We are happy to relate that with few exceptions, the news is good all over.
By way of background, in June 2013 the US Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. DOMA narrowly defined marriage, and that definition effectively precluded an extensive range of federal benefits for same sex couples. In overturning DOMA, federal agencies were no longer constrained by the DOMA definition of marriage and were able to recognize and grant federal benefits for same-sex married couples.
One agency significantly impacted by the decision was the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS. Consistent with DOMA, USCIS’ practice was routinely to deny cases filed by spouses in same sex marriages. In June 2013 the USCIS immediately began a review of past denials and started to accept immigration cases wherein a same-sex spouse would be eligible for US immigration status. This included many different types of derivative non-immigrant visas, but also opened the door to the issuance of “green cards” based on marriage to a same sex spouse.
As with any new large scale change in policy, there have been many nuances to figure out such as the impact of a couple’s residence when it was not in the state in which their marriage was performed and the impact of civil unions. A large concern for immigration attorneys was how USCIS would view the absence of the same type of evidentiary documentation that opposite-sex spouses were routinely able to obtain (such as medical coverage, insurance, tax returns, etc). However, we are pleased to say that the overall consensus is that USCIS is very understanding of these issues and unique challenges. In fact, some clients have related their shock that their treatment by immigration officials both in the US and at consulates overseas was so “normal” after feeling precluded from any immigration benefits for so long.
We are honored to have represented a number of same-sex couples that have filed fiancé or marriage-based petitions and we are pleased to convey our experience that all federal agencies involved in the immigration process have so far greatly impressed us by their professionalism. While we have no doubt that there may remain exceptions to our experiences, we look forward to staying active in representing such meritorious clients and continuing to promote the goal of family unity for same sex married couples.