Same-Sex Marriage Valid Based on Place of Marriage

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) recently sustained an appeal of a family-based petition for a same-sex couple. In this case, Matter of Zeleniak, the BIA found that same-sex married couples may be eligible to apply for immigration benefits under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) if they were married in a state that recognizes such marriages. This decision is a direct result of the June 26, 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor that struck down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Background: DOMA No Longer a Barrier to Immigration Benefits

As explained in NewsBrief, DOMA and Immigration Benefits (8.July.2013), the Supreme Court held that the provisions in Section 3 of DOMA were unconstitutional. Section 3 limited the definition of marriage for purposes of federal law, to only those between one man and one woman. Thus, under DOMA, same-sex couples were denied U.S. immigration benefits, even if the couples were considered legally married under state or foreign law.

BIA Implements DOMA Ruling

The Zeleniak case involved two men, a U.S. citizen and a foreign national, who were married in Vermont, where same-sex marriages are permitted under state law. The U.S. citizen spouse filed an I-130 relative petition on behalf of his husband, but prior to the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, the case was denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on the restrictive definition of marriage under DOMA. Following a lengthy procedural history, and after Section 3 of DOMA was struck down, the BIA ultimately ruled that DOMA “…is no longer an impediment to the recognition of lawful same-sex marriages and spouses under the Immigration and Nationality Act if the marriage is valid under the laws of the State where it was celebrated.” This cleared the way for the USCIS to approve the I-130.

Conclusion: Other Immigration Benefits for Couples

The BIA noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor applies to a variety of immigration benefit provisions that are contingent on spousal relationship. The BIA’s ruling in Zeleniak is yet another step in the implementation of the Windsor decision. There are many more such cases in which benefits and relief previously were denied for failure to recognize same-sex spousal relationships. Individuals who have received such denials may now have options that did not exist previously because of DOMA. The Murthy Law Firm is available to guide and assist couples who have questions regarding how the Windsor and Zeleniak decisions may have cleared the way for them to apply for U.S. immigration benefits.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.