Shaun Stent and his husband John Catuara were up early Wednesday at their Redondo Beach home, glued to a blog that was posting U.S. Supreme Court updates as they awaited news of a ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
It came around 7 a.m. Pacific time: a decision to strike down a key section of the 1996 law, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The law also prevented U.S. citizens from sponsoring a foreign-born spouse for an immigrant visa, as heterosexual spouses can.
Hours later, Stent, a British citizen married to an American, said he was still in disbelief.
"John is elated, he's been laughing and crying with me, but with me it took longer, because there have been so many times that I thought we won a victory and it was repealed, or something happened at the last minute," said Stent, 46. "All morning I've been going through blogs and things, just checking that this this is real."
By a vote of 5 to 4, the court ruled unconstitutional a section of the law that barred same-sex married couples from federal benefits, including immigration benefits.
This clears the way for same-sex couples to sponsor an immigrant spouse or fiancé(e), said Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney and a founder of The DOMA Project, which advocates for gay and lesbian bi-national couples.
“Any gay or lesbian American citizen who is married to a foreign national can file a petition for a green card, or file a fiance(e) visa petition if they are not yet married, and those petitions must be approved," Soloway said. "Their marriages must be recognized just the same as marriages of opposite–sex couples.”
The federal Immigration and Nationality Act doesn't define marriage by gender. But some experts warn couples could still face legal hurdles unless recognition of same-sex marriages is codified in immigration law. On Wednesday, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano issued a statement saying her department would implement the court's decision so that all married couples will be treated equally in the administration of immigration laws.
The Supreme Court also struck down California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
The court's decision has no effect on laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in other states.