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Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Last Updated: 
Fri, Oct 11, 2013

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Section 3 had defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This section resulted in barring lesbian and gay U.S. citizens and residents from filing immigrant petitions for their spouses, as well precluding noncitizens from applying for other immigration protections based on a marriage involving a lesbian or gay noncitizen.

In the two years leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision, the LAC supported litigation efforts to challenge DOMA, engaged in administrative advocacy, and issued practice advisories and provided technical assistance to lawyers on strategies to assist noncitizen clients in same-sex marriages. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the LAC collaborated with Immigration Equality on a practice advisory highlighting issues LGBT families will face in a post-DOMA world. 



Letters to Department of Homeland Security, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Department of Justice Urging Interim Relief Pending Final Resolution of Section 3 of DOMA (submitted Apr. 6, 2011). Following the Obama Administration’s February 2011 announcement that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, AILA and AIC, joined by dozens of other organizations, urged the Administration to adopt interim measures in immigration cases involving marriages to a lesbian or gay noncitizen. Such interim measures are needed to maintain the status quo until there is a final judicial or legislative resolution regarding Section 3 of DOMA.


LAC and Immigration Equality Practice Advisory: Immigration Benefits and Pitfalls for LGBT Families in a Post-DOMA World (Updated Aug. 5, 2013): In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. With the end of DOMA, married LGBT binational couples can access the panoply of marriage-based immigration benefits and forms of relief from removal. This practice advisory provides an overview of the agencies’ initial responses to Windsor and highlights some of the issues LGBT families will face in a post-DOMA world.

Press Release: American Immigration Council Applauds DOMA Decision (June 26, 2013)

LAC Practice Advisory: Prosecutorial Discretion: How to Advocate for Your Client (June 24, 2011).

Immigration Equality and AILA Practice Pointer: Prosecutorial Discretion and LGBT Families (posted Jan. 25, 2012).

IPC Fact Sheet: Immigration and Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): A Q&A Fact Check (August 18, 2011). 

Letter from Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, to John H. Boehner, Speaker, U.S. House of Representative, Re: Defense of Marriage Act (Feb. 23, 2011).


Former Attorney General Gets it Wrong on DOMA and Same Sex Immigration Benefits (July 19, 2013)

Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision Good for Economic Competitiveness (July 17, 2013)

USCIS Approves First Green Cards for Same Sex Couples (July 15, 2013)

Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, Affirms Immigration Rights of Gay and Lesbian Couples (June 26, 2013)

How the Supreme Court Decision on DOMA Will Impact Immigration Law (March 26, 2013)

Appellate Court Hears Arguments in Case Challenging DOMA, Bi-National Married Couples File New Suit (April 10, 2012)

Pending a Resolution of DOMA, Immigration Judges Should Exercise Discretion to Stay Removal Cases (June 13, 2011)