Supreme Court 2015 Decision on Marriage Equality a Boon to Binational Couples in the U.S.

Immigrant Couples No Longer Need Travel to Another State to Gain Right to Apply for Green Card

The Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, issued Friday, June 26, 2015, isn't the first to offer non-citizens the right to obtain U.S. lawful permanent residency (a green card) based on a same-sex marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

But it's hugely significant nonetheless, with its ruling that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a nationwide right to same-sex marriage. In other words, non-citizens who live in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage (or didn't!) no longer have to figure out which states do, what its laws say about non-residents marrying there, and how that out-of-state marriage impacts other legal aspects of their lives. They can either marry in their home state, or count on their home state recognizing their out-of-state marriage.

Here are the exact, straightforward words of the Supreme Court's summary holding: "The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State."

As reported on Nolo.com, the 2013 decision in U.S. v. Windsor was the first groundbreaking moment for same-sex binational couples. By striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), it removed the primary obstacle blocking rights to a green card, a fiance visa (which leads to a green card), or various nonimmigrant visas for accompanying spouses, based on a same-sex relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Overnight, with DOMA essentially gone, rules for marriage-based visas or green cards as well as nonimmigrant visas that had applied only to opposite-sex couples came to include same-sex couples, so long as their marriage was legally valid and recognized in the state or country where it took place. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications immediately thereafter.

But it wasn't a complete solution for couples who lived in states where same-sex marriage wasn't recognized. Many didn't understand that a marriage outside their state made them eligible for federal immigration benefits. Others were frustrated at having to figure out the requirements for marrying in another state, travel there and perhaps spend a minimum amount of time to establish “residency,” and then puzzle out where that left them, legally, within their own state.

Simplicity reigns at last. And if you're worried that this isn't the end of the matter, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, gave his all toward silencing ongoing debate, saying: "There may be an initial inclination to await further legislation, litigation, and debate, but referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns; studies and other writings; and extensive litigation in state and federal courts have led to an enhanced understanding of the issue. While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right."