WASHINGTON — Gay rights advocates have expressed disappointment after a bipartisan Senate group’s 844-page immigration bill omitted married gay and lesbian binational couples, leaving out the Uniting American Families Act.
While the legislation includes a path to citizenship for many undocumented people, and includes the DREAM Act — which would allow young, undocumented youth (many of whom are LGBT) a path to citizenship — the proposal does not not include a new category of visas for same-sex foreign national spouses of U.S. citizens, who are not able to apply for such visas under current laws.
The exclusion leaves an estimated 40,000 foreign nationals caught in limbo because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) does not provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples, reported The Washington Post.
Advocates had lobbied the Senate group to include a new provision, modeled on the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow U.S. citizens to petition to bring their same-sex spouses to the country under the family visa program.
“Right now, thousands of binational same-sex couples are threatened with forced separation because they are blocked from sponsoring their partner for citizenship,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Article continues below“It is cruel and unfair to force loving couples and their families to live apart — to make them choose between family and country,” Carey said, in a statement.
Binational couples now hope the question of same-sex spousal visas becomes moot in June when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on a challenge to DOMA, which could potentially declare the law unconstitutional.
In the meantime, LGBT advocacy groups say they will apply pressure to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled hearings on Friday and Monday to tackle the complicated bill.
“We will not give Senators of either party a pass on the inclusion of our families in immigration reform,” said Immigration Equality. “We are watching – and we will remember – which lawmakers stand with us, and which stand to the side, when this critical vote happens.”
President Barack Obama has previously called for including married, gay couples in immigration reform, and included them in his own plan in January; their exclusion in the Senate bill is thought to have been a compromise to get GOP buy-in for the bipartisan plan.