02/05/2013 01:12 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2013

Uniting American Families Act, LGBT Immigration Reform, Maintains Bipartisan Support In House

WASHINGTON -- Two Republican House members joined a group of Democrats on Tuesday in demanding that immigration reform legislation include equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, maintaining their support for inclusion despite major opposition from other members of their party.

The Uniting American Families Act, reintroduced as a bipartisan bill for the first time on Tuesday, would give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples -- including the right to petition for green cards for partners or spouses, which is currently denied to gays and lesbians under the Defense of Marriage Act.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) first introduced the Uniting American Families Act -- though by a different name -- in 2000, and has reintroduced the bill several times since. He reintroduced the bill Tuesday with the backing of Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). They signed on in support last year, but the legislation has never before been introduced with Republican co-sponsors.

Nadler said during a House Judiciary Hearing on Tuesday that keeping same-sex couples apart because of immigration law is “unnecessary cruelty” that must be fixed.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is expected to reintroduce the Uniting American Families Act in the Senate, a move that has GOP support from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

According to Hanna, supporting the Uniting American Families Act aligns with his pro-business principles.

“Our laws force some couples to live apart rather than in the country of their choice, pressuring Americans to take their talent, innovation and wealth elsewhere,” Hanna explained to The Huffington Post in December. “Businesses large and small in New York, many of them multinational corporations, are struggling to keep some of their best workers in the United States. ... We can keep jobs, dollars and talent right here in the United States by simply allowing financially and emotionally committed couples to live together in the same country.”

Steve Ralls, director of communications at Immigration Equality, believes that Tuesday's reintroduction of the Uniting American Families Act reflects the nation’s changing attitudes on LGBT rights.

“Today’s bipartisan introduction underscores that LGBT families are truly part of the American family, and no longer a partisan political issue,” Ralls told The Huffington Post. “Business leaders, faith leaders and Americans in red states and blue support treating LGBT Americans, and their spouses, equally under the law.”

However, several Republican lawmakers have expressed strong opposition to granting same-sex couples equal immigration rights, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) -- both members of the bipartisan "gang of eight" that released its immigration reform proposals last week.

Both McCain and Graham have criticized measures to include same-sex couples in comprehensive immigration reform, saying that such a provision would kill the bill.

“Which is more important: LGBT or border security?” McCain asked at a recent Politico event. “I’ll tell you what my priorities are. If you’re going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it, in my view.”

The gang of eight did not include same-sex couples in its immigration framework. However, President Obama, who unveiled his immigration plan last week, is supporting the inclusion of same-sex couples in immigration reform.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) plans to introduce another bill to address same-sex couples in immigration reform next week. The bill, the Reuniting Families Act, currently has no Republican co-sponsors.

Clarification: Language has been added to clarify that Rep. Jerrold Nadler first introduced legislation on the issues addressed by the Uniting American Families Act in 2000, under a different name.



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