In my 30 years as an immigration lawyer in the gay and lesbian community, the question I am asked most is, “why can’t I bring my foreign partner to the USA? Straight people can get married and bring their spouses! We should have the same rights!” This question has resonated here in my offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. I have been asked the question when I practiced in San Francisco and Chicago. I even get asked the question in Paris and London. The over-simplified answer is the word “marriage.”
Under the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the US gives US citizens a “benefit,” allowing the spouse of a US citizen to apply for a legal permanent resident card (LPR — otherwise called “the green card”). Until recently, same-sex marriage (SSM) was quite rare, so the US could hide behind the idea that LPR is only extended to someone married to a US citizen.
Then some enlightened countries began letting same-sex couples get married, and the US was faced with a dilemma: do we apply the law equally and allow these same-sex couples the same rights as other Americans, or do we try to stop them. The result was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
DOMA is not a part of the immigration law. DOMA simply says that the US government will not provide any benefits based on marriage if the couple is a same-sex couple. And a green card based on marriage is a “benefit.”
President Obama has said that his proposal for CIR will allow an American to petition for a same-sex partner. However, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have already said that they oppose including same-sex couples in CIR.
The US Congress cannot even decide when to have lunch, so the future of CIR is unclear. However, the move to pass CIR is strong in the immigrant community. The gay and lesbian community has never been very skillful in its outreach to communities of color. If ever there was a time for productive dialogue and political-partnering between two groups, this is it.
If you have questions about options legally to immigrate a same-sex partner to the United States, I would be happy to chat with you. –jcf