same-sex couples during the past two years, but the removal orders remained open.
Beyond its immediate effects, the Supreme Court’s decision eliminated prohibitions against gay immigrants that have lingered in American immigration law since 1952. A law that year prohibited any openly gay foreigners from coming to live in the United States on the grounds that they were afflicted with a “psychopathic personality.”
“In the 1950s, Congress said if you are gay you are not good enough to be an American,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal group that represents gay immigrants. “We are finally bringing 60 years of discrimination to a close.”
But for Brandon Perlberg, a gay American lawyer living in London, the court’s decision evoked more complicated feelings. His partner, Benn Storey, is British. The couple met and lived together in New York, Mr. Perlberg’s home. But last year they moved to London because Mr. Storey’s visa was expiring. After the move, Mr. Perlberg was unemployed for nearly a year; he spent most of his savings. While his first emotion Wednesday was elation, he and Mr. Storey face difficult choices about whether to uproot again to return to the United States.
“My life isn’t coming back to me,” Mr. Perlberg said. “Someone else is living in my home in New York; my job isn’t coming back to me.”
At least, he said, “This gives us the choice, and there is a lot of respect in having a choice.”
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