For the first time in recent memory, Democrat and Republican lawmakers are beginning to come to some consensus on immigration reform. Although specifics have yet to be worked out, most seem to agree that comprehensive immigration reform is in fact necessary, and it must include a path to legal residency for at least some current undocumented yet otherwise law-abiding U.S. residents. However, despite the fact that many undocumented immigrants in this country may soon be able to apply to remain here legally (and in fact, some have already begun to do so through the Obama administration’s Deferred Action program), no mention has yet been made of changing a law that explicitly denies legal residency to one particular group of immigrants: gay partners of U.S. citizens.
Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay couples to legally marry, with six others granting gays and lesbians civil partnerships. For heterosexual married couples where one person is an immigrant, the U.S. citizen in the relationship can petition for her or his partner to be granted citizenship. However, as the federal Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as only between one man and one woman, even when a couple is legally married in their state, they can not file such a petition.
A recent article in the New York Times describes a growing expatriate movement of U.S. gays and lesbians who have been forced to emigrate abroad in order to keep their relationships in tact. Many gay couples in this country, many of whom have long been productive, vital members of their communities in this country, now form an international diaspora of people who have been forced to choose between their home and their family.
Today, queer communities in the United States are looking to President Obama to continue his recent support of LGBT issues and officially support naturalization for the gay partners of U.S. citizens. Obama has already ended the military’s much maligned “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule and come out publicly in support of gay marriage. However, it is as yet unclear whether rights for gay couples will be a part of the President’s growing push for immigration reform.
At least one major Republican lawmaker seems poised for a fight in the event that the President does make this issue a central part of his second term platform. Arizona Sen. John McCain has stated that the right of gay citizens to petition for citizenship for their partners is a fringe issue that should be kept off the table when it comes to serious discussions on immigration reform. “Which is more important: LGBT [rights] or border security?” asked McCain. “I’ll tell you what my priorities are. If you’re going to load [immigration reform] up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it.”
In the end, it may not actually be Congress or the President that has the final say when it comes to the rights of queer immigrants, but rather the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is set to weight in on DOMA later this year. In the event that they law is ruled unconstitutional, it would open the door for a bevy of new rights to be granted to LGBT couples throughout the country.