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May 11, 2007

Bill would let partners be sponsored for immigration

Washington, D.C.--A measure introduced in the House and Senate would allow citizens and legal residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration to the United States, as married couples can now do.

Presently, same-sex couples cannot do this.

“The current law works gratuitous cruelty by keeping lovers apart,” said the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.

The Uniting American Families Act, introduced May 8, would add “permanent partner” to the list of relations eligible for sponsorship in the current law. The companion measure was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will likely hear the bill there. The immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will also take it up.

The measure defines “permanent partner” as a person age 18 or older, who can prove a domestic partner relationship and is unable to marry their partner because they are the same sex.

The bill will also make same-sex couples eligible for the same waiver that married couples get if the immigrating partner is HIV-positive.

HIV-positive people are now prohibited from obtaining permanent residency status.

Nadler had a similar bill in the House last session, which did not move under Republican control of Congress.

He said that having the Democrats in charge means that the bill will get hearings and a vote. He is not certain, however, that the measure would pass.

The White House did not respond to queries about President Bush’s intention should the legislation get to him.

“We assume he will veto it,” Nadler said.

“Just having the hearing means there will be greater dialogue on the issue,” he added.

“Every year the sentiment gets better” for LGBT equality, Nadler said.

“Obviously, there will be rhetoric against it,” he noted. “They will say it is a back door for gay marriage.”

“This is about ending discrimination, not marriage,” Nadler said, acknowledging that some in the religious right will never accept that, regardless of what the facts are.

According to Nineteen other countries, including Israel, Canada, South Africa and Germany already have laws like this, said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

“The fundamental principle of immigration is the family unit,” Solmonese said, “but the U.S. discriminates even if the couples are married or in civil unions in other countries.”

Present federal law does not recognize same-sex couples as families.

According to Immigration Equality, which lobbies for for LGBT people and people with HIV, there are approximately 40,000 same-sex couples threatened by the inability to sponsor partners for immigration, according to the latest Census figures. Of those, 45 percent are raising children, and a significant number are caring for elderly parents. The average age of the partners is 38.




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