With President Obama’s signature on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this morning, 2010 ends on a high note for gay rights. With the defeat of the DREAM Act in the Senate last week, the year ends on a low note for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).
Same-sex binational couples have long been caught in the vortex of these two important movements in American politics. We are, first and foremost, gay and lesbian, yet at least half of us are first-generation immigrants. The other half of us though are American citizens and US permanent residents. The citizens among us (second-class LGBT citizens that we are) are denied thousands of rights – including the right to sponsor our same-sex foreign-born partner for immigration purposes.
As far as political movements go, same-sex binational couples are a small group. In spite of efforts to estimate that there are far more of us than 36,000 couples – 36,000 remains the accepted figure. Split that in half and you have 18,000 gay and lesbian American citizens at any one time facing the unconscionable – leave the country you love to be with the person you love, or live a life apart from your life partner – which is no kind of life at all. (By contrast, it’s estimated that 2 million children of undocumented workers would have benefited from the DREAM Act.)
With the momentum shift that’s occurred with DADT repeal, it’s time for same-sex binationals to remember why we are being discriminated against in the first place. It is not because half of us are immigrants. It is because all of us are gay and lesbian. US immigration has no problem with opposite-sex binational couples. In fact, it is the heterosexual American citizen’s inalienable right to marry the person he or she loves and build a life with that person in the United States – whether that person is another American, or from another country.
The repeal of DOMA, then, is more in keeping us on a direct path to keep our families together rather than being tossed about in CIR (one bill we’re in, one bill we’re not; lots of groups support our inclusion; lots don’t). Meanwhile, the LGBT community, the one we all belong to, needs the stories of same-sex binational couples to underscore the case for full federal equal rights. Reasonable heterosexual Americans (some of them even reasonable Republican heterosexual Americans) will get the gist of why we need full federal equal rights a lot faster when they become aware that Americans – just like them, except for that pesky sexuality part – are being forced to leave their own country. Gays and lesbians can fight and die for our country, but we can’t truly live happily ever after in it!? Hey, you just got my dang attention!
For those who say CIR will come before DOMA repeal, I refer you to the very recent history of DADT and the DREAM Act. For those who say we need to get the LGBT community to support CIR, I say, we need to keep the LGBT community laser-focused and in step with the momentum of DADT repeal and seize the day for full federal equal rights, because that day is now.
For those that say the wait for DOMA repeal (or full federal rights under the label “civil unions”) will be too long to keep them together, legally, in the US, I say put your energy into getting the President to sign an Executive Order that will stop the deportation of any foreign person in a same-sex binational relationship who has registered and documented their relationship to the fullest extent allowed in the city or state where they live (or has been legally married in another country). Just today, after signing the repeal of DADT, when President Obama was asked about DOMA, he said, in the context of how same-sex couples are now allowed hospital visitation rights equally in all 50 states, “There are a lot of things we can do administratively even if we don’t pass things legislatively.”
For those who say, “What about the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)?”, the bill that would add three words to existing immigration law “or permanent partner” wherever the word spouse appears, the immigration bill that actually had more co-sponsors in the House than the DREAM Act, I say we need to petition our supporters Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Patrick Leahy to re-introduce this bill in the 112th Congress immediately. While its standalone success cannot be counted on, especially with a less friendly House than the one that passed the DREAM Act and a less friendly Senate than the one that defeated it – UAFA can be the new rallying call to keep full federal equal rights front and center.