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By Jill Dougherty and Tom Cohen
(CNN) – Legally married same-sex spouses seeking U.S. visas will now be treated the same as opposite-sex spouses, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday.
Kerry told a meeting with consular staff in London that the change means that his department was “tearing down an unjust and an unfair barrier that for too long stood in the way of same-sex families being able to travel as a family to the United States.”
Beginning immediately, same-sex spouses of both U.S. citizens and foreigners will be treated equally as opposite-sex spouses, Kerry explained.
“As long as a marriage has been performed in a jurisdiction that recognizes it so that it is legal, then that marriage is legal under U.S. law, and every married couple would be treated exactly the same,” he said.
A State Department official told CNN on condition of not being identified that the change was expected to immediately affect up to 100 applicants. The official said the department expected the number of applicants from same-sex spouses to increase with expanded awareness of the new policy.
Kerry’s announcement followed a June ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a key part of a law that denied legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits provided heterosexual spouses.
On a 5-4 vote, the high court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Under DOMA, Social Security, pension and bankruptcy benefits, along with family medical leave protections and other federal provisions, did not apply to gay and lesbian couples legally married in states that recognize such unions.
At issue was whether DOMA violated equal protection guarantees in the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause as applied to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their states.