Rep. Jerrold Nadler, backed by dozens of House colleagues, introduced a bill to allow Americans to sponsor their same-sex partners for legal residency in the U.S.
Because the federal government does not recognize the relationships of same-sex couples, due to the Defense of Marriage Act, Nadler's Uniting American Families Act would grant the same rights to gay couples that heterosexual married couples currently have. The bill comes as Congress debates an overhaul of the country's immigration laws.
Versions of this bill have been introduced in Congress in each session since 2000.
The UAFA would add the term "permanent partner" to the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which currently only applies to married heterosexual couples. A "permanent partner" is described as an adult who is in a committed, intimate relationship with another adult in "which both parties intend a lifelong commitment."
Right now, at least 31 other countries, including Brazil, Denmark, Hungary, and the United Kingdom, allow residents to sponsor partners for legal immigration.
“Today, thousands of committed same-sex couples are needlessly suffering because of unequal treatment under our immigration laws, and this is an outrage,” Nadler said in a statement Tuesday. “Our Constitution guarantees that no class of people will be singled out for differential treatment — and LGBT Americans must not be excluded from that guarantee. Moreover, any serious legislative proposal for comprehensive immigration reform absolutely must include gay and lesbian couples and their families.”
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is backing the bill, said that enacting UAFA would be striking "down the barriers of discrimination." She added, "As we work toward comprehensive immigration reform, we must ensure that the value of all families is valued, respected, and recognized in the eyes of the law."
Rachel B. Tiven, the executive director of Immigration Equality, said that November's election outcome is a clear indication that Americans would support this bill.
"Voters sent a clear message in November: they support treating everyone — gay and straight, citizen and immigrant — with dignity and respect," Tiven said. "These are true American values. As Congress moves forward on long overdue immigration reform, lawmakers must include UAFA as part of that effort. Our immigration laws must reflect the diversity of our beautiful country and must protect families and family unity."
Gay representative Jared Polis of Colorado said the UAFA would "help reduce family backlogs, grow our economy, and improve the effectiveness of the immigration process. This common-sense legislation is part of the solution to how to fix our broken immigration system."
Out representatives Mark Takano of California, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island are also cosponsors of the legislation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont is expected to introduce the companion bill in the Senate.