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Immigration Rights: Soon For Same-Sex Couples?

June 4, 2009

GAY_IMMIGRATIONX390When I was a senior in college, I attended a lecture/performance by Tim Miller, a queer performance artist. Among other things, I remember Miller discussing the struggles he encountered keeping his Australian partner in the U.S. Despite all my previous interest and involvement in LGBT civil rights, this was the first time I had really thought about immigration rights as a queer issue.

I thought about the matter again yesterday, when I read about groundbreaking federal legislation that would offer incredible benefits for transnational same-sex couples. On Wednesday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill — the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) — that would allow American citizens and legal immigrants to sponsor their partners who are interested in immigrating to the United States.

From Leahy’s press release:

Under current law, an American citizen is permitted to sponsor his or her spouse for a green card under the family immigration system. The UAFA would extend this right to same-sex couples by adding “or permanent partner” to sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to legally married couples. Under the proposed legislation, a “permanent partner” is described as an adult who is in a committed, intimate, financially interdependent relationship with another adult in “which both parties intend a lifelong commitment.”

This is great news, for two reasons. It would be a huge advance for LGB couples, particularly considering the struggles many queer people experience living in their home countries. And considering the 40,000 same-sex couples in which only one partner is a U.S. citizen, this legislation would have a tremendous effect on family members currently separated from one another. On an even broader level, however, this bill could normalize committed partnerships between individuals who aren’t married, whether by choice or due to legal restrictions. By creating a law that places unmarried committed couples on an equal level as married couples, heterosexual and homosexual couples alike may feel more free to choose what style of partnership is truly best for them, without worrying as much about societal pressure or losing out on government benefits.

Of course, the bill has its critics. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization that typically supports immigration rights, opposes the legislation, stating that it “would erode the institution of marriage and family.” The leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Samuel Rodriguez has also spoken out against the bill. From EDGE Boston:

Rodriguez characterized the measure as a “slap in the face to those of us who have fought for years for immigration reform,” and predicted that “the very broad and strong coalition that we have built on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform” among evangelical faiths would collapse at the prospect that same-sex couples might derive some benefit from the bill.

That, in turn, might derail immigration reform altogether: said Rodriguez, “Good luck trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform without the faith community behind you.”

The criticism has raised skepticism that the bill will pass. From the Washington Blade:

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the longest serving openly gay lawmaker in Congress, told the Blade last week that supporters “don’t have a shot on” passing the bill this Congress.”You got two very tough issues — the rights of same-sex couples and immigration,” he said. “You put them in the same bill and it becomes impossible. We just don’t have the votes for it.”

I agree with Frank that the combination of two already controversial issues does not make one easy-to-solve issue. And, certainly, the bill may take a long time to be passed. But I don’t agree that it will be impossible to pass. President Obama has made his intentions on immigration reform clear, and with same-sex marriage now legal in six states, LGBT civil rights are gaining more support than ever.

And does immigration legislation that includes the phrase “permanent partner” undermine marriage? I don’t believe so. But I’m also not sure that matters. Why shouldn’t same-sex couples who legally can’t be married, or couples (gay or straight) who choose not to enter into the formal institution of marriage but remain in committed relationships have the same rights as couples who choose marriage? This immigration bill is no different than any other domestic partnership law. Why should the right to live in the same country as your partner only remain valid for married couples?

Immigration Equality is updating often with news about the bill’s advancement, so check out their blog for the most recent developments.

  1. July 15, 2009 7:00 pm

    The age-old pesky U.S.-Mexico border problem has taxed the resources of both countries, led to long lists of injustices, and appears to be heading only for worse troubles in the future. Guess what? The border problem can never be solved. Why? Because the border IS the problem! It’s time for a paradigm change.

    Never fear, a satisfying, comprehensive solution is within reach: the Megamerge Dissolution Solution. Simply dissolve the border along with the failed Mexican government, and megamerge the two countries under U.S. law, with mass free 2-way migration eventually equalizing the development and opportunities permanently, with justice and without racism, and without threatening U.S. sovereignty or basic principles.

    Click the url and read about the new paradigm for U.S.-Mexico relations.

  2. Emily permalink*
    July 15, 2009 8:52 pm

    I don’t think that emerging the two countries would solve all of the problems of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s too complicated.

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