International LGBT couples face added obstacles due to current laws
As the immigration debate continues to boil, one group is always overlooked. While many undocumented immigrants can find some refuge in marriage, gay immigrants retain the short end of the stick.
There are as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. According to the 2000 US Census, 36,000 of those are in a committed, long-term, same-sex relationships with American citizens and would be eligible to be sponsored by their partners.
However, under current law they are unable to do so. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and New York allow gay marriage. More states allow civil unions. Gay bi-national couples cannot receive federal benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
DOMA is an amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Couples living in states that allow gay marriage or civil unions would only be able to apply for state benefits, not federal benefits.
Immigration laws in the US are in desperate need of an update. We need only look to our neighbors to see it clearly.
In 2009, Mexico City legalized same-sex marriage, and later the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that while not every state had to grant same-sex marriage, they must recognize those performed where they are legal.
In Canada, same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004.
Both countries allow their gay citizens the right to sponsor their partners.
The 36,000 couples belong to families that could be ripped apart by the system currently in place.
One shining beacon of hope for gay Americans and their partners is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) introduced in Congress on April 14, 2011, by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and in the House by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
This bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include a “permanent partner.”
The bill defines a “permanent partner” as an individual 18 or older who “is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 or older in which both individuals intend a lifelong commitment; is financially interdependent with the other individual; is not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, anyone other than the individual; is unable to contract with the other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of the other individual.”
There are as many as 16 countries that have enacted amendments of similar language.
Another possible solution for this problem would be the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). This act would repeal DOMA, and while it doesn’t legalize same-sex marriage, it would, in essence, grant federal benefits to couples that married in states that allow it.
The current system has left many bi-national couples in the US questioning if they will ever see justice.
The former mayor of San Angelo, J.W. Lown, is one-half of one of these couples.
In 2009, Lown resigned from his position because he fell in love with an undocumented immigrant. Lown chose to live in exile in Mexico rather than remain mayor of San Angelo where he had been re-elected mayor three times.
The sad truth is that many Americans are forced to choose between the country they know as home and the person they love. Let us hope this trend does not continue for much longer.
Alejandro Caballero is a creative writing junior and may be reached at [email protected]