Congressional testimony on the repeal of DOMA

Testimony form the LGBTQ Immigration Rights Coalition of Chicago

Congressional Field Forum to Investigate the Impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Friday, October 7, 2011, 10 a.m.
Chicago City Hall – 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois
City Council Chambers, 2nd Floor

The LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago (“Coalition”) submits this letter urging Congress to act on a swift repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in favor of marriage equality. Our non-partisan Coalition is comprised of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and supporting groups all of whom seek fair and respectful immigration policies that address the human and civil rights of all people, including the LGBTQ immigrant community. In that vein, our group fully supports the recognition of gay and lesbian marriages and civil unions at the federal level.

In passing DOMA in 1996, Congress statutorily enacted a discriminatory law directed at gays and lesbians. Despite six states and the District of Columbia that now recognize marriage equality and a handful of other states, including Illinois, that recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, the federal government continues to bar validly executed relationships from any and all benefits at the federal level. This bar totals over 1,100 benefits in areas of taxation, health care and survivor benefits that same-sex married couples cannot access or receive, while equally-positioned heterosexual married couples may. The repeal of DOMA will allow for the equal applicability of federal benefits (and obligations) to same-sex couples, easing the hardship that has been imposed statutorily on gay and lesbian couples for the last 15 years. DOMA is discrimination in its most capricious form and we call on Congress to act quickly in its repeal.

The impact that DOMA has on immigration benefits for same-sex couples is one of the principal issues of the Coalition. As stated above, many states in our union now recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in the United States and in jurisdictions abroad. Yet, a United States citizen is not able to sponsor a foreign national spouse because such relationships are not cognizable under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) due to DOMA.

Continuing to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman is not only offensive to the many same-sex couples who are legally married, it has far-reaching destructive effects in separating families, many of whom have children – whether through deportation or due to the pressures of instability where a foreign national may not be able to legally stay in the United States. More troubling, there are undocumented spouses who cannot seek Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status through their United States citizen spouses or LPRs who are delayed in qualifying for naturalization due to DOMA. In the case of undocumented spouses, such individuals are forced to live in the shadows of our society and in constant fear of deportation. There is nothing fair, just or rational in the targeted destruction of a family that DOMA mandates. Congress must recognize this and should immediately repeal DOMA.

The longer Congress delays in repealing DOMA, the greater the suffering will be for gay and lesbian Americans, especially those in committed same-sex bi-national relationships. The 2010 U.S. Census reports there were 131,729 married same-sex couple households and 514,735 unmarried same-sex partner households in the United States. Immigration Equality, a national immigration rights group, estimates that there are at least 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States. Households headed by same-sex couples will continue to have a strong and growing presence in the United States. Congress must now act to pave the way to allow for the repeal of DOMA so that same-sex couples can receive the same, not different or special, benefits that have long been afforded heterosexual married couples.

The Coalition is also in strong support of the United American Families Act (UAFA). This legislation has been introduced in Congress so that same-sex permanent partners or those in marriages or civil unions would be recognized for immigration benefits. However, this is the moment for Congress to recognize and make available all federal benefits for all same-sex couples that are married or in civil unions by and through the full repeal of DOMA.

Congress must take a stand for all Americans and their families in favor of marriage equality. Additionally, the Coalition continues to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, against the criminalization and stigmatization of immigrant communities, and against the forced separation of families through deportation.

For these reasons, DOMA must be repealed and the Coalition urges swift and immediate action in its repeal.

Signed by Coalition Members:

Affinity Community Services
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
AIDS Legal Council of Chicago
Amigas Latinas
Association of Latino Men for Action
Center on Halsted
Chicago Community and Worker’s Rights
Civil Rights Agenda
Congregation Or Chadash
Equality Illinois
Immigrant Youth Justice League
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Latino Organization of the Southwest
National Immigrant Justice Center
Unid@s: The National Latino LGBT Human Rights Organization

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