An immigration judge in Newark, N.J., on Friday suspended the deportation of a Venezuelan man who is married to an American man, responding to an unusual signal this week from the Obama administration that it is exploring legal avenues for recognizing same-sex marriages in immigration cases.
The Venezuelan, Henry Velandia, had been awaiting the hearing with dread, since immigration authorities had said it was the last step before his deportation. Velandia, a dancer, was legally married last year in Connecticut to Josh Vandiver, a graduate student at Princeton. Velandia was denied legal residency as Vandiver’s spouse because under a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, immigration authorities do not recognize same-sex marriage.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. intervened in a different immigration case involving a same-sex couple, suspending the deportation of a man from Ireland and sending his case back to the immigration appeals court, asking it to consider several possible grounds on which the Irishman might qualify for legal residency.
Citing the move by the attorney general, Judge Alberto J. Riefkohl of immigration court in Newark postponed Velandia’s deportation until December at the earliest. The judge said he wanted to allow time for the attorney general and the appeals court to work out whether a gay partner might be eligible under some circumstances for residency.
Gay rights advocates said the back-to-back developments were an important sign that the Obama administration was working to bring consistency to its policy on same-sex marriage. The administration determined in February that the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates unconstitutionally against gay people.
Holder said then that the administration would no longer defend the act, also known as DOMA, in the courts, but would continue to enforce it until the courts reached a decision on whether it was constitutional.
Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal group that advocates for gay immigrants, said the change of course in the two cases had sent “a signal of openness” from the administration.
“Something is shifting and opening, and change is on the horizon,” Tiven said.
Supporters of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for the purposes of federal law as between a man and a woman, reacted strongly to Holder’s action.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the attorney general had “instructed an immigration court to ignore DOMA in future rulings.”
Smith said the administration was “coming dangerously close to giving the impression they don’t care what the law says.”