Before U.S. lawmakers decide whether they will address same-sex couples in a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill, the Supreme Court could make the decision for them.
The high court faces a choice this month to uphold or strike down all or parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. If DOMA is struck down, gay marriage advocates will view it as an unambiguously positive outcome for their cause because, in part, it also resolves the question of whether the immigration law can apply to same-sex couples.
“For the first time in immigration equality’s history, our legal team is now assisting couples in preparing their green card applications,” said Steve Ralls, the communications director at the advocacy group Immigration Equality. “We’re definitely preparing couples. The court ruling and the backup plan of congressional legislation make us confident more so than at any other time.”
But a court decision has its downsides as well. Although the Obama administration is likely to implement the court’s decision in a way favorable to gay marriage advocates, a future administration might not.
If DOMA is upheld or if the court’s ruling on the constitutionality of a federal definition of marriage is less clear, the result could be continued legal uncertainty for gay couples. One way Democrats in the Senate and gay marriage advocates have hoped to resolve this is by attaching an amendment to the immigration bill that would give same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples under the immigration law.
But Democrats face an uphill struggle in Congress where Republicans have staunchly opposed the inclusion of a same-sex marriage amendment in the immigration bill. A principal Republican sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Thursday he would walk away from his own immigration bill if a same-sex marriage amendment is included.
With the court’s final decision fast approaching, here are some ways the issue could shake out: