Immigration overhaul could leave gay couples out

Posted by Shankar Vedantam on

"When gay couples were given the right to marry in the District earlier this year, John Beddingfield and Erwin de Leon were among those who quickly obtained marriage licenses. In April, the Woodley Park couple - who have been together for 12 years - quietly exchanged vows before a justice of the peace.

"Yet even as they pledged to stand by each other in sickness and in health, Beddingfield, 46, the rector at All Souls Episcopal Church, and de Leon, 44, a doctoral student from the Philippines, were aware that their marriage still hadn't guaranteed them the same rights as heterosexual couples. The District recognizes their marriage, but the federal government does not. The country that had given de Leon a home, given him an education and given him Beddingfield would not allow him to start the process of becoming a citizen, even as it extends that benefit to the foreign-born spouses of heterosexual U.S. citizens.

"Once de Leon's student visa runs out next year, he will likely be forced to join the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

"'I grew up looking to this country for its ideals and really believe strongly that it is about equality, freedom and opportunity,' de Leon said. 'It is too bad that a small minority - gays and lesbians - are still treated as second-class citizens.''

"About 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in the United States include at least one foreign partner, according to an analysis of census data by researcher Gary Gates at UCLA's Williams Institute. Though five states and D.C. issue marriage licenses to gay couples, a large number of the 24,000 so-called binational couples in long-term relationships live in states that do not allow or recognize the freedom to marry.

"The demand by these couples to gain the same immigration rights as heterosexuals is supported by key members of Congress, but is undermining the fractious coalition of groups needed to push through an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. Including equal treatment for gay partners of U.S. citizens, key advocates say, threatens to doom the already fragile hopes for change.

"'It introduces a new controversial element to the issue which will divide the faith community and further jeopardize chances for a fair and bipartisan compromise,' said Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which last year said the inclusion of gay couples in a House bill aimed at reuniting families made it 'impossible' for the group to support the measure. 'Immigration is hard enough without adding marriage equality to the mix.'

... "For Beddingfield and de Leon, the issue is personal as well as political. De Leon expects to finish his doctorate in public and urban policy in the spring. If an immigration overhaul does not allow Beddingfield to sponsor his spouse for citizenship, de Leon might be able to acquire U.S. residency through his mother.

That's ironic because de Leon's mother came to the United States from the Philippines after he did. Like de Leon, she married an American, but quickly obtained legal residency because she was straight. It currently takes about 10 years for Filipinos to sponsor their children for U.S. residency. To de Leon, that's a long time to wait for a legal right he argues he should already have."

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