In July 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the landmark rulings that struck down both Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This monumental change in the law affected all gay couples across the country but held even greater significance for immigrants in same-sex relationships.
The two decisions made 10 years ago suddenly allowed, for the first time, LGBTQ immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens to marry in California and obtain their legal status through the U.S. immigration process.
Following the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security announced that immigrants in same-sex marriages would be allowed to file for permanent residency or a “green card”. The Immigration Service approved petitions immediately, a trend that has continued for the last 10 years.
Many couples had waited for years for this change in the law. At that time and even now, a significant number of couples experienced life-changing improvements due to the landmark ruling.
Piotr and Littleton
One such couple is Piotr and Littleton.
Piotr, a dancer and choreographer from Poland, and Littleton, a dedicated artist and author from South Carolina, have navigated language barriers, cultural differences, physical disparities (with Littleton standing at 6’4″ and Piotr at 5’4″), and financial constraints. Despite these challenges, their love thrived.
Love was not enough
The immigration barrier remained unresolved. Piotr did not have the legal right to stay in the country, and there was no way for him to obtain it.
When a minister conducted their first “wedding” in 2007, it was not legally valid—even in California. The following year, when California adopted gay marriage, the federal government still did not recognize it for another five years. This meant Piotr could not do what all other immigrants married to a U.S. citizen could: obtain permanent residency through his marriage.
That all changed in 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and Prop 8.
Now, Piotr is on the path to becoming a U.S. citizen, like most spouses of U.S. citizens.
Their process is similar to that of most couples with an immigrant partner. They need to file a series of financial and other documents and biographical forms with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security. After a criminal background check and a relatively short wait, they will likely be scheduled for an interview with an immigration officer at the USCIS office in San Francisco. The purpose of the interview is to confirm that their marriage is genuine.
If all goes well, the immigrant can expect to receive their green card shortly after the interview. Three years later, they can apply for U.S. citizenship.
Immigration reform for couples like Littleton and Piotr
The Supreme Court decision 10 years ago signified the arrival of “immigration reform” for many LGBTQ immigrants. Before that, I had many gay clients who searched relentlessly for a way to stay in this country, together and legally. Now, gay couples have that opportunity, and the country is better for it.
Piotr and Littleton are relieved and grateful that Piotr is on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen. “Our story is one of resilience, love, and growth,” says Littleton. “It reminds us that love can transcend cultural and ethnic differences and triumph over considerable adversity.”
In fact, theirs is a truly American story.
Christopher A. Kerosky has practiced immigration law for over 25 years and is currently a Professor of Law at Empire College of Law. He is a former member of the Sonoma County Human Rights Commission.