Shawn Sanders of Anchorage, Alaska, and Jocelyn Guzman, of Mexico — one of the first gay couples married in Clark County — have been separated since March because of the Defense of Marriage Act. The federal law, largely struck down Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, barred Sanders from sponsoring Guzman for a green card. After the couple married, immigration officials said Guzman could no longer continue to enter the country on her tourist visa, and she couldn't enter as the spouse of a U.S. citizen because the federal government didn't recognize the couple's marriage.
"I had to put her on a plane back to Mexico in March,"
Sanders said. "Today changes a whole lot of things. I will apply for a green card for her."
The demise of DOMA opens the way for gay spouses to receive the more than 1,000 federal rights, benefits and obligations of marriage that heterosexual couples already had, said attorney David Ward of Seattle's Legal Voice. That includes filing joint federal tax returns and sharing Social Security benefits.
The ability to sponsor one's spouse to apply for legal residency will be one of the most life-changing for some same-sex couples, Ward said.
Andre Olivie, an immigration attorney in Seattle, said the ruling doesn't specify how immigration law will apply to couples such as Sanders and Guzman who marry in a state with marriage equality but live in a state where gay marriage is illegal. However, the only past obstacle to immigration of same-sex spouses of citizens was DOMA. As long as the couple has a legal marriage from some jurisdiction in the United States, they should be able to apply for residency of a noncitizen spouse, he said.
"We are assuming they will accept the applications because the reason they were denying it before was DOMA," he said.
"We are very excited," he said. "We have couples who have been waiting for a long time for this."
About 350 same-sex couples have married in Clark County since marriage equality took effect Dec. 6 in Washington, according to county records.
Hanna Perez, chair of Equality Southwest Washington, said many in the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are in a state of disbelief.
"People in the LGBT community never expected to get married, never expected to have their commitments recognized or validated," she said. "Having it not just on the state level but on the federal level will affect everything."
For instance, she said, same-sex marriages will for the first time be counted in the census.