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Can Recognition of Gay Marriage at the State Level Help Immigrants?

July 30, 2008

With all the excitement and hoopla over gay and lesbian weddings taking place in California and Massachusetts this summer, there was renewed attention to the challenges face by “bi-national” couples: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other is from another country. These couples face a unique form of discrimination since, unlike straights, LGBT U.S. citizens cannot sponsor their same-sex partners to stay in the United States. The challenges faced by these couples have been chronicled in films like “Through Thick and Thin” and “Maple Palm” .

The problem for bi-national couples is that immigration is a federal issue and right now the debate over gay marriage is at the state level. As you know, every four years around election time, President Bush and other Conservatives in Washington threaten a Constitutional amendment to bar same-sex couples from marrying. As a result, state legislatures and courts are hashing it out. So even if a couple could marry in a gay marriage-friendly state today, their union would mean nothing to federal immigration officials.

Organizations such as Immigration Equality and Out4Immigration have been seeking a remedy for this situation. They have proposed the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) that has been introduced in the House and in the Senate . So far they have 99 cosponsors in the House and 13 Cosponsors in the Senate . The bill does not hinge on gay marriage, however, since it seeks to make it possible for someone to sponsor his/her “permanent” domestic partner. This legislation would make the U.S. part of a global trend on the issue. Such sponsorship is already possible in Canada, 13 European countries, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. So when will the U.S. join this ever-expanding list by recognizing LGBT bi-national partnerships?

ACTION STEP: Contact your Representative and your Senators and ask them to support this important legislation. To reach them by phone, call the Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

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