On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing same-sex couples to marry in many states throughout the country.
While many immediately took to the streets to celebrate, some were left asking, “What does that mean for immigrants looking for long-term plans to live in the U.S.?”
The nation’s highest court reinforced same sex couples’ right to marry across 13 states, including California, thereby creating a path for documented LGBT to sponsor their undocumented partners.
This represents a huge win for Long Beach’s diverse immigrant community and LGBT community, which is among the largest in the state.
“We have an incredibly large, strong and vibrant LGBTQ community,” said Porter Gilberg, administrative director of The Center. “Marriage equality is now the law of the land in California. This will have a tremendous impact on bi-national couples in Long Beach as they now that they can be sponsored for citizenship.”
The first same-sex visa petition was approved last Friday for a gay couple in Florida. The ruling’s impact was felt locally.
“It’s such a great time to be alive. We are really seeing such pivotal change in our communities,” commented Miguel Montalva, activist with the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC).
Montalva is one of Long Beach’s many ‘undocuqeers’ –individuals who are undocumented and identify as LGBT. He adds that the court’s decision has been long overdue.
“It’s about time that this happened, we’ve been waiting long enough,” Montalva said. “People can now petition to sponsor their spouse. This is a benefit that has always existed for opposite sex marriages, but has been denied to same sex relationships.”
Many in the community shared similar sentiments. “We have rights now. Not only to get married but to be heard,” said Jackie Valdez, Long Beach native and activist with Transgenders in Action. “I think I’m going to get married. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 12 years.”
Gilberg’s Center will soon partner with LBIRC to host workshops to guide Long Beach’s undocuqueers through the process. “The community is going to have a lot of questions,” Gilberg noted.
Since the ruling, eligible immigrants have begun filing petitions.
“I have directed the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigrant visa petitions filed on behalf of a same sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite sex spouse,” Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano announced last week.
Gay Marriage Has Limits for Immigrants
The Supreme Court ruling will benefit the 28,500 binational same-sex couples who were denied a legal path due to DOMA; many of them raise children here in the U.S. As the move represents a strong step forward for LGBT citizens and immigrants, a series of hurdles remain.
The ruling rids one key provision in DOMA, which LGBT advocates say still needs to be fully overturned. The court allowed gay marriages in California by striking down Proposition 8 in a separate ruling, but that also has limits. “The rulings do not require all same sex marriages to be recognized in other states,” Gilberg said.
But citizenship or a green card through marriage also means navigating through the bureaucratic maze of the immigration system. The process could still take over a decade to finalize.
“You are still bound to policies that heterosexual couples are bound to,” Montalva said.“This doesn’t automatically expedite the process. If you came with a visa that expired, you may have a different wait or process, so there can be a three or 10-year bar,” he said.
This weary process still includes the series of interviews and different requirements to prove the marriage is legitimate.
And while many LGBT immigrants celebrated the Fourth of July with a more secure sense of equality, for some others, the DOMA ruling came a little too late as many have been deported or gone through tedious lengths to remain here.
Overall, however, Montalva and Gilberg said the rulings mean a big victory for their community.
“We’re going to have rights. It can help and it can’t help,” Valdez said. “[Marriage] has to be with someone who you’re going to live with for a long time.”
If you are undocumented and LGBT, find a safe space to express yourself here in Long Beach: http://lbirc.org/programs/undocuqueer-program/
Or contact the Center for more information:
2017 E. 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814 or call (562) 434-4455
FAQ for having a Same Sex Marriage: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/150613013?access_key=key-y9cyrepko3qt2vh9jjc&allow_share=true
Fact Sheet on Same Sex Marriage Benefits: http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/after-doma-what-it-means-you