The day that the Defense of Marriage Act was repealed will be a moment that many of us in the GLBT community will remember for the rest of our lives. I'll remember where I was when I heard the news, driving in my car to work, listening while a local radio station took comments from listeners about DOMA's repeal. I didn't call in; I just continued to drive, smiling, with tears slowly streaming down my face. While I'll certainly benefit from this change in policy, for bi-national GLBT couples, DOMA's repeal not only legalizes their relationships, but also makes them able to legally live in the same country together. Even immigration reform would not have had this impact on GLBT immigrants.
Early on in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, the GLBT community -- particularly the 40,000 same sex bi-national couples living in the U.S. -- were told not to expect much from the bill. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican Senator from Florida known for his strong support for immigration reform, said that he would walk away from his signature issue if GLBT couples were included. For the GOP in the Senate, GLBT rights were a non-starter. And they won: in the final bill that passed the U.S. Senate on June 27th, GLBT bi-national couples were deliberately excluded.
However, a day before the immigration reform vote, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Despite the GOP's best efforts to oppose equality for GLBT couples, DOMA's repeal granted married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as their married different-sex couples -- including the right to sponsor same-sex partners for a green card.
Immediately after DOMA's repeal, binational GLBT couples were positively impacted. One New York City couple, Sean and Steven Brooks, were scheduled for a deportation proceeding at 10:30 a.m. on June 26th, and just a few minutes before, DOMA's ruling allowed the couple to remain together in the country. Thousands of GLBT couples will continue to feel the impact, including those who were married in a state that recognizes marriage equality, but live in a non-equality state.
Even unmarried couples that are living in separate countries can reunite under the current bill. GLBT American citizens can now use a fiancé visa to sponsor their partners to enter into the country legally and start the citizenship process. GLBT immigrants who overstayed their visas and are now undocumented can also benefit from DOMA's repeal. While U.S. immigration law does not allow a person to change their status from lawful to unlawful residents, spouses are the exception to that rule. Finally, three years after married couples obtain their green cards, they can then apply to become U.S. citizens.
For all GLBT Americans, this change in immigration law is huge. While there are 40,000 binational couples currently living in the U.S., thousands of GLBT couples have left the country over the years so that they could live with the person that they love. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of others, have been forced to end their relationships, because they could not legally live together anywhere in the world.
While the repeal of DOMA is huge for immigration reform, it's just a step towards immigration reform. Currently, if someone entered the country without inspection -- meaning they crossed the border -- the situation is more complicated. Usually, the person would have to leave the country and then apply for a green card, but they would be banned from returning for between three to five years. GLBT Americans need Congress to act, just as the Senate acted, to pass immigration reform. Otherwise, just as DOMA made it impossible for us to legally marry the ones that we love, so too will our country's broken immigration system.