What is DOMA?

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996.  DOMA imposed for federal purposes a heterosexual definition of marriage despite any state definition to the contrary.  The typical and normal deference to state definitions was thereafter supplanted by this new federal mandate which for the better part of two decades controlled and barred Federal recognition of same-sex couples married legally abroad or in the growing number of states that enforced and protected marriage equality.  The impact of DOMA was to prevent any immigration (or other federal) benefit from accruing to couples where they were otherwise legally married.  A couple married in Massachusetts therefore could not file to get a greencard based on their marriage nor could they file jointly their federal tax returns or enjoy any of the oft-noted 1000+ federal benefits and obligations which legal matrimony traditionally entailed.   After DOMA, for Federal purposes, same-sex marriages in the United States did not exist.

What did the Windsor Decision say?

The first part of Windsor discusses at length whether or not the case is of the sort that the court should be hearing in the first place.  Conservatives on the Court in their dissents in the case- largely tout this as the basis on which the decision is wrong.  The case should never have been heard by the Supreme Court in the first place.  The majority disagreed and ruled on the merits.

What does this mean for bi-national LGBT families?

Immigration law provides for the ability of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (greencard holders) to file for or ‘petition’ for their immediate relatives—being defined as parents, children and spouses.  Because DOMA can no longer define marriage and override various state definitions of marriage, any marriage valid in any state or country becomes valid for immigration purposes.  Through our history, immigration law has accommodated various forms of marriage which relied on local definitions of the place where the marriage was entered into.  DOMA interrupted that history but now the location of a marriage again controls its validity.  If you married in Belgium or Massachusetts where same-sex marriage is legal- then these marriages are valid for immigration purposes. Your family can legally include your same sex husband or wife and your treatment by the various decision makers and agencies which interpret and enforce immigration laws will be exactly the same as any heterosexual family or couple.

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