Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill yesterday, including a somewhat controversial provision to extend family-based immigration for same-sex couples. If passed — it’s unclear whether even the reform bill could — the provision could help some of the estimated 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in the U.S. that include at least one foreign partner.
The Uniting American Families Act establishes rights of same-sex couples to bring their foreign partners to the U.S. Under the current system, straight couples can petition for their foreign-born husbands or wives to move to the U.S. as legal residents, but gay and lesbians are denied the ability to petition for foreign partners — even in states that allow gay marriage.
There was some question over whether comprehensive immigration reform would include the measure. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.) have pushed for the Uniting American Families Act to be included in comprehensive reform legislation, claiming it could broaden the support base for the bill.
But while many Catholic and other religious organizations support immigration reform, some argue they cannot support a bill with gay rights measures. “That would be a deal-breaker,” J. Kenneth Blackwell, a senior fellow at the evangelical Family Research Council, told the New York Times in July when asked about including same-sex family reunification in an immigration bill.
While it’s unclear whether this bill will go anywhere, advocates of gay rights and immigration reform applauded the inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act to Menendez’s bill.
“Senator Menendez’s bill will set the stage, in this Congress and the next, for a serious debate on fixing our broken immigration system,” Steve Ralls from the pro-LGBT Immigration Equality told The Advocate.