Celebrating Nine Years of Marriage Equality: How Obergefell v. Hodges Transformed U.S. Immigration

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Celebrating Nine Years of Marriage Equality: How Obergefell v. Hodges Transformed U.S. Immigration

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On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges[1] that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. This decision marked a significant milestone in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights and equality, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, could marry the person they love. As we celebrate the nine-year anniversary of this pivotal decision, it’s important to reflect on how this decision has also profoundly impacted U.S. immigration law, allowing U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to petition for their same-sex spouses for immigration benefits.

The Historical Context of Obergefell v. Hodges

The Obergefell v. Hodges was a milestone in the fight for marriage equality in the United States. prior to this decision, same-sex marriage was a patchwork of legality across the United States. Some states recognized same-sex marriages, while others did not, creating significant legal inconsistencies and hardships for same-sex couples. This disparity was particularly pronounced in the realm of immigration, where federal recognition of marriage is crucial for spousal immigration benefits.

The Obergefell decision arose from multiple lawsuits challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision held that state bans on same-sex marriage and refusal to recognize such marriages performed in other jurisdictions violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. This ruling ensured that same-sex couples have the same legal right to marry as opposite-sex couples, marking a significant step toward equality and justice.

Impact on Immigration Law

The Obergefell ruling had an immediate and profound impact on U.S. immigration law. Prior to this decision, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA),[2] which was partially struck down by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor,[3] prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for immigration purposes. Even after Windsor, immigration benefits for same-sex couples were limited to those married in states where such marriages were legal.

With Obergefell, same-sex marriages were recognized nationwide, removing the legal barriers that had previously prevented many couples from accessing immigration benefits in both family-and employment-based cases. This decision meant that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) could now sponsor their same-sex spouses and/or include their spouses as beneficiaries for visas and green cards, just as opposite-sex couples had long been able to do.

Navigating the New Legal Landscape

Post-Obergefell, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) updated their policies to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling. This included recognizing same-sex marriages for all immigration benefits, provided the marriage was legally valid in the place where it was celebrated. For binational couples, this decision was life-changing, allowing them to build their lives together in the United States without fear of separation due to immigration issues.

One significant consideration is that the marriage must be legally recognized in the place it was celebrated. This means that if a same-sex couple married abroad in a country where same-sex marriage is legal, their marriage would be recognized by USCIS for immigration purposes.

Overcoming Challenges

Despite the advancements made by Obergefell, same-sex couples can still face unique challenges in the immigration process. For example, in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, couples may face difficulties obtaining the necessary documentation or attending consular interviews. Additionally, proving the bona fides of a marriage can be more challenging for same-sex couples, particularly if they have faced societal or familial discrimination.

In these cases, it is crucial for couples to work with an experienced immigration attorney who can help navigate these complexities and ensure that all necessary evidence is provided to establish the validity of the marriage.

Impact on Asylum Cases

The Obergefell decision has also had significant implications for asylum cases involving LGBTQIA+ individuals. Asylum seekers may flee persecution in their home countries based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The recognition of same-sex marriages in the U.S. strengthened the credibility of claims involving LGBTQIA+ persecution and provided a safer and more supportive environment for those seeking asylum.

Asylum seekers must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country due to their sexual orientation. With the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers can now present their cases with the assurance that their relationships will be legally recognized and respected. This legal recognition helps to substantiate their claims of persecution and the need for protection in the U.S., thereby improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Protections for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Certain Qualifying Crimes

The Obergefell decision also has broader implications for other types of immigration cases, such as U visas and cases under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provide protections for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, abuse, and certain qualifying crimes.

U visas are available to victims of certain crimes who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. For LGBTQIA+ individuals, the nationwide recognition of same-sex marriages means that they can more confidently report crimes and seek protection under the U visa program without fear of discrimination based on their marital status or sexual orientation.

Similarly, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides protections for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. VAWA allows abused spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens or LPRs to self-petition for legal status in the United States. Post-Obergefell, same-sex spouses who are victims of domestic violence are explicitly included in these protections, ensuring they can seek safety and legal status without facing additional barriers due to their sexual orientation. The Obergefell ruling enables LGBTQIA+ victims to seek these protections without fear of discrimination based on their marital status or sexual orientation, ensuring they can access safety and legal protections without facing additional barriers.

Looking Ahead

As we celebrate the nine-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, it is important to recognize the ongoing struggles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly in the realm of immigration. While significant progress has been made, there is still work to be done to ensure full equality and protection for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Advocacy and awareness remain critical components in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. By continuing to push for inclusive policies and challenging discriminatory practices, we can honor the legacy of Obergefell and work towards a future where all individuals are free to love and live without fear of discrimination.


The Obergefell v. Hodges decision was a watershed moment in U.S. history, securing marriage equality for same-sex couples and profoundly impacting U.S. immigration law. By recognizing same-sex marriages nationwide, the Supreme Court ensured that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents could petition for their spouses for immigration benefits, allowing countless couples to build their lives together in the United States.

For immigrants and their loved ones, understanding the implications of Obergefell is essential; and as we reflect on the past nine years, it is clear that the fight for equality is ongoing. By continuing to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and support those navigating the immigration system, we can help create a more inclusive and just society for all. If you or someone you know is seeking immigration benefits for a same-sex spouse, consulting with an experienced immigration attorney can provide the guidance and support needed to successfully navigate this complex legal landscape.

Remember, the fight for equality and justice continues, and together, we can build a more inclusive and welcoming future for all.



Please note: This overview is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. For personalized assistance with immigration matters, please consult a qualified immigration attorney.

[1] 576 U.S. 644 (2015).

[2] Pub.L. 104–199, 110 Stat. 2419, enacted September 21, 1996, 1 U.S.C. § 7 and 28 U.S.C. § 1738C.

[3] 570 U.S. 744 (2013).

 ¡Noticias Emocionantes! Joseph & Hall PC se complace en anunciar nuestra nueva serie de Facebook Live dedicada a discutir los beneficios de inmigración recién anunciados para cónyuges de ciudadanos de…



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