This directive follows a landmark Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, declaring that same-sex couples who are legally married deserve equal rights to benefits under federal law that opposite sex married couples have access to. Until DOMA was overruled, only marriages between a man and a woman were recognized under immigration law as a real marriage, defining a family as one man, one woman, and children. Because of this, only couples of different genders could sponsor their spouses for U.S. visas and green cards. With the overrule of DOMA, federal agencies such as the USCIS and the IRS will now have to upgrade their guidelines of family and spousal rights.
For immigration, this will have monumental impact, on visa and green card processing and review from both within the U.S. and outside the U.S., at consulates and embassies located around the world.
According to the Williams Institute in California, there are an estimated 28,500 binational same-sex couples and nearly 11,500 same-sex couples with neither partner being a U.S. national. None of these couples have been eligible to use the immigration preferences available to same-sex couples until the overrule of DOMA. On Friday, June 28th, the first visa petition for a same-sex couple was approved for two Florida men, a Bulgarian immigrant and his American husband.
DOMA is no doubt an important landmark case for civil rights in the U.S. and will continue to push the justice system to redefine old laws and policy.