LGBT activists stepped up their pressure on Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) today as they lobby the powerful lawmaker to back immigration rights for bi-national same-sex couples.
At San Francisco City Hall this morning (Thursday, May 16) local leaders held a rally prior to a Board of Supervisors hearing on the matter. Gay Supervisors David Campos (District 9) and Scott Wiener (D8) are asking their colleagues to back a resolution that calls on Congress to include pro-LGBT language in the comprehensive immigration reform bill now before them.
“We cannot have comprehensive immigration reform if LGBT families are left out of that process,” said Campos, who chaired the hearing before the board’s neighborhood services and safety committee.
Campos singled out Feinstein and asked her to support the changes bi-national same-sex couples need in order to live freely and together in the states.
“She has a history of supporting LGBT rights. It is time for her to demonstrate consistency with that history,” said Campos.
Straight Supervisors John Avalos (D11) and Board President David Chiu (D3) are co-sponsors of the resolution. District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee asked to be named a co-sponsor of the resolution and voted to send it on to the full board at the hearing.
“I agree that we need to make those amendments and am a supporter of that,” said Yee.
LGBT immigration activists and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) are pressing to see that the Uniting American Families Act, which is designed to end discrimination of couples where one partner isn’t a U.S. citizen, be included in the final immigration reform bill sent to President Barack Obama, who has expressed support for the pro-LGBT language.
Leahy has sponsored the UAFA for more than a decade, and throughout that time, Feinstein has refused to co-sponsor the legislation. Earlier this month her spokesman Brian Weiss told the Bay Area Reporter that Feinstein is giving the UAFA language “serious thought.”
Several days later Politico reported Feinstein would support it under certain conditions, such as if it required gay couples to marry in the United States within 90 days in a state that allows same-sex unions.
“But I’m not for just accepting affidavits,” Feinstein reportedly said.
The comments raised concerns among LGBT immigration activists, as only a handful of states currently allow same-sex couples to marry.
“I’m glad that Senator Feinstein has finally pledged to support the inclusion of married, bi-national LGBT couples in the immigration reform bill, however, unless she also supports extending these same protections to couples in civil unions and domestic partnerships, many Californians will be left out,” stated Out4Immigration founder Amos Lim, who lives in San Francisco. “We want her to know that all LGBT families, including those who have been barred from marriage, should be included in the immigration reform bill.”
A number of couples impacted by the anti-gay immigration laws spoke out at the hearing this morning. Among them was Judy Rickard, a longtime outspoken immigration activist recently recognized by the White House. She applied for a green card for her wife, UK-born Karin Bogliolo, 72, in January 2012.
“It has not been denied but has been under further review for eight months now,” said Rickard, noting that she and her wife are unable to leave the country and are “prisoners of love” in the U.S.
Another speaker, Out4Immigration organizer Erik Schnabel, spoke about how he and his undocumented partner of 9 years, who is from the Philippines, have had to move and pick up their lives several times due to the anti-gay immigration laws.
“We want to urge our senior Senator Feinstein to support the Leahy amendment and not only for married couples, but for people in domestic partnerships and civil unions,” he said. “California is not a marriage equality state.”
Following the hearing a number of activists then marched to Feinstein’s nearby offices to deliver to her a petition signed by more than 6,000 people urging her to back the UAFA amendments.
“Senator Feinstein’s decision to support an amendment that does not protect bi-national same-sex couples in California and other states that do not have marriage equality will put an undue financial burden on many LGBT couples who are unable to get married,” stated Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez of GetEqual. “The ability of same-sex families to stay together and be free from the fear of deportation should not be dependent on their paychecks or their ability to travel to another state.”