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Lawsuit seeks family immigration rights for married gay couples

A lawsuit was filed in Brooklyn federal court by immigration advocates on behalf of five gay married couples. All five include an American and their immigrant spouses from Spain, Japan, South Africa, Venezuela and England. The suit claims that current federal law prevents them from sponsoring their foreign-born spouse for a green card.

Though all five couples were legally married in states that recognize same-sex marriages, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, does not. Without the federal government recognizing gay and lesbian couples as legally married, they are unable to utilize their married status for immigration purposes like heterosexual couples do. According to the suit, the plaintiffs in this case meet all the qualifications for immediate family immigration benefits, except they are lesbian or gay. If they were straight, the federal government would automatically recognize the spouse as an immediate relative. The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and officials with the Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In 2010, a challenge to DOMA filed in Boston also denied gay married couples other benefits granted to hetero-married couples including filing joint tax returns. The states that recognize same-sex marriage include: Washington, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia.

Under normal circumstances, immigrants who marry a U.S. citizen can apply for a green card or permanent residency immediately. Heterosexual couples can also qualify for other benefits like fiancé visas and work authorization. The waiting period for a green card after marrying a U.S. citizen is usually six months to two years.

Source: The Washington Post, "NY lawsuit says Defense of Marriage Act denies immigration rights to married gay couples," April 3, 2012

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