Sally Hunter (left) and Tammy Sullivan (right) pictured here at their daughter’s

Sally Hunter (left) and Tammy Sullivan (right) pictured here at their daughter’s

By Rebecca DeRosa

Now that the Republicans have lost control of Congress, perhaps legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act will finally get passed. This bill would give U.S. citizens the right to give their loved ones citizenship.

Yes, this is a right that already exists, but only if you marry someone of the opposite sex.

Currently, U.S. citizens cannot extend citizenship rights to their same-sex, foreign-born partners. While some people want to “defend marriage,” they don’t seem concerned with defending the rights of real people who consider their relationships as valid as the latest 24-hour tabloid marriage or mail order bride.

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) was first introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in 2000 under the name Permanent Partners Immigration Act. In 2003, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) brought companion legislation before the Senate. The bill was reintroduced into Congress in June 2005. To date, about 104 members of Congress from both houses cosponsor the bill.

“Keeping loving families separated is gratuitous cruelty that serves no constructive purpose,” Nadler told The Villager. “This bill only demands that those people in same-sex permanent partnerships receive equal treatment as everyone else—not an iota more.”

In a city like New York, where there are so many immigrants, there are many binational couples. And according to the 2000 U.S. Census, people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community partner with people outside of their ethnicity and culture more often than people who date the opposite sex. Like the majority of Americans, many of these couples wish to marry and join or start families.

Immigration Equality works to end laws that discriminate against LGBT immigrants. According to Adam Francoeur, the organization’s policy coordinator, 65 percent of all green cards issued annually are given on the basis of family unification. But gays and lesbians are shut out of the spousal category that falls under family unification.

“That’s a major way in which the needs of LGBT immigrants are unique because they lack opportunities,” says Francoeur. “Their opportunities are more limited.”

At least 17 countries offer partnership recognition to same-sex binational couples that allows them to remain together. The 2000 U.S. Census counted about 36,000 same-sex “unmarried” couples in which one member was a U.S. citizen and the other a non-citizen. But the Census doesn’t offer statistics on the number of same-sex couples who moved out of the U.S. to remain together.

Sylvia Makresia, a former New York City schoolteacher, says when she fell in love with her neighbor in Brooklyn 10 years ago, she had no idea the hardship that lay ahead. When her partner could no longer legally remain in the U.S., Makresia moved with her to Madrid, Spain. She left even though she had a “wonderful job in a great school district with lovely children.” It has taken her five years to find a position similar to the one she had in Brooklyn.

“The U.S. has many people who are educated in the gay community that are leaving the U.S. and take their skills and training somewhere else,” says Makresia. “Talented young people are moving to Canada and Europe.”

She and other expatriates find a home in organizations such as the Love Exiles Foundation,which provide support and advocacy.
Sebastian Cordoba’s new documentary, “Through Thick and Thin,” follows the stories of 10 couples who try to remain together despite the laws that discriminate against them.

“I’m from Argentina, and when I was younger I was part of a binational couple,” says Cordoba. “I got a work visa for three years, which seems like a long time when you’re young, but not when you’re in a relationship. Where do you buy a house? Here or there? How do you make life plans? Besides all the red tape a person immigrating to the U.S. faces, for a same-sex couple, there is no tape. In my film, we show the ways people get around the citizenship problem without having the right to marry their partner. They might get a work visa, or win the visa lottery, or get reunification with a family member who is not their partner, or enter a fraudulent marriage.”

Former Texan Tammy Sullivan, a subject of Cordoba’s film, describes the ordeal of trying to remain with her British partner, Sally Hunter, as “horrendous.”

“The only attention that U.S. immigration gets is about stemming the tide of illegal immigrants,” says Sullivan. “Most people in the U.S. and the UK think that it’s easy to move to the U.S., but it’s a nightmare—at least legally.”

Sullivan estimates she spent about $100,000 on travel, phone bills, and relocation costs. The couple now lives in England with Hunter’s children from a previous marriage.

While the U.S. still does not offer completely equal rights, people seek asylum here because of harsh discrimination in their home countries. In some countries, especially theocracies where homosexuality is forbidden, LGBT individuals can be arrested and punished by law for their behavior. And if they face harassment or abuse from their family and peers, the law does not protect them. There was a particular need for asylum for gay men from the Middle East after 9/11 when many young, single men from “terrorist” nations were deported.

LGBT individuals in dangerous situations in their home countries can apply for asylum thanks to a 1994 decision by Janet Reno to allow sexual orientation to fall under belonging to a “particular social group.”

People with HIV/AIDS can also apply for asylum. However, the U.S. normally bans HIV positive people from traveling or immigrating to the U.S. without a special waiver.

“There are waivers available but they’re available on the basis of qualifying family relationships, which boils down to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent, spouse, or child,” says Francoeur. “The primary category is the spousal category, and that is not applicable for same-sex couples because of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. That’s one way that lesbians and gay men are uniquely discriminated against by even the HIV policy.”

And if that’s not shocking enough, before 1990 no openly gay person could travel to the U.S. without a waiver. That’s permission just to travel, not for permanent residence. That means an LGBT person could not come here for vacation, business—not even to compete in the Olympic Games.

Cordoba says he hopes to spread awareness about the UAFA so it will eventually pass. With just another 20 or 30 more members of Congress supporting the bill, he says it will stand a fair chance of becoming a law. And that’s what everyone wants. A fair chance.

“I had to give up my home, my job, friends, and family in order to be with the one I love. People who are not citizens die to come to the U.S and now I, as an American citizen, I too, am dying to come home, waiting, and hoping that I too, will have the same rights as any other American citizen who was born in the U.S., because at this point I am evidently being discriminated against,” says Makresia.

Rebecca DeRosa is ambidextrous. Email her at