The immigration reform bill released today by the Senate’s Gang of Eight will not include same-sex couples. Many advocates for LGBT families and for immigrants had hoped that the reform bill would include sections that side-step federal marriage laws and allow bi-national gay and lesbian couples to petition for green cards for non-citizen partners. No such language is in the bill.
The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, bars same-sex couple from marriage and from federal benefits that come with legal partnership. This includes exclusion from immigration benefits. A 2011 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated there are at least 40,000 same-sex couples who were barred from applying for immigration benefits available to straight couples with similar immigration status. That estimate is intentionally low and there may be many more families in this situation.
Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced a stand-alone [Uniting American Families Act] to provide immigration petitioning rights to gay and lesbian couples. The bills drew support from a few Republicans but appear unlikely to pass on their own. Some members of Congress, including Rep. Jared Nadler, D-N.Y., who introduced one of those bills, said this week that the [same-sex couples] provision could be inserted into reform legislation once the Senate and House bills are conferenced.
“I will fight like hell to ensure that LGBT-inclusive language remains in any House and Senate conference report,” Nadler told the Blade.
But most acknowledge that the best chance for bi-national same-sex couples rests in the Supreme Court, which is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA. If the justices overturn it, gay and lesbian couples in states with marriage equality laws could petition for green cards like other married couples.
“The reality is that when the Uniting American Families Act is not in there,” Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, told Metro Weekly yesterday. “[T]here is nothing in here for [LGBT] families, and that is not comprehensive.”