LGBT Couples Seek Inclusion in Immigration Reform

In the fractured patchwork of policies governing same-sex marriage, federal restrictions could overlap painfully for transnational LGBT couples.

By Michelle Chen Sep 14, 2010

Same-sex couples whose love transcends borders are running into double trouble with the law. In the fractured patchwork of policies governing same-sex marriage, federal restrictions could overlap painfully for transnational LGBT couples. The Washington Post reports:

About 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in the United States include at least one foreign partner, according to an analysis of census data by researcher Gary Gates at UCLA’s Williams Institute. Though five states and D.C. issue marriage licenses to gay couples, a large number of the 24,000 so-called binational couples in long-term relationships live in states that do not allow or recognize gay marriage. The demand by these couples to gain the same immigration rights as heterosexuals is supported by key members of Congress, but is undermining the fractious coalition of groups needed to push through an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Including equal treatment for gay partners of U.S. citizens, key advocates say, threatens to doom the already fragile hopes for change.

Groups like Immigration Equality, which has pushed for inclusion of LGBT binational couples in comprehensive immigration reform, find themselves at the margins of an already isolated political debate. Given all the other obstacles to passing immigration reform, recognition for same-sex couples is probably not going to be the clincher for many lawmakers who have so far avoided the issue. But the dissonance of state and federal law on immigration mirrors and compounds the same-sex marriage dilemma. In a sense, real equity can’t be achieved for one community without comparable advancement in the other, especially for all the families that are divided by both sets of policies. Conversely, it looks like some conservative elements in the movement have decided to jettison the issue of marriage equality in pursuit of more mainstream legislative goals:

"It introduces a new controversial element to the issue which will divide the faith community and further jeopardize chances for a fair and bipartisan compromise," said Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which last year said the inclusion of gay couples in a House bill aimed at reuniting families made it "impossible" for the group to support the measure. "Immigration is hard enough without adding same-sex marriage to the mix." The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a 16-million-strong group of evangelical Latinos that could play a key political role in an immigration overhaul, is similarly opposed to including provisions for gay and lesbian families. The president of the organization, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, said that including such a measure would prove to be the ‘death knell’ for comprehensive change.

Well, that depends on what you mean by "comprehensive." While conservatives appear to have little trouble forming united opposition to civil rights for both immigrant and LGBT communities, the divide between the two groups grows wider in the scramble for political compromise.