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Government to review immigration petitions for same-sex couples

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. immigration officers will begin reviewing visa applications for same-sex spouses of American citizens, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday.

Her statement was in response to last week’s Supreme Court decision that found a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied certain federal benefits to same-sex couples, unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has directed federal agencies to begin reviewing their practices to ensure the court’s decision is swiftly implemented.

“To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse,” Napolitano said.

Previously, even if a gay or lesbian couple wed in one of the 12 states that allow same-sex marriage, they were prevented from benefiting from a federal provision that allows a non-American spouse of a U.S. citizen from applying for a work visa.

On its website, the Department of Homeland Security now tells same-sex couples they are permitted to file petitions for immigrant visas, and that those applications will no longer be automatically denied because the partners are of the same sex.

Legislation has been introduced over the past decade that would recognize same-sex partners for immigration purposes, though none has been successful. Same-sex couples in which one partner is a non-U.S. citizen have either moved to other countries or lived apart.

A 2011 student conducted by UCLA’s Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy found nearly 30,000 such couples had married in the United States.

Before Napolitano’s announcement, a gay couple in Florida had already had its visa application approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the pair’s lawyer.

Julian Marsh, an American citizen, successfully petitioned the government for a work visa for Traian Popov, a Bulgarian he married in New York in 2012.

Last week, the Office of Personnel Management sent a memorandum to various federal agencies informing them that same-sex spouses are now eligible for health insurance, life insurance and retirement coverage. The children of such couples also will be able to participate in many of the programs.