(San Francisco, CA, June 2, 2009)—Currently, Congress is considering a crucial immigration bill that would make it possible for same-sex bi- national couples to have equal rights to sponsor their international partner for immigration purposes in the United States. Tomorrow—for the first time in Senate history—the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear this immigration reform bill that includes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community—the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).

The National Center for Lesbian Rights submitted written testimony to Congress in support of UAFA, a legislation that is of critical importance to tens of thousands of bi-national same-sex couples. At its core the bill does one simple thing: it allows partners who have built families through love and commitment to stay together and care for one another in this country. We strongly believe that it is unfair and unjust to force hard-working, tax-paying citizens to choose between their country and the person they love just because they are part of a same-sex couple.

One of the basic tenets and core values of our immigration law is family unification—the ability of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their family members for legal residency. However, that ability is categorically denied to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have a same-sex partner. Despite the fact that these families are formed through love, caring, and mutual commitment, same-sex partners of U.S. citizens currently are not considered family for immigration purposes, no matter how long they have been together.

This discriminatory treatment of families is inhumane and unfair and must be changed. As Chairman Leahy wisely stated in his remarks at the introduction of UAFA in this Congress:

“[T]he burdens and benefits of the laws created by the elected officials who represent all Americans should be shared equally, and without discrimination.”

In so doing, the U.S. would join the nineteen other countries that have already equalized the treatment of same-sex couples in the application of their immigration laws: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

In keeping with immigration goals related to family unification, the Uniting American Families Act simply provides U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents with the right to petition for the ability to sponsor their foreign national permanent partners to immigrate to the U.S.

Love, family and commitment know no geographical boundaries. The enduring bonds of a partner relationship do not come into being at the border, nor do they dissolve there. Americans should not be forced to choose between family and country. Congressman John Lewis, who is a sponsor and supporter of UAFA, has said “rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles, and dreams. It’s time we treated them as equals, as family.”

Congress now has the incredible opportunity and serious responsibility to take action to support families, and to enable them to permanently remain together to exercise their love and commitment for one another.

Immigration Equality and many other groups have been advocating tirelessly for UAFA on behalf of the affected families, and this Senate Judiciary Committee represents tremendous progress towards providing key protections for tens of thousands of families. The National Center for Lesbian Rights also supports comprehensive immigration reform, which is both timely and necessary.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.