U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent (15th Dist.) is cosponsoring the Uniting American Families Act that seeks to equalize immigration laws for same-sex couples. The bill would allow an American citizen who marries a same-sex foreign national to sponsor him or her for permanent residency.
Dent joins just three Republicans who have cosponsored the bill, along with 140 Democrats.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) introduced the measure in April 2011 and it has been stalled in committee since.
Dent is a moderate Republican and has voted for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and to extend the federal hate-crimes law to include members of the LGBT community. Dent has also voted for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania, thanked Dent and said his cosponsorship is an acknowledgment of the inequality the LGBT community faces from the federal government.
“He recognized that our families don’t have equality in the eyes of the federal government,” Shanker said. “The only way we are going to win LGBT equality is if we have bipartisan support. It opens the door for more Republican support.”
Dent said the reaction to his cosponsorship has been favorable. He said he has personally seen the effects of the inequality in immigration laws in his own community.
“I have received a great deal of input from individuals in the private sectors and businesses also expressed to me that they were losing some of their talented workers,” he said.
Dent cited a same-sex couple in Allentown who had to move back to England because of immigration rules and noted that even his former colleague, Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe from Arizona, was personally affected by the immigration laws.
“It struck me that the current situation is very unfair and the U.S. is losing talented citizens to other countries because of this current problem,” Dent said.
Dent spearheaded a bill that would allow green-card-holding military members to gain easier access to citizenship. He said he was fortunate to have that measure passed so quickly.
Although he is not sure of the timeline for the UAFA, he envisions a challenge getting it passed.
Shanker, however, believes that as long as the bill has bipartisan support, it stands a fighting chance.
“If members of Congress from both parties take a look at the bill, they would agree that there is no reason to not support it,” he said. “This bill will positively affect the LGBT, business and immigration community.”
Shanker said the public support for LGBT equality is at an all-time high and the community is gaining support from different sectors than in the past.
“The LGBT-equality movement is seeing more support in every which way. I think in Pennsylvania, a lot of these issues are seen as common sense and I think that is the message Congressman Dent’s colleagues in the Republican caucus need to see.”
Shanker said he was not surprised to hear the news of Dent’s cosponsorship.
“It is not a departure from his core beliefs, and I think he is interested in looking at pieces of legislation that are common sense,” he said.
Shanker encouraged the LGBT community to show appreciation for Dent's position on UAFA.
“I think it is important that the LGBT community thank our members of Congress for doing something, whether they are Democrats or Republicans,” he said. “All they need to do is call Dent’s office and thank him.”