Steve Boullianne and Olivier De Wulf have been together for a dozen years, first in Belgium and then in San Francisco. They adopted Reece and Laurent at six months and six weeks of age respectively. But the laws of the two countries are threatening to tear apart this happy nuclear family.
De Wulf can only obtain a two-year visa to live in the U.S. and the periodic threat of deportation looms over their heads. Belgium recognizes gay marriages, so the couple could live there, but it does not recognize their adoption and hence their children.
'Ever since Sept. 11 we've been having difficulties maintaining Olivier's visa, having it removed and having to leave the country quite quickly. We'd like it to stop,' Boullianne said. 'We think it's important for our kids to be raised in the stable and wonderful community where we live now and not have our family threatened by deportation.'
The family came to Washington to support the Uniting American Families Act (HR 3006) (UAFA), introduced by Rep Jerrold Nadler, D-NY. An earlier version of the legislation was known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act.
'The United States should not indulge in wanton, gratuitous cruelty.' Nadler said his bill 'helps to address one of the many areas where unfair and unequal treatment creates undue hardships for gay and lesbian U.S. citizens.' It will treat a gay or lesbian permanent partnership the same as a civil marriage between a man and a woman for visa and immigration purposes.
'My bill would add the term 'or permanent partner' to the term of 'spouse' everywhere that term is found in the Immigration and Naturalization Act.' It defines the term as 'any person over 18 years of age who: is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 years of age and over in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment; is financially interdependent with that other individual; is not married or in a permanent partnership with anyone other than that individual; is unable to contract with that other individual a marriage recognizable under [the Immigration and Naturalization Act]; and is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of that other individual.'
'It is not a marriage bill, it is not intended to be a marriage bill,' Nadler said in explaining how it avoids becoming caught up with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Some opponents have called it a backdoor approach to gay marriage. But Nadler says that is a a red herring; he believes that most of the opposition is rooted in antigay animus.
'More than 15 other nations have recognized permanent partnerships for the purposes of immigration, and it is time that the United States do so as well.' The Congressman added, 'A diverse coalition of advocacy groups, religious organizations, and companies support this legislation.'
Adam Francoeur, program coordinator with Immigration Equality, shared the story of Sandra and Veronika. Veronika was expelled when her visa expired and she returned to Hungary with their two children, who are having problems adapting to a new language. Sandra is in the process of selling their belongings to join the family. He said such stories 'are all too common.'
'U.S. immigration policy is based on the principle of family unification, indeed, nearly 65% of all green card applications are family based. Sadly, we know that lesbian and gay couples are treated as less than equal,' Francoeur said.
'We hear of two men in Massachusetts, who, despite the fact that they are legally married in that state, are forced to spend more than half of their year apart because one of them is not an American citizen,' said Christopher Labonte, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign.
'No person should have to choose between their country and the person they love. Yet every year thousands of lesbian and gay couples are forced to separate, give up their homes, their lives, their community, or live in constant fear of deportation.'
Based on the 2002 census, Immigration Equality estimates that the bill might affect 36,000 couples. However, there are reasons to believe the census undercounted GLBT couples.
Nadler acknowledges that the bill is unlikely to receive a hearing or a vote in this session of Congress. 'I'm trying to get as many cosponsors, to raise the consciousness as much as possible so that either one can put unbearable pressure on the Republicans, or we can have a Democratic House, whatever comes first.'
There are 53 cosponsors on the bill and Nadler is confident that they will surpass the 129 cosponsors of the last session of Congress.