The first step toward equal marriage and immigration rights for LGBT people in the several countries that provide these rights started with allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in their country’s military.
With the repeal of DADT at the end of 2010, LGBT groups and activists looking to keep the momentum alive toward full federal equal rights in the United States have turned toward immigration rights for gay and lesbian American citizens with foreign partners - same-sex binational couples – as the next logical step in our civil rights struggle (short of full repeal of DOMA and eventual passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA).
Getting the LGBT community behind the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), legislation that would add three words to existing US immigration law and include “or permanent partner” wherever the word “spouse” appears was initially a hard sell. There were those who wanted full federal equal marriage rights – all 1,138 of them – and UAFA only offers one, the right of a citizen to sponsor their spouse (or in our case, “intended” spouse, “fiancée”, if you will, since many of us live in a permanent state of engagement while waiting for state laws to shake down and the federal government to recognize those).
Additionally, there was the unexpected xenophobic, anti-immigrant and/or general cluelessness in our community that immigration rights had anything to do with LGBT rights. Same-sex binational couples and our heart-wrenching stories of being forcibly separated from our partners or exiled from our country have been increasingly visible as the world gets smaller via technology and global opportunity. As the 21st century marches on, the chances of gay and lesbian Americans meeting a life partner from another country, through work, school, travel or the Internet will only increase. As same-sex binational couple activist and LezGetReal blogger Melanie Nathan has said, “We are all just one heartbeat away” from being in love with someone from another country.
Since the start of 2011, the flurry of activism around UAFA (the bill has not yet been reintroduced in the 112th Congress, but is expected to be soon – sign the Out4Immigration petition to bring it quickly forward) is an encouraging sign that the LGBT community and our supporters are going to stand up to Congress and President Obama and say “Enough!” No American should be forced to choose between the person they love and their country. It is unconscionable. Can anyone imagine a heterosexual American being asked to do this? Of course not!
Passing UAFA by adding the three simple words – “or permanent partner” to existing US immigration law would nicely dovetail two major issues in American politics that need to be addressed – the civil rights of LGBT Americans and immigration reform. While not marriage, it underscores the need for marriage recognition at the federal level because there are laws in America that truly do relegate gays and lesbians to second-class (or in the case of same-sex binationals, third-class) citizenship. While not comprehensive immigration reform, repairing this oversight that directly affects American citizens would be a first step toward repairing a system that is broken, and would hopefully open the door on more rational, perhaps even bipartisan discussion on CIR.
Here’s a roundup of the impressive coverage on same-sex binational couple immigration rights and UAFA since the beginning of the year.
- Judy Rickard’s book “Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law” is available for pre-order from Findhorn Press. Enter the code OUT416 and a small donation will be made to Out4Immigration. Judy’s book tells the story of her relationship with Karin, a UK citizen and the many struggles they have encountered as a same-sex binational couple. But Judy doesn’t stop there. She’s backed up her story with that of 21 other same-sex binationals, added a comprehensive resource list and included a foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, who talks about her own experience as an American citizen in an opposite-sex binational relationship. This book is a must-have on the shelves of every library across America. Consider purchasing some copies and donating them to your local library and LGBT center.
- GetEQUAL Director Robin McGehee has demonstrated an impassioned interest in the rights of same-sex binationals and LGBT immigration, and wrote about this in her Huffington Post piece, “Obama’s Civil Rights Moment”, January 25, 2011.
- Popular LGBT columnist Dan Savage had an op-ed in the New York Times “A Gay Agenda for Everyone” in which he calls for passage of UAFA, January 22, 2011.
- Immigration Equality appears to be ramping up its team for a full-court press on UAFA once the bill is reintroduced. In the past year they have added grassroots staff, stepped up lobbying efforts on the Hill through their Action Fund and have an automated “Contact Congress” form that you can complete online to send your member of Congress an email urging his/her support of UAFA when it is reintroduced. Additionally, they continue to make the important argument that forcing same-sex binational couples out of the US adds to our country’s economic woes. See Steve Ralls piece following up President Obama’s January 26, 2011 State of the Union address, “The Economic Case for Inclusive Immigration Reform” on the Huffington Post.
- Immigration attorney Lavi Soloway, a co-author of UAFA in its initial form (Permanent Partner Immigration Act) and a founder of Immigration Equality, has launched a new project called Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project to help same-sex binational couples who are legally married in various states fight federal immigration law. The story of Josh and Henry has 10,000 supporters on Facebook.