You Can Put the Uniting American Families Act on Obama’s Desk

Carmen’s Team Pick:

Have you registered yet at the White House’s “We The People?” You should. It’s an online petition database where dreams go to become legal victories. Once a petition created through the White House’s online portal achieves a specific number of signatures, it is sent to the President’s desk.

And once you’ve set up an account, you have the opportunity to create change for binational LGBT couples with the Uniting American Families Act petition.

The Uniting American Families Act, introduced by Robert Menendez in the Senate this summer, makes it possible for LGBT people in the United States to sponsor their partners for immigration.

The petition is asking specifically for a language change in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that makes it inclusive of LGBT couples, thus allowing them to sponsor their partners:

Currently the category of ‘Spouse’ in the INA is defined as a husband or wife of the opposite sex. Therefore legally married same sex couples cannot file for immigration benefits in this category.

The inclusion of the category of ‘Permanent Partner’ would allow same sex married couples to seek immigration benefits based on their relationship – which would be adjudicated with the same scrutiny as a married opposite sex couple.

The petition currently has 2,225 signatures – and needs only 550 more to reach President Obama. And with your help and the help of your friends, you can make it happen. So go sign it! And make sure you do by October 28, when it expires.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. I think they moved the goalposts… 2478 signatures needed for a total of 5000 signatures according to the website.

  2. Their argument is embarrassingly inaccurate. The INA does NOT define spouse, NOR does it define marriage as between a husband and wife. Actually a marriage is considered as valid if it’s valid in the state/country it took place in. The problem is not the INA it’s that same sex marriage isn’t recognized federally thanks to DOMA.

    “Permanent partner” is even more problematic. How would you prove partnership and “adjudicate to the same scrutiny” without a marriage certificate, tax records, or joint documents? You can’t (and straight couples get screwed all the time when they can’t provide these things). It would be much easier for everyone if same sex marriage was recognized at the federal level and people could submit marriage certificates, file taxes jointly, share insurance, etc AS SPOUSES. The notion of “permanent partners” is simply spurious, so lay off the INA and dig your heels into DOMA.

    • In my experience it’s not that difficult to prove partnerships – I am an Australian and here Federal law generally recognises partners / de facto partnerships, same sex or otherwise. I used to have this job which often required me to assess whether couples met that definition – not for immigration purposes but it’s the same legislative test if that makes sense.

      Anyway it’s pretty straightforward, you look at factors like whether they live together, have joint bank accounts, whether they pay bills together, how their family / friends know them, joint property, joint investments, joint loans, letters and emails between them, whether they’ve nominated each other as power of attorney and what their wills look like, whether there’s any civil registration of their relationship if they live in state jurisdictions where that is possible… etc etc.

      It’s not foolproof and it can be hard on couples who don’t have the money or legal know-how. But mostly it’s pretty obvious when someone is in a de facto relationship / partnership. I think it’s a good test for everyone concerned – for mixed sex non-married couples and for same sex partnerships too.

      Obviously I’m not American but wouldn’t it be particularly useful for America? Since you’re unlikely to have same-sex marriage on a national scale any time soon.

        • yes, why? this is my major problem with the gay marriage campaign. in the end, you’re still privileging one type of relationship over others.

      • If couples don’t have marriage certificates or other documents then sure use secondary evidence. Joint investments and ownership of property is a great example of reliable evidence, but, bear that people applying for immigration benefits through marriage have usually not been married terribly long and are less likely to have substantial investments.

        The issue at the heart of this is that family based immigration to the US is predicated on an image of a heterosexual nuclear family. Being a spouse of a US Citizen affords many benefits. So on the one hand you have high incidents of fraud and on the other hand you have a privileging of heterosexual unions. That makes a pretty good recipe for not extending immigration benefits to other types of partnerships (e.g. common law marriage, same sex marriage, polygamy, etc).

        But the argument being made by the Uniting American Families Act says that married same sex couples should get benefits through “permanent partnership”. This is incredibly unnecessary because the couples in question are married spouses. Legally, they would be eligible for immigration benefits if it weren’t for DOMA.

        • Ah ok, gotcha – I (wrongly) assumed the term partner was being used in the proposed act like it’s used in Australian law – I think I have misunderstood this proposed act altogether!

          Secondary evidence is generally used where people aren’t married – so it’s always used for same sex couples because there’s never a marriage certificate (unless they marry overseas – but I’m not sure if we pay any attention to that, I never saw a couple who fell into that category). You consider investment history in the context of the length of the relationship, so if they haven’t been domestic partners that long an extensive history isn’t expected.

          So just to clarify if a same sex couple are permanent partners but not married they still have no rights under this law – it’s only for those who are lucky enough to be married? Sigh.

          • When I applied for immigration to Australia lo these many years ago (we’re talking long enough ago that it was still an interdependent partnership visa), one piece of evidence you could submit was any kind of recognition (be it marriage, domestic partnership, whatevs) from another government. So it wasn’t quite the same as a heterosexual marriage certificate, but it does count for something.

            Here’s my view of the whole process – it was a pain in the ass for my partner and I. We had to prove a whole heap of things, namely our financial, social and emotional interdependence. (The hardest for two not-quite college graduates to prove turned out to be the financial interdependence, by the way.) Thing is, the rest of my friends who’ve been through this (all in heterosexual couples) had the same pain in the ass that we did. Even married couples I know had to prove things like financial interdependence!

            So unless things have changed (from what I understand, they become even more equitable), Australian immigration does a great job of providing for same-gender partners to have the same immigration rights as opposite-gender partners – that is, the right to an enormous pain in the ass with the hope of permanent residency at the end.

            There is another wrinkle, though – in Australia, defacto partnership is very close to full marriage. In the US, defacto partnership doesn’t really even exist.

          • I think your final point is something I have to continually struggle to remember when I read articles about queer issues in the US… it’s dumb of me but I just assume there would be an equivalent legal concept there, because it just seems so essential, if that makes any sense. But there isn’t.

            I do agree with you, it’s an enormous pain in the ass for the people involved – it’s invasive and you have to rustle through loads of documents and maybe write statutory declarations or hand your love letters over to government officials. It’s still a pain in the ass with the new legislation… it’s just more of an equal pain in the ass.

            I guess I find myself wondering, how else to do it, though? I mean in my ideal world we would have equal marriage and de facto relationships and everyone could choose what path they wanted to go down… but it seems inevitable that there will be more complexity involved with proving a de facto relationship than a married relationship… and the government has to adhere to a certain level of scrutiny in regard to things like immigration, welfare, tax etc.

            I don’t know if what I’ve said makes any sense whatsoever… I feel like I’ve written a whole lot of blather at you! In which case I apologise.

    • Yeah, the main problem is DOMA, and yeah, it would be really fucking awesome to have same-sex marriage recognized on a federal level, but UAFA is something that would provide a BADLY and URGENTLY needed solution for couples who, as of right now, are getting separated by deportation. You have to be a pretty priviledged position to be able to be like… Well, IDEALLY same-sex marriage should be recognized on a federal level, so just wait for DOMA to be reppealled, OK?

      This category has proven very useful in several countries that do not recognize same-sex marriage, incluing Brazil, mine own, that has the “permanent partner” category for immigration purposes, along with other 19 countries. And trust me, it’s not that easy to prove your relationship and get a green card even if you ARE married.

      The US immigration system is fucked up. I know it is, I live it everyday. I live the fear of not being allowed into the US because I have an American partner of the same sex assigned at birth as me. I live the fear of not knowing how my future is going to look like in a year unless I get a job in that economy that can give me a visa. And I’m one of the people who has access to resources and a shitton of privilege, there are others in way worse positions.

      UAFA is the single bill in both the Senate and the House who has more sponsors than any other immigration or LGBT issues bill. And hell, if it passes, and it allows me to go live in the US with the woman I love, I am going to support it.

      And don’t you dare tell me to wait.

      • I think you don’t understand me. My problem is that the argument made by the UAFA above is badly argued. If they wanted to introduce a new category in the INA that recognizes unions that aren’t marriage that’s something else entirely (and an argument worth making!). But what they are saying is, MARRIED same sex couples should be eligible for immigration benefits under a DIFFERENT category. This makes no sense, legally they are already spouses.

        And again, INA doesn’t define spouse or marriage so they are way off on that point. I find it embarrassing that whoever put this together can’t be assed to read the INA. The definitions section isn’t that long you know.

        • I do understand what you mean. My point is that short of repealing DOMA this is pretty much all there is. It’s not a long term solution, but it’s a bill that has been in the works for a long time and that finally has support now. I think people in positions of urgency and need should try on all fronts to be able to safely and legally stay with their spouses, regardless of whether thou deem the law stupid or unnecessary because marriage already covers it. I know it does!!! The whole point is that DOMA won’t let it be recognized and do they are trying to find a way around it. And as someone with direct interest in this, I applaud them. It’s not a zero sum game you know. We can support UAFA and still prefer for DOMA to be repealed

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