On Wednesday, March 3 2010, an unusually elongated line of people formed at the marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court, many of whom were members of the LGBT community appearing on the first day legally possible for same-sex couples to apply to be married. Tears of joy streamed down the faces of community members and allies alike, ecstatic that their relationships were finally being recognized as equal in the eyes of their local government.
A couple from Woodley Park, John Beddingfield and Erwin de Leon, were among those who obtained a marriage license soon after the law passed. The duo quietly exchanged vows before a justice of the peace after being together for twelve years. But even as they were accomplishing something that took so long to come to fruition for them and numerous others within the LGBT community, they could not experience the same amount of unfettered joy that most couples were experiencing. Erwin de Leon, a doctoral student from the Philippines, is currently in the United States with a student visa that is set to expire next year. While this wouldn’t be a problem for heterosexual married couples, who can apply for a visa using the family immigration system, the federal government does not recognize same-sex couples, and thus disallows them to apply for a visa on these grounds.
The family immigration system accounts for a majority of the green cards and immigrant visas granted annually by the United States. About 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in the United States include at least one foreign partner, according to an analysis of census data by researcher Gary Gates at UCLA's Williams Institute. Though five states and D.C. issue marriage licenses to gay couples, a large number of the 24,000 so-called bi-national couples in long-term relationships live in states that do not allow or recognize same-sex marriage.
Immigration reform has already provided impassioned debate amongst Americans and is sure to become even more contentious when placed on center stage in Congress. Groups forming coalitions working to create a bill that they hope will forge swift movement through Congress worry that the inclusion of equal treatment for same-sex partners of U.S. citizens within the reform will create strong opposition and doom any hopes for dramatic and necessary change. However, those arguing that this is a civil rights issue and blaming xenophobia and racism for anti-immigrant sentiment while simultaneously arguing against equal rights for same-sex couples have it wrong; in order to preserve the idea that America is based upon equality, freedom, and opportunity, all minority groups, including the LGBT community, need to be represented within federal immigration reform.
PFLAG is committed to LGBT couples enjoying the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. A step in the right direction is The Uniting American Families Act, a bill Introduced in the House by Representative Jerold Nadler, (D-NY), and in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on February 12, 2009. The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for immigration benefits under the same rules and regulations that married couples currently enjoy. The Act provides measures to prevent fraud and guarantee that real families are utilizing the benefits. PFLAG encourages you to stand up for LGBT rights by urging your members of Congress to support a truly inclusive immigration reform package that include UAFA. Please be sure to click here and take action today!
This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.