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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 22 September, 2014

Column: In a same-sex relationship with an American citizen? Here’s what you should know

Irish citizens in same-sex relationships with US citizens or green card holders have new US immigration rights. Here’s what you should know about the changes, writes Limerick-born immigration lawyer Caro Kinsella

Caro Kinsella

EVEN THOUGH GAY couples have been permitted to marry legally in certain parts of the United States since 2004, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) established specific prohibition against federal recognition of same-sex unions, only recognising heterosexual marriages. In 1996, US Congress passed DOMA and President Bill Clinton signed the discriminatory bill into law.

For nearly two decades DOMA’s sole function was to ensure that lawfully married gay and lesbian couples were excluded from the benefits and protections of federal marriage recognition. More than 1,100 federal provisions that were automatically given to heterosexual couples were denied to gay and lesbian couples, including immigration benefits.

DOMA ruled to unconstitutional

On June 26th the US Supreme Court found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be an unconstitutional exercise of federal authority and a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the United States Constitution.  The historic 5-4 decision established rights for same-sex bi-national couples in the US and all over the world.

On Tuesday, July 2 Janet Napolitano from the US Department of Homeland Security issued a statement affirming that married gay and lesbian couples will be treated equally and in the same fashion as heterosexual married couples by US immigration.

Napolitano stated that, “President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly.  To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

What you need to know

Since the well-celebrated decision, my office has received many inquires from same-sex couples both residing inside the States and abroad, interested in learning about how these changes affect their US  immigration options.

If you are in a same-sex relationship with an American citizen then your same sex spouse, fiancé, boyfriend or girlfriend now has the right to apply for US immigration benefits. These benefits include applying for your green card, fiancée visa, spouse visa or dependent visa respectively. Currently, 11 US states and the District of Columbia preform same sex marriages, starting August 1st 2013 Rhode Island and Minnesota will join those states bringing the total up to 30 per cent of the US population. For immigration purposes, as long as your marriage is valid in the state or country in which you were married, then you are permitted to apply for federal immigration benefits.

Irish citizens, who are in same-sex relationships, with US citizens or green card holders now have the same US immigration rights as  bi-national heterosexual couples.

To find out more about your US immigration rights or to find out about applying for US immigration benefits through your same-sex American partner contact my office to schedule a free legal consultation.

Caro Kinsella is an immigration lawyer, originally from Limerick and now living in Florida. You can learn more at her website here.

Read: Irish nurse first person ever to get US residence through same-sex marriage

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