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Marriage Equality: A Constitutional Right

The landmark decision of Obergefell v. Hodges issued on June 26, 2015 has now opened the door to so many more benefits to same-sex couples that deserve the same rights that straight marriages are afforded. This decision compels all 50 states and its territories including Puerto Rico to recognize and administer same-sex marriages. This ruling not only brings recognition and dignity among all same-sex couples, it also provided a precious opportunity for many immigrant partners to legalize their statuses and start a life in a country they love and call home. The right to marry in Texas will now afford many individuals the opportunity to apply for legal permanent residency and eventually U.S. citizenship.

Same-sex couples with an undocumented partner living in South Texas have been in an unusual indefinite ‘holding zone’ for years. Traveling out of areas known as The Rio Grande Valley a.k.a. “Valley”, to other states that allow same-sex marriage, to marry their US Citizen partner had been impossible because of the fear of being deported by agents at immigration checkpoints on South Texas highways and airports. The recent Supreme Court landmark ruling on June 26, 2015 now paves the way for such couples to marry within the boundaries of such areas like the Rio Grande Valley and obtain the rightful immigration status.

The Valley is treated as a pseudo México due to large hispanic immigrant population and its proximity to the border. There is a checkpoint on the major highway in Falfurrias, Texas where travelers must stop and declare their immigration status before they enter the ‘real U.S.’. Even at the Rio Grande Valley airports, Customs and Border Patrol agents inquire traveler’s immigration status when going through the security gate.

Prior to this landmark Supreme Court decision Texas was the only state bordering Mexico that did not recognize same sex marriage.This meant that an individual from the Rio Grande Valley who was in a relationship with a same-sex partner who is a U.S. citizen could never seek lawful permanent resident status based on that relationship because getting married in Texas was not an option and because of the impossibility of traveling to a neighboring state. Until yesterday, these individuals were essentially trapped in the Rio Grande Valley as traveling to engage in such marriage involved a large risk in being detained by immigration officials either in the Falfurrias, Texas checkpoint or at an airport. Many of them had to seek other avenues of relief that are without a doubt more complicated.

With this new ruling, same sex couples can now get married in the Valley as they are now given due process and equal protection afforded by the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For some, this right to marry was all they needed to apply for legal permanent residency through an Adjustment of Status application. For them, Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status is now as close as 6 months away and U.S. citizenship as soon as three years after LPR Status is granted. For others, this is just the first step in a process that may require a waiver or pardon for entering without inspection. Though this process is not easy, the mere fact that they now have the opportunity to have their case heard is a step in the right direction. They now have an expectation of being afforded the same rights and opportunities that straight couples have in the immigration process.

All in all, even though I now live in New York City, I still call the Rio Grande Valley my home. I’m happy to see that this landmark case will now allow people from all over the U.S. to marry—especially people from the Valley. Soon, many same-sex partners will be able to travel through any immigration checkpoint without fear and with the dignity they deserve.

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