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Immigration Reform to Include Binational Gay Couples

By L.K. Regan

Immigration reform is a hot-button issue in the United States. For many gay and lesbian Americans, the issue is particularly poignant, since same-sex partners do not qualify for residency or citizenship sponsorship under current law. But an outline for immigration reform legislation released last week by Senate Democrats would, if passed, change all that. Part of their platform for reform includes a provision allowing gay Americans to sponsor their partners for legal immigration.

The proposed framework includes elements of the Uniting American Families Act, which has been stalled in congress since last year. The framework reads, in part, "The proposal ... will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status." The Uniting American Families Act, which reads substantially the same, was originally submitted in 2009 by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in the Senate and Representative Jerrold Nadler in the House. It has 122 cosponsors in the House and 23 in the Senate, and yet it has made no real movement toward passage in the year since its introduction. Now, there is at least some hope that equivalent legislation could pass as part of a more comprehensive immigration reform.

The move has been greeted enthusiastically by gay rights activists, such as the director of Immigration Equality, who said, "Today's inclusive framework is an historic step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender binational families." But a major opponent of the legislation can be found in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is prepared to fight any such language in immigration legislation that, given its relevance for the overwhelmingly Catholic Latino community, the Church might ordinarily be expected to support. "While we support the general direction of the framework .... we strongly oppose extending marriage-like immigration benefits to same-sex relationships," the bishops said in a statement. "This proposal threatens to undermine the opportunity to bring together the Congress and the American people around a common solution to the important challenge of immigration reform."

The framework for comprehensive immigration reform was authored by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). If one of them is your senator, now may be the time to get in touch and encourage their efforts.