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Gay Rights, Meet Immigration Reform

May 27, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Here’s a bill gaining support in Congress that takes two of the most heated political topics – immigration reform and same-sex marriages – and combines them to create a relatively mild but still controversial reform. The Uniting American Families Act of 2009 would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow U.S. citizens to sponsor same-sex permanent partners to immigrate legally to the U.S. and live and work here permanently.

The bill is being sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jerrold Nadler [D, NY-8] and 102 other Democratic co-sponsors. In the Senate, it is sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT] with another 20 Democrats listed as co-sponsors. The Senate bill is S. 424.

In 2004, the Government Accountability Office conducted a study and found that there are 1,138 federal statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges. Because of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, these rights are provided only to heterosexual couples. Sponsoring spouses for immigration purposes is just one of these 1,138 rights.

Likewise, this is just a small part of the larger immigration debate. In 2007, Congress and the Bush administration tried to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increase border security, create a new guest worker program and more. After a long and unpleasant debate in the Senate, the bill failed to pass cloture and was tabled indefinitely. Since then, smaller immigration reform proposals have been proposed as stand-alone bills in Congress, but so far Congress has treated the immigration topic as toxic and haven’t touched anything related to it. The Uniting American Families Act will probably suffer from falling roughly into this category.

Back to the bill itself. It’s long but simple. Basically it adds the words “or permanent partner” after the word “spouse” everywhere it occurs in the Immigration and Nationality Act. It also defines lays out a definition for “permanent partner”:

‘(52) The term ’permanent partner’ means an individual 18 years of age or older who—

‘(A) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 years of age or older in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment;

‘(B) is financially interdependent with that other individual;

‘© is not married to or in a permanent partnership with anyone other than that other individual;

‘(D) is unable to contract with that other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and

‘(E) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of that other individual.

So far no committee hearings have been scheduled in the House or the Senate. The only progress the bill has made so far has been in increasing the co-sponsor list in both chambers. We’ll keep you posted if this starts to move or if there is any other news on it to report.

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