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DOMA struck down: US gay couples can now get green cards for Indian spouses

New York: The fall of the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) will have a profound impact on the everyday lives of gay couples in America. For tens of thousands of gay couples where one partner is a foreigner — today's ruling will make for a happier future.

“At long last, it allows American gays and lesbians to apply for green cards or visas for a non-American same-sex partner,” Rohan Sooklall, a member of the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA), told Firstpost.

The Supreme Court dramatically advanced gay rights on Wednesday by directing the federal government to provide equal treatment to same-sex spouses and allow the resumption of gay marriages in California. The ruling also opens the immigration system to gay couples.

Britain, Canada, South Africa and most west European countries have immigration policies that recognise same-sex couples, but DOMA prevented US gays and lesbians from sponsoring green cards for their foreign partners.

Representational Image. Reuters

Representational Image. Reuters

If Americans fell in love with foreigners who didn’t have permanent residency they often had to avoid separations by leaving the US to live in a more gay-friendly country. It forced them to choose between love and country.

“Instead of heartbreak, we were planning to move to Canada when my work visa expires in January. But the Supreme Court ruling allows us to get married and stay right here in California,” said Sonal Patel, a data analyst who lives in San Francisco.

Patel has been in a relationship with an American architect, a woman she met five years ago in college when she came from India to do get a Masters degree in the US. “This is the happiest day of our lives,” added Patel.

There are nearly 30,000 binational same-sex couples — meaning one partner is a US citizen or permanent resident and one isn’t — but DOMA did not allow the former to petition visas and green cards for their spouses.

Wednesday's high court ruling means that once Patel weds, possibly as early as August, her American spouse can apply for permanent residence for her in the same way a straight couple can, putting her on a fast track towards a green card and citizenship.

It will take about a month before the marriages can begin in California, according to San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pledged to ensure that the ruling extends in practice to same-sex binational couples. She said her agency, which oversees the visa application process for all foreigners, will now allow US citizens to petition for their same-sex couples just like other married couples.

"This discriminatory law denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits," Napolitano said in a statement.

"Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today's decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws."

The impact of today's decision will not end there, stretching to the more mundane but equally important question of taxes, and the huge financial benefits that come with filing as a married couple.

Lesbian widow Edith Windsor, 84, sued the federal government after she was forced to pay additional estate taxes because it did not recognise her marriage to Thea Spyer under DOMA. According to media reports, Windsor will now be able to claim a $363,000 tax refund, plus interest.

Just after 11 am on Wednesday President Barack Obama who is on his way to Africa called from Air Force to congratulate Windsor: “I wanted to thank you. I think your coming out for us made such a difference throughout the country.”

Obama declared support for same-sex marriage last year and he championed gay rights at his inauguration in January. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalised same-sex marriage, six of them in the last year. Thirty five US states don't allow gay marriage.

Updated Date: Jun 27, 2013 08:58 AM

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