Spouses in same-sex marriages will be given the same consideration in visa applications as those in heterosexual unions, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday.
The change was prompted by a review of U.S. government policies after the Supreme Court ruled against parts of the Defense of Marriage Act in June.
“As long as a marriage has been performed in a jurisdiction that recognizes it, so that it is legal, then that marriage is valid under U.S. immigration laws, and every married couple will be treated exactly the same,” Kerry said.
Gay rights groups cheered the change.
“We are relieved and pleased,” said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a nonprofit group that advocates for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “It brings a clarity that gay and lesbian couples around the world have been waiting for.”
Since the Supreme Court ruling June 26, same-sex couples have been showing up at American embassies and consulates around the world seeking visas, only to be told that local authorities couldn’t act until they received guidance from the State Department, Tiven said.
“There was a lot of frustration,” she said. “We heard (from) more people in the first week after the ruling than all of last year.”
Tiven said her group had received more than 2,000 inquires on the issue.
Overall numbers are hard to pin down, but Tiven estimated that tens of thousands of people could be affected by the change in State Department policy.
There are about 26,000 same-sex couples in the United States with one partner who is not a U.S. citizen. The State Department ruling would apply only to part of that group – those who have been legally married. More than 16 countries allow same-sex marriage or have approved measures that have not yet taken effect.
In the last decade, some of those noncitizens have been deported even though they were legally married. Many others have been in legal limbo, with one partner living undocumented in the United States. Some couples have left the country to be somewhere they can work and live legally.
The new policy is effective immediately.
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