San Francisco, CA, May 02, 2007 --(PR.com
)-- In another positive step toward equality for gay and lesbian couples, New Hampshire lawmakers approved civil union legislation on Thursday and sent it to Gov. John Lynch, who has said he would sign it. New Hampshire is now poised to join a handful of other states that offer civil unions and domestic partnership protections and benefits to their gay and lesbian residents, as well as Massachusetts, which offers state-sanctioned marriage.
“Out4Immigration is pleased that the state legislature and the governor of New Hampshire took a stand for equality for all by passing a civil union bill,” said Michael Lim, Vice President of Out4Immigration, a grassroots organization that advocates for a change in US immigration policy to allow same-sex binational couples the same immigration rights heterosexuals can obtain through marriage. “However, it is important to note that even when passed, there are still about 1,100 federal benefits that are denied to the lesbian and gay citizens of New Hampshire that the state’s heterosexual residents can obtain through marriage.”
Key among the 1,138 federal rights that come only with marriage recognized at the federal level are immigration rights. Current US immigration policy allows an American citizen or permanent resident the right to sponsor a foreign partner for a green card—the right to live and work legally in the US. But, because the US government defines marriage as only that between a man and a woman, the word “spouse” can only be used in this sense. This leaves all gay and lesbian couples in the US—regardless of the civil union, domestic partnership or marriage benefits they’ve obtained in their state or locality—legal strangers at the federal level.
“American citizens in gay or lesbian relationships are denied equal rights at the federal level when it comes to social security, taxes and immigration,” said Lim. “While social security and tax issues can unfairly hit gay and lesbian couples in the wallet, the immigration issue hits us in the heart.”
When a gay or lesbian American falls in love with a foreign partner, very few have any idea that their relationship, often referred to as a “same-sex binational relationship,” is not protected by their government. Most find this out when their partner, typically in the US on a work or student visa, is running out of visa extension options or unable to obtain a green card through their job. “Many of these couples think that because they live in a state that recognizes them as domestic partners, or even legally married, as is the case in Massachusetts, that they are okay,” said Lim. “But US immigration law does not allow the gay or lesbian American citizen the same rights that a heterosexual citizen has—the right to sponsor their partner through family unification provisions.”
The last US Census estimated that there are some 36,000 same-sex binational couples living in the United States. Lim points out that those are couples who feel secure in reporting their status to the federal government. “We don’t know how many more cannot be counted because of the way US immigration laws discriminate against us. We estimate thousands of Americans have left the US to live in exile with their partner in another country that recognizes same-sex immigration rights.”
While same-sex binational couples in the US can appreciate legislation like New Hampshire’s civil unions, many do not take advantage of these laws because doing so may violate the foreign partner’s visa regulations by showing “an intent to stay” in the US. “When couples make the effort to legally define their relationship, they are also making a life commitment,” said Lim. “Most intend to live well beyond the terms of a visa.”
Waiting for challenges to how the US government defines marriage may indeed take a lifetime for many. Other federal legislation to close the gap in US immigration law that same-sex binational couples currently fall though may offer better prospects. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), previously sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is set to be reintroduced in Congress in mid-2007. The legislation calls for changing the word “spouse” in current immigration law to “permanent partner.” This small, but significant, change would then allow gay and lesbian Americans the right to sponsor their foreign partner to stay with them legally in the US.
Said Lim, “The UAFA would allow all gays and lesbians living in states like New Hampshire, where laws provide them with most equal rights and benefits, to keep their families together and to make a life commitment with no immigration strings attached.”