Rev. Sarah Lamming of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md., moved to the United States from England nearly four years ago. She and her American-born wife married in Maryland in January, but she cannot obtain a spousal green card because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing their marriage for immigration purposes.
Lamming added during an interview at Immigration Equality’s office in Northwest D.C. on Wednesday that the work visas that she had until 18 months ago did not reference her relationship. She even removed her wedding rings each time she went to a U.S. embassy or tried to re-enter the country.
“That’s frustrating because that’s not how I’ve lived my life — we’ve lived our life in the last four years,” Lamming said.
Lamming and her wife were among the tens of thousands of people who attended a rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, addressed the crowd as Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven and representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT and allied organizations joined her on stage. Freedom to Marry, GLAAD, GetEQUAL, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Trans-Latin@ Coalition and the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project are among the 26 LGBT advocacy groups that issued a statement earlier in the day that urged Congress to pass a “fair and comprehensive” immigration reform bill.
“Immigration is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and human rights issue,” Carey said.
Carey referenced a trans Mexican woman whom she said suffered “horrific abuse” while at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility. She also noted during her speech that bi-national same-sex couples are threatened with “forced separation” because they cannot sponsor their partner for immigration purposes.
“It is cruel and unfair to force loving couples and families to live apart …to make them choose between family and country,” Carey said.
Members of the Latino GLBT History Project and Casa Ruby were among those who also took part in the rally.
Jim Bolas of Brooklyn, N.Y., attended the rally with his partner of five years, Christophe Lepage, who returned to France after he lost his work visa because his company laid him off during the 2008 financial crisis. They told the Blade as they and other Immigration Equality supporters prepared to leave for the Capitol they felt it was important to participate in the event.
“We really want to make sure that LGBTQ families and couples are represented in the immigration arguments,” Bolas said.
The rally took place as a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators appear poised to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the coming days.
“The ‘Gang of 8’ senators of which I am one — Democrats and Republicans — have come to an agreement on all the major issues,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said as he addressed the crowd. “We are writing the bill as we speak.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin considering the proposal next week. Tiven and New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler told the Blade on Monday it is unlikely to contain any LGBT-specific language.
Neither Menendez nor U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.,) who addressed the march as several of his congressional colleagues stood on stage with him, referenced bi-national same-sex couples during the event.
“There is success only when there is a consistent and persistent demand from the people,” the Illinois congressman told reporters from Spanish-language media outlets during an impromptu press conference after he spoke. “They have once again shown with their cries today that they will be consistent and persistent. And if Congress does not act, you will see the mobilization of our community on every street corner, in every neighborhood, in every house, in every city and in every state in the United States. We will not rest.”
Carey told the Blade during the rally her organization will continue to work to ensure lawmakers include the Uniting American Families Act that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes into any final measure.
“We would be very disappointed if it’s not included in the base bill, but we’ve got a long road to go on this bill,” she said. “There are a lot of stops along this train ride and we intend to push for the inclusion of bi-national couples every step of the way.”
President Obama in January unveiled his immigration reform proposal that includes bi-national couples. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in February told the Senate Judiciary Committee the White House supports a provision that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration purposes.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is expected to add UAFA as an amendment to the ‘Gang of 8’ bill once the Senate Judiciary Committee begins to consider it next week.
“We will then be pushing our allies on the Hill strongly to protect the language on the Senate floor,” HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz said in response to the Blade’s question about whether the organization would publicly endorse an immigration reform measure that does not include bi-national same-sex couples.
Lamming and others who attended the rally said they hope Congress will support an LGBT-inclusive bill.
“This bill does not treat a section of the population with dignity,” she said. “This law precludes me from becoming part of the United States and my family is suffering from that.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray appeared to agree as he spoke at the march.
“We want a law that protects the most vulnerable among us: our women, our children and our LGBT communities,” he said.