The gay and lesbian community received legislative valentines from two of its strongest congressional supporters Feb. 14 when they filed separate pro-gay pieces of legislation. However, both bills are decided long shots for passage during this session of Congress.
Rep Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced the Domestic Partners Benefits Obligations Act ( HR 638 ) . It would make same or opposite-sex domestic partners of federal employees "eligible for benefits in a similar manner and to a similar extent, as the spouse of a federal employee, including retirement benefits, life insurance, health insurance and compensation for work injuries."
Companies and local governments that have extended the benefits have found that the additional cost is minimal. Frank said this is "a low-cost benefit to help attract more qualified people to the federal government and make it easier to retain them."
Frank first introduced the measure in October 1997 and again in 1999, both times eventually gaining 27 Democratic cosponsors. However, his efforts to enlist the Clinton administration failed and the measure never even got a hearing in committee. That is his goal for this session of Congress.
The same day Rep Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, introduced the Permanent Partners Immigration Act of 2001 ( HR 690 ) . It would amend basic immigration law to allow gay and lesbian U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents "to sponsor their permanent partners."
Straight partners can marry and stay in this country as resident aliens, often on the path to American citizenship. But gays and lesbians, denied marriage, also are denied the opportunity of immigration sponsorship under the law. Nadler called the existing policy "gratuitous cruelty."
There is no legal way for foreign-born partners to remain in the country, though many remain illegally after a tourist or student visa expires. Those who do remain here illegally have the threat of being arrested and deported hanging over their head.
Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Nadler for "recognizing that immigration law is supposed to be based on protecting families and not tearing them apart."
Nadler first proposed the legislation two years ago when he was moved by stories of those forced to separate by immigration law. Canada and 13 other nations recognize gay relationships for purposes of immigration. Last year 59 Democrats signed on as cosponsors.