Friday, December 17, 2010

On Gay Marriage and Immigration, Is UAFA the Red-Headed Stepchild?

ANALYSIS | As California's controversial anti-gay marriage measure winds its way through the court systems, Capitol Hill is poised to take on comprehensive immigration reform. Is anyone considering gay marriage, immigration rights and the current -- or a future -- disparity?

Spain recognizes gay marriage, as do some areas in the United States. Other locales accept same-sex civil unions that seek to equalize opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Immigration officials, however, accept neither a valid gay marriage nor a civil union registration in their determination of who may file for an adjustment in immigration status based on marriage.

Thus far, the United States has been able to deny gay marriage immigration benefits based on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The number of annually affected bi-national couples is estimated to "only" be right around 36,000. Even so, each one represents a unique challenge to the U.S. Constitution, Barack Obama's 2008 campaign platform, the hinting at comprehensive immigration reform and vociferous illegal alien advocates that remain mum on the topic.
Americans who are chafing at the notion of gay marriage and perhaps also comprehensive immigration reform may have to reach for their collective doses of blood pressure medication soon. Then-candidate Obama was clear in his 2008 support for the LGBT community and spoke out in favor of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.
In addition, Obama stated that he promised to "enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions." Is this where the Uniting American Families Act comes in?
Ever since 2000, a variety of versions of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) have been placed before Congress and eventually shelved. Its latest incarnation is H.R.1024. Passage of the bill is problematic in that it touches on a contentious political football within the hot-button topic of immigration: gay marriage. While Catholic bishops have thrown their unmitigated support behind illegal aliens from border countries, they refuse to stand up and be counted when it comes to same-sex marriage relationships.

With the support from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops missing due to the same-sex inclusion, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference's leader, Reverend Samuel Rodriguez likens the gay marriage language in the bill as a "slap in the face to those of us who have fought for years for immigration reform." After all, immigration reform advocates do not want their hard-won public support to wane because of another controversial and dividing social issue.

When debating comprehensive immigration reform, how far is Congress willing to go? Is President Obama willing to stick out his neck -- especially in anticipation of the 2012 election -- and tackle a controversial topic that nevertheless represented an appreciable part of his 2008 campaign platform? Will the LGBT community come to recognize that (for them) the terms "comprehensive" and "immigration reform" were "just words?"

Sylvia Cochran offers an insider's perspective of the American immigration system. Having gone through the steps of becoming a citizen -- and currently living in a border state -- she brings hands-on familiarity with hot-button issues to the table.
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