Ending Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples: Relationship Recognition in Immigration Law

Updated July 27, 2011

Our Position

While immigration law allows US citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their spouses and other members of their immediate families for immigration into the United States, gay men and lesbians do not have the same right to sponsor their partners. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) addresses this issue. It is a meaningful step toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. It would allow many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly, efficiently, and with fewer limitations. For many, it could very well be the only avenue available to keep their families together in the US.

Talking Points

Immigration inequality is a pervasive, heartbreaking problem for many same-sex couples and their families. There are 36,000 gay and lesbian binational couples in the US – many of whom have children – and countless heartbreaking tales of forced separation due to unequal immigration laws. Meet Frances Herbert and Takako Uedathey need your help! With Takako’s student visa set to expire, the threat of Takako’s deportation looms large for a couple who is legally married in Vermont and has known each other for over 30 years.

Immigration inequality has significant economic consequences. Deportation is a costly process, estimated at $12,500 to $23,000 per person. In tough economic times, that money could be better spent supporting families, not destroying them. Forcing families to leave the country in order to stay together has created a brain drain for America. Numerous businesses large and small have lost talented workers to foreign competitors and countries where their families are safe from the constant threat that American immigration law imposes. American Airlines, Intel, Marriott, Nike, and Pfizer are just a few of the prominent members of UAFA’s strong business coalition.

Making immigration law more inclusive will not change the definition of marriage. UAFA does not amend or repeal DOMA, and it does not redefine marriage. It simply includes “permanent partners” as family members for purposes of immigration law. UAFA defines a permanent partnership as a relationship between two individuals 18 years of age or older; involved in a committed lifelong relationship with another adult; financially interdependent with his or her partner; not involved in a relationship with any other person; not a blood relative of that person; and unable to have a federally recognized marriage with that person.

Making immigration law more inclusive will not make it more susceptible to fraud. Same-sex couples seeking to exercise their immigration rights would have to meet the same rigorous requirements as opposite-sex couples. They would have to document their emotional and financial commitment and subject themselves to interviews with immigration officials. They would also be subject to the same penalties for fraud – substantial fines and prison time. There would be an additional requirement to prove financial interdependence, including a commitment to support the foreign-born partner for ten years even if the partnership is dissolved.

Immigration equality that provides security to loving couples and families benefits not only them but also the communities in which they live. Just like any other couple, same-sex binational couples have worked tirelessly to build productive lives, strong reputations, and strong families. Not only are they our friends and neighbors, but they are our leaders. They make vital contributions to their communities that have been and will continue to be lost at the hands of a discriminatory immigration system.

Keep working on comprehensive immigration reform, but address UAFA now. Some have argued that UAFA should not be considered until comprehensive immigration reform has been achieved. This, however, is a long and arduous process with much disagreement over what changes should be made. We will not lose sight of this goal; nobody should. But UAFA is achievable now and would be an important step forward.


The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would allow same-sex “permanent partners” to be united legally through the US immigration process, making them eligible for green cards and immigrant visas. To protect against abuse, UAFA imposes the same penalties for immigration fraud as those currently imposed on married heterosexual couples – and in some cases sets the bar higher for same-sex couples.

UAFA has been introduced as a stand-alone bill (H.R. 1537/S. 821) and as part of both the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 1796, Title II) and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (S. 1258, Title II, Subtitle C, Part II, Chapter 2).


Contact your Representative and Senators and tell them that all Americans deserve equal access to the US immigration system. Let them know that it is unfair to deny same-sex couples the right to love and live without worry of forced separation. Urge them to support the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) as stand-alone legislation and as part of both the Reuniting Families Act and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining how UAFA will prevent the separation of loving couples and families and allow communities to become stronger through unity and fairness. And don’t forget to the sign the petition for Frances and Takako!

Further Reading

Catholics for Equality
Human Rights Campaign
Immigration Equality Action Fund
National Center for Lesbian Rights

Fact Sheet (PDF)49 KB
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