LESBIAN IMMIGRANTS ALLOWED TO CHALLENGE DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT

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An important federal ruling has just been issued which declares that a lesbian couple facing immigration troubles has the standing to challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) because it violates the constitutional rights of immigrants in same-sex marriages.  According to the Ventura County Star, the U.S. District Judge also ordered that a lawsuit, filed last year on behalf of Philippines citizen Jane DeLeon and her spouse Irma Rodgiguez, can proceed as a class-action case.

In her lawsuit, DeLeon claimed that she was eligible to obtain a green card, but wasn’t able to get a waiver she needs to obtain residency here because the U.S. government doesn’t recognize her same-sex marriage to an American.  The lawsuit was filed by the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.  Their president, Peter Schey, claimed he hopes the decision will lead the government to reconsider visa application by same-sex couples.

DeLeon has asserted that her visa application was denied solely because “we have a same-sex marriage.”  This case is but one of a number of challenges brought by same-sex couples – some facing immigration troubles – over the 1996 law that prohibits the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages, which is now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

SUPREMES TO WEIGH DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT

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This past Friday, the United States Supreme Court considered ten cases that stood pending before the court, that could have a sweeping impact on the definition of marriage in the United States and on same-sex couples’ right to wed.  However, many legal experts believe that two of them are most likely for the court to actually consider.

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, as it is called, has recently been struck down by two federal appeals court.  This means the Supremes are all but obligated to at least look at one of the cases to settle the dispute between Congress and the courts.

The case that appears most likely for the justices to pick is Windsor v. United States, which challenges the Defense of Marriage act, a law that Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law in 1996.  DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex married couples, even those in states that allow gay marriage.

The Windsor case was filed by Edith Windsor, a New York resident who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes after her wife died because the feds wouldn’t recognize their marriage as valid.  New York is one of nine states (plus the District of Columbia) where gay marriage is legal.  The plaintiff argues that the federal government is discriminating against her by not recognizing her state-sanctioned marriage.

The main issue in the case appears to be equal protection under the law, which is guaranteed under the 14th amendment.  In her pleadings, Windsor argues that by singling out same-sex marriages and treating them differently from other marriages, the federal government is in violation of their rights.  Windsor further argues that since marriage has traditionally been regulated by the state, the feds have no business interfering with New York’s definition of marriage.

Should DOMA be struck down, the decision will widely affect gay couples who marry in states that recognize same-sex nuptials.  Most importantly, however, they would begin to qualify for the same federal marriage benefits other couples receive, such as Social Security benefits and tax breaks.