Last week on a press conference on Capitol Hill, key lawmakers, joined by 37 immigration, LGBT, civil rights and religious faith based groups, expressed their support for including the Uniting Families Act (UAFA) into the comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Unlike bi-national heterosexual couples, current immigration law does not permit Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender partners of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to obtain legal permanent resident status. Many LGBT couples have been unable to bring their partners to the country or have experienced an array of difficulties due to this law. UAFA would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by granting “permanent partners” the same right to obtain legal residence status as married couples and would allow LGBT binational couples to petition for their spouses to come to the US.
This is a landmark legislation for both the immigration and LGBT rights movements. It would allow many LGBT couples that for years have been forced to live apart or to move to other countries to finally establish a home in the United States. It is also a more comprehensive immigration reform because it grants equal rights to the entire immigrant community, and it is important for Latina reproductive rights movement because it acknowledges the diversity within the Latino immigrant community.
The proposition, however, has both strong opponents and supporters. On one hand, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been a strong immigration reform supporter with significant leverage, and the National Association of Evangelicals oppose LGBT rights and are likely not to support a bill that includes gay rights provisions. On the other hand, the National of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), representing 20,000 churches in 34 states has publicly endorsed LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform, which represents a crucial endorsement for both movements.
Some politicians have also expressed their concerns of possibly losing votes among their conservative constituency if they support this bill. Joanna Burgos, a National Republican Campaign Committee spokeswoman, suggested that this political strategy may hurt Democrats as Latinos “are very socially conservative.” Burgos’ comment is an over-generalization of Latinos beliefs. Although some religiously conservative Latinos may indeed pull their support, the Latino community is highly diverse and many would support legislation that is inclusive of LGBT couples.
Nevertheless, across Latin America the LGBT rights movement has been making progress which challenges the assumption that we are anti-gay rights. For instance, Mexico City legalized gay marriage last year. Uruguayan Congress authorized civil unions in 2007, as well as Colombian Congress did during the same year. Under the direction of Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, the National Center for Sexual Education’s director, has worked hard to change Cubans perception toward LGBT people and granting them legal rights. Lastly, on July 15th Argentina’s Senate legalized gay marriage.
It is time for the United States to grant equal rights to the LGBT community and this piece of legislation may be a crucial step toward it. A LGBT inclusive comprehensive immigration bill that recognizes the intersection of two movements may bring two commonly politically disfranchised groups of people together to build a coalition to work on gaining equal civil and legal rights for everyone.
By Susana Sánchez, Community Mobilization Intern is supported by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program.