Worlds apart

Posted by Lauren Smiley on

"U.S. immigration law prioritizes family unity. Marrying a citizen is still the most common way to get residency, and everyone knows there are more than a few scam marriages squeaking through. Yet for gays, it's a very different story. Since federal law only recognizes marriages between men and women, gay partners are left with no way to sponsor each other to stay in the country.

"Now that Arizona's 'papers please' law has pushed immigration reform to Washington's front burner, Democrats propose allowing 'permanent partners' to be treated the same as spouses under immigration law. While 19 countries have similar policies, it won't be an easy sell: The gay lobby fears they'll be sacrificed as a bargaining chip to get Republicans on board, while pro-immigrant groups worry that adding in gays will ruin any chance for reform for everyone else.

"While critics say letting permanent partners through the gate invites fraud — how do you validate the relationship without a marriage license? — others say the current system is what encourages people to cheat. So what do you do when the law won't permit you to be with the most meaningful person in your life?

... "It's no wonder that none of the couples in this story wanted their real names used. While the couples are out about being gay, there's no benefit to being out about having broken the law. When a contingent from Out4Immigration, a local grassroots group that lobbies for change for gay binational partners, turned out for the May Day march for immigration reform through the Mission, mostly only the legal halves of the couples showed up. They must speak for both.

"Yet publicity has served some well. Melanie Nathan is a fiftysomething firebrand with a shock of dark brown curls and an accent from her native South Africa but citizenship in the United States. Her Israeli wife was able to get a religious visa and eventually permanent residency, but that hasn't stopped Nathan from advocating for other couples not as fortunate. From her office in Marin, she pens gadfly blog posts at Lez Get Real, chronicling the latest developments in gay binational couple politics and calling out lawmakers who flip-flop on the issue. (Rep. Luis Gutierrez [D-Ill.], she's talking to you. )The blog gets 150,000 hits a month, some dropping in from the White House and senators' offices, and she gets e-mails from some 40 couples a month. 'I know every couple that's in this situation,' she says.

... "Of course, most of the 36,000 gay binational couples in the United States tallied in the 2000 Census don't get that kind of help. A UCLA study found that nearly 8,500 of those would pursue sponsoring their partners if the law changed, and that's just the couples living here. The international Love Exiles organization counts 500 American expats who've moved abroad to be with their foreign partners, and the founder estimates there are thousands more."

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