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Researcher says immigration laws a road block for gay couples

by Sherry Fisher - October 3, 2005

Kathy and Marie live together. Eventually they would like to buy a house and settle in New England, but that’s not going happen anytime soon: Marie, who is from Argentina, is in this country on a work visa that will soon expire. She has to leave the United States within a year.

“A heterosexual couple wouldn’t have that problem,” says Nancy Naples, professor of sociology and women’s studies. “They would get married and apply for a green card.”

Since federal immigration laws do not recognize same-sex couples, Kathy and Marie will probably have to part ways, unless Marie stays here illegally.

The couple, like thousands of Americans with foreign-born, same-sex partners, face difficult choices. Immigrants who apply for U.S. residency based on family ties must be the parent, child, sibling or spouse of a U.S. citizen.

“Marriage is a state-instituted arrangement that has privileged those who enter into the arrangement and disadvantaged others,” says Naples, who is conducting a comparative analysis of what she calls “sexual citizenship” and immigration. “Two ways a person can become a citizen in the U.S. and in many other countries is sponsorship by a family member and marriage to someone who is a citizen. If you don’t have the right to marry, it limits how you can become a legitimate citizen.”

Naples is currently conducting a study of the relationship between immigration and national policies regarding gay and lesbian rights. Her research focuses on Australia, Brazil, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, South Africa, and members of the European Union. She is using data gathered through published reports by international gay and lesbian rights organizations and other relevant national groups as well as by international and national human rights organizations.

She is examining policies that have been created to give access to citizenship rights for gays and lesbians in these countries; how these policies affect immigration to these nations; the role of social justice movements in assuring the passage of these policies; and the role of international governmental and non-governmental organizations in the expansion of citizenship rights for gays and lesbians.

Naples says the past two decades have witnessed a growing number of countries that have passed legislation legalizing gay and lesbian relationships in civil unions or other such forms.

Nancy Naples, a professor of sociology and women's studies, conducts research on 'sexual citizenship' and immigration.
Nancy Naples, a professor of sociology and women’s studies, conducts research on ‘sexual citizenship’ and immigration.
Photo by Melissa Arbo

“These new policies have direct implications for access to immigration,” she says.

For example, in 1999, the French senate passed the Civil Pact of Solidarity, a domestic partnership act that allows French citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex or different-sex partners for residency cards in France. “This progressive legislation institutionalizing gay and lesbian partnerships is part of a larger trend in European countries and other nations,” says Naples.

Until 1990, homosexuals were an excluded class of immigrants, Naples says. “In 1994 sexual orientation became an allowable basis for asylum purposes. People who are HIV-positive are still excluded from immigrating to the U.S., but this policy may be waived for heterosexual spouses. No such waiver exists for same-sex partners.”

Naples says the European Union is attempting to make policies parallel across the different nation states.

“That means some nations that might have been more resistant to providing this kind of sexual citizenship will probably be challenged to create more of a level playing field across the different nation states,” she says. “We don’t have that kind of external pressure that would change policies in the U.S.”

Naples’ research has been funded by the Human Rights Institute; a social sciences seed grant; and a grant from the Amercan Sociological Association in conjunction with the National Science Foundation.

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