The Femo: Bipartisan plans for immigration reform disappoint LGBT advocates

by Ashleigh McEvoy

This past week, a bipartisan group of eight senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — unveiled their plan to reform immigration policy and provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The lawmakers at the helm include Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). However, their proposition disappointed LGBT advocates, as it did not address the issue of citizenship for same-sex, binational couples.

Currently, under the Defense of Marriage Act, an individual is unable to confer citizenship on a same-sex spouse. Unlike binational heterosexual couples, marriage does not make the same-sex partner of a US citizen eligible for a visa or green card — even in one of the nine states (plus the District of Columbia) in which same-sex marriage is legal.

In a news conference from Las Vegas on Tuesday, President Barack Obama did not call for equal rights for these same-sex couples. But statements on the proposal released by the White House did include a section that reads: “It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.” This seemed to be a quiet endorsement by the president for inclusion in the bill of equal protection for LGBT persons.

It is unclear whether or not such a provision is politically feasible, or whether the contentious mix of LGBT issues and immigration will prove too controversial to succeed. Democrats will undoubtedly be wary about alienating conservatives and thus sacrificing bipartisan support for the bill. Sen. Graham has already come out in strong opposition to the inclusion of same-sex couples. Sen. McCain took a more moderate approach, saying, “We haven’t even gotten that far yet. … We haven’t gotten into those kind of details.”

LGBT advocates, meanwhile, argue that an immigration bill would be stronger if it included protections for same-sex couples, and that the bill could benefit from an outpouring of support from the LGBT community.

Previously, the Uniting American Families Act — introduced most recently in 2011 — has attempted to bridge this gap in rights, allowing partners of U.S. citizens to remain in the country. It has not yet passed. The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of DOMA and Proposition 8 later this spring.

Only time will tell what this legislative session holds for binational same-sex couples. In the meantime, these couples must contend with the difficult realities of their situations. U.S. News shares the story of Edwin Blesch and Tim Smulian, married in New York years ago. Smulian, originally from South Africa, “has had mostly temporary visas, which only allow him to spend six months of the year in Long Island, N.Y., where his partner lives,” U.S. News reports. “The other six months Blesch and Smulian have traveled elsewhere at a high cost to both their health and their bank accounts. Blesch, who is HIV positive, has been spending much of his time in Canada to stay with Smulian. But because Blesch does not get Medicare coverage abroad, he has had to return to the U.S. multiple times to confront health problems alone.”

The intersection here of age, health, sexual orientation, and citizenship status raises important questions of how we can and should protect our most vulnerable people.


photo by Christopher Edwards: