Agency to continue rejecting green-card applications from same-sex couples

U.S. citizens will not be able to obtain immigration benefits for same-sex spouses who are foreign, federal authorities announced Wednesday, dashing the hopes of gay-marriage advocates who had thought the Obama administration had handed them a victory this week.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services resumed its practice Wednesday of automatically rejecting applications from same-sex couples, after the agency had been putting such applications on hold for more than a week.

Gay rights groups have long demanded that same-sex couples be given the same rights as heterosexuals to sponsor their foreign national spouses for green cards and obtain other immigration benefits. They are barred, however, under the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for the purposes of federal benefits as exclusively between a man and a woman.

Last month, the Obama administration announced that it no longer thought the statute was constitutional but said the law would remain in place unless repealed by Congress or invalidated by the courts. Still, immigration authorities had put on hold the processing of applications from same-sex couples until certain legal matters could be sorted out.

On Wednesday, Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Christopher S. Bentley said the legal issues had been resolved, but he declined to elaborate.

“We have received the guidance which precipitated the hold,” Bentley said in an e-mail. “We are continuing to enforce the law per the President’s directive.”

The announcement brings to a close several days of confusion and speculation by gay rights groups, which had thought the same-sex couples were getting a more long-term reprieve. Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of the advocacy group Immigration Equality, had hailed the hold as “a sign that relief is finally on the way” for foreign nationals who face deportation because their same-sex spouses cannot sponsor them for legal residency.

Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the group, said advocates had thought — based on media reports and conversations with reporters — that the hold would remain in place until the courts ruled on the federal ban. He said they were disappointed Wednesday to learn that the old policy would continue.

“The reality is that because of [immigration officials’] announcement today, there are going to be families torn apart,” Ralls said.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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