Equal treatment

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This July as Americans celebrate their freedom, one Nashvillian is raising questions about what it means to be a gay American and having the same rights as straight Americans as they pertain to immigration laws.

Greg Gardner, and his partner Gregorio, have been together for just over five years. Gregorio is from Venezuela and is in the U.S. on a student visa. Because of his student visa status, he is not allowed to pursue permanent immigration status or express a desire to stay in the U.S. Due to that restriction; he declined to take part in this interview, and asked that his last name not be used.

Gardner, however, is passionate in his belief that gay couples should be allowed the same path to permanent residency as straight couples. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), formerly the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, would do just that. Current U.S. immigration law does not allow American citizens or permanent residents to petition for immigration benefits for their same-sex partners.

“Should this proposed bill become law, he and I and thousands of other couples would stand on equal footing with opposite-sex couples as far as federal immigration law is concerned,” Gardner said.

H.B. 3006, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow Americans to sponsor their same-sex foreign partners for immigration benefits. It was introduced in Congress on June 21 with 57 cosponsors. None of the cosponsors are from Tennessee. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

“Our nation should bring families together, not tear them apart,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Same-sex binational couples are often forced to separate because the government views them as strangers under the law.”

Approximately 75 percent of the 1 million green cards or immigrant visas issued each year goes to family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It is estimated that there are at least 10,000 people who would benefit from such a law, by finally being able to sponsor their legal partners.

“The 2000 Census reports nearly 36,000 couples living in same-sex binational couples in the U.S.,” said Adam Francoeur, a program coordinator with Immigration Equality. “The Uniting American Families Act upholds the stated principle within U.S. immigration policy to promote family unification. We applaud Senator Leahy and Congressman Nadler for including LGBT families within that principle.”

At least 16 countries recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of immigration, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Gardner asks that Tennesseans immediately express their support by contacting their  U.S. Congressman and Senators.

“We have to be realistic about the odds of this bill passing at this time,” he said. “I suspect there is very little chance of it being brought to a vote given the current political leadership. While their are people in both parties that are considered allies to the cause of equality, the fact remains that the current leadership in Washington in the White House and Congress is hostile to gay and lesbian equality.”

But  Gardner remains hopeful and says awareness is the first step in what has thus far been a long process. Although Gardner met with Congressman Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee) more than two years ago concerning this legislation, Gardner said Cooper, while expressing compassion towards their plight, didn’t express optimism towards the bill making it to a vote. It didn’t, but it did garner more than 117 cosponsors. The bill has been introduced for the last five years.

“History has proven over a period of time that justice will come,” he said. “But it does trouble me that what it means to be Christian and American is being defined by the current political leadership.”

Gardner pointed out that he is just as American and Christian as many straight people.

“It is troubling,” he said. “We hear so much from the fundamentalists’ side, but among many other people of faith there is a different perspective. As an American and a person of deep faith, I hold a strong sense of justice and compassion.”

Gregorio will graduate from Middle Tennessee State University this fall with a master’s degree in mathematics. He hopes to secure a work visa, which could extend his stay in the U.S. for an additional year.

“This issue should be important to all of us as gay Americans,” Gardner said. “We are not separate and unequal. We should all be allowed on the same ‘playing field.’ It’s a simple matter of fairness, and the constitution and Bill of Rights apply to all Americans.”