The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage will make it easier and less costly for many foreign nationals to obtain immigration benefits through marriage. In an historic 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled last Friday in Obergefell v. Hodges that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriages, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing that gay couples have a right to exercise “the fundamental right to marry.”
The legal recognition of LGBT rights has come a long way. Only in 1990 did Congress remove from the Immigration and Nationality Act the ground of inadmissibility (i.e., ineligibility for a visa or admission to the United States) for being gay. Two years ago, the Supreme Court issued its momentous ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as strictly heterosexual. That led to federal recognition of same-sex marriages for immigration purposes but left the legal status of same-sex marriage up to each state.
So, for example, before the Obergefell ruling, a U.S. citizen K-1 petitioner was required to prove that the marriage to the foreign fiance(e) would take place in a state where marriage was legal. Traveling to a state where gay marriage was legal could be an especially steep expense for people living in the South, since many surrounding states didn’t recognize the practice. Those expenses should be reduced now that the Court has ruled the Constitution requires all states to license same-sex marriages.
Justice is a never-ending pursuit, but the Court’s ruling is an important moment to reflect how far we’ve come.