WASHINGTON -- House Democrats on Thursday re-introduced the Uniting American Families Act, legislation that would grant same-sex couples the same residency rights currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples under U.S. immigration law.
"Today thousands of committed same-sex couples are needlessly suffering because of unequal treatment under our immigration laws, and this is an outrage," said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. "Our Constitution guarantees that no class of people will be singled out for differential treatment -- and LGBT Americans should not and must not be excluded from that guarantee."
Under current law, one member of a married couple may sponsor their partner for U.S. citizenship, but same-sex couples have no such rights, and are often forced to live thousands of miles apart.
"It's cruel," said Nadler of the current policy. "It's gratuitously cruel."
Nadler was joined Thursday by the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), as well as by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), among others.
"It's appalling that the United States government forces families to separate," Lofgren told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday. "As a nation, we should be encouraging the cohesion of American families, not forcing the deportation of partners and parents."
While Nadler, who has been working on the issue for over a decade, admitted the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-led House, he emphasized re-introducing it was still important.
"I think that recognition of same-sex marriage will come in this country,” he told The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez. “The question is, would this come first?”
The re-introduction of UAFA comes less than two months after Democrats renewed their effort to overturn the federal same-sex marriage ban through congressional action, following the Obama administration's drop of legal support for the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
Lofgren, for her part, says she's confident that one day DOMA will not be the rule of the land, but added that changing the law takes time -- and that that's something an estimated 36,000 same-sex couples who would be affected by UAFA do not have.
"If DOMA is so unconstitutional that it can't be defended in court, then don't use it to separate families under the immigration law," Lofgren said.
Still, the outlook for the legislation isn't good. The bill currently has 100 co-sponsors, none of them Republican.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced similar legislation Thursday in the Senate.