179703554SACRAMENTO — A recent federal decision relieved a binational gay couple of the fear of deportation.

Tom Knutson and Phan Datthuyawat have been together for 20 years and got married in 2008, but Datthuyawat, from Thailand, hasn’t been able to visit his ailing 84-year-old mother because he can’t leave the country and return legally without a green card, according to The Sacramento Bee.

On Oct. 15, however, a United States Customs and Immigrations Service official approved giving Datthuyawat a green card, making him and Knutson one of the first binational gay couples to have their marriage recognized by federal government officials. Officials denied Datthuyawat’s petition for a green card in January.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, foreign-born gay and lesbian partners of American citizens had legal ground to petition for a green card. The fear of deportation is justifiable for immigrant same-sex couples who don’t have their papers. The Sacramento Bee reported Luxembourger Pascale Fusshoeller was ordered to be deported after a traffic stop earlier this month and is battling to stay in the U.S. with her American-born wife.

The USCIS said it is now processing same-sex marriages the same way as opposite-sex unions and does not differentiate by orientation. However, length of marriage remains a factor. If a couple has been married for less than two years, the government will subject them to more scrutiny to ensure there is no marriage fraud. That can work against same-sex couples who could not marry legally or were reluctant to come forward and publicize the nature of their unions.