Thursday, January 07, 2010

All’s Not Fair in Love, Marriage & Immigration

Originally posted on Spar & Bernstein's Law Link

My friends, Laura and Tom, are getting married, and I couldn’t be happier.

Their courtship began in Oxford, England, and their life as a legally committed and bound couple starts in Washington, D.C.

I am especially happy for Laura, a British national, as her marriage to Tom will allow him to sponsor her for a green card which she should have in a few months. Later on, should she choose, she could naturalize and become an American citizen. This all makes it easier for her to travel in and out of the country as well as find gainful employment in the U.S. Moreover, as a straight couple, they are instantly entitled to over 1,100 benefits and privileges gay couples are denied simply because they happen not to be heterosexuals.

I can not help but contrast Laura and Tom’s situation to John and mine.

Although my partner and I have been together for over 11 years, he is not able to sponsor me, a Philippine national, for permanent residency. And even though we are registered domestic partners in New York City and Washington, D.C. and plan to marry when the District’s same-sex legislation takes into effect, doing so would not offer a path to citizenship for me as immigration is a federal matter. Neither will we have access to the many benefits and privileges straight people take for granted. We will not be able to file combined federal taxes.

In most jurisdictions in the country, we will not have visitation rights if one of us were hospitalized. God forbid something were to happen to either of us while in a state that grants no rights to gay couples, the other will not be able to make life and death decisions a spouse ordinarily makes. Anything we give or leave to each other – property, money and other material possessions – will be taxed. The list goes on.

When we travel, we carry our individual wills and health care proxy documents – what straight couple would feel the need to do so?

Even though I consider the United States my home, have lived here legally for several years, and in my heart know that I am as American as my native born cousins, I have no recourse but to wait for my mother’s sponsorship on my behalf to come through. She married my stepfather a few years ago and like most other foreign nationals who marry a different-sex American, she got her green card.

Now if immigration reform happens and if it includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families like mine, then there would be no difference, as there shouldn’t be, between different-sex and same-sex couples, at least when it comes to civil rights.

Unfortunately, the bill recently introduced Rep. Luis Gutierrez omits provisions immigration activists have been lobbying for, particularly one that allows LGBT individuals to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency and citizenship. This is not altogether a surprise, as proponents of immigration reform seek the support of conservative forces such as the Catholic and other fundamentalist churches which hold sway over millions of constituents and votes.

The simple fact is that equality for LGBT individuals and families is about civil rights. I hope that as immigration reform legislation is debated and crafted in the future, lawmakers would do what is just and equitable. I hope that the various stakeholders and interest groups realize that it is about the freedom and equality enshrined in the constitution. In the meantime, the LGBT community continues to struggle for civil rights for all Americans. Gratefully, friends, family and other straight allies have come around and joined the fight.

As they celebrate their union, Laura and Tom do so being well aware and saddened that too many other loving and committed couples are not as lucky. In lieu of favors, they have chosen to donate to Immigration Equality, a national organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals. If only more folks were as clear-sighted, fair-minded and generous as this young couple.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

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