For "Matthew," next year can't come soon enough.
The American citizen, who is featured in the September issue of The Advocate, chose the pseudonym to honor the memory of Matthew Shepard. He cannot use his real name because doing so will almost certainly mean that he and his partner will face unspeakable violence. This "Matthew" lives in fear that he may face the same fate as his more famous namesake.
The "Matthew" of September's Advocate, you see, lives abroad, in a Muslim country in the Middle East, because he cannot live at home, in the United States, with his partner. Under current U.S. immigration law, Matthew cannot sponsor his partner, who is Middle Eastern, for residency. As a result, they now make their home in one of the most hostile countries on earth for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Their story, movingly recounted by reporter Andrew Harmon, is a stark reminder of just how heinous U.S. immigration law can be.
So for Matthew, President Obama's pledge yesterday to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2010 was welcome news. But he knows that Obama's pledge is the easy part. Fixing the immigration system for his family will take the support of the entire LGBT community.
"I'm hopeful," Matthew says in Crossing Borders, Harmon's in-depth report on efforts to end discrimination against LGBT couples under U.S. immigration law, "and that hope sustains us until one day when we can go home."
For now, though, "home" is the Middle East, next door to the man he loves. Just to be in proximity with each other, they are forced to make a life in a country where many such couples have even been sentenced to death.
"Today, the two men reside in a quiet neighborhood of side-by-side townhouses; they have separate entrances for keeping up appearances, though an interior hallway joins their two units," Harmon writes in The Advocate, which has just started arriving on newsstands.
"This is the life we live," Matthew tells Harmon. "It's not a life of tragedy or bitterness. But it is a life of lying and hiding - and not a life that an American citizen and taxpayer should lead."
It is, however, the life that is dictated by current immigration law, which refuses to recognize Matthew and his partner as a family. Unlike 19 other countries (and counting), the United States does not allow lesbian or gay citizens to sponsor their partners for residency. As a result, those couples (nearly half of whom are raising children) are often forced to choose between the person they love and the country they call home.
Today, however, Matthew does have hope because of President Obama's commitment to immigration reform and the tenacity of a coalition of allies who are working around the clock to ensure that any comprehensive immigration reform legislation also includes lesbian and gay families. For the first time, there is a very real possibility of fixing this blatant injustice as part of a bill to fix our broken immigration system.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has told reporters that he will finish writing an immigration reform bill - with significant contributions from GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - by Labor Day. And yesterday, the President sounded optimistic about the bill's chances, telling media at a press conference in Mexico that, "[U]ltimately, I think the American people want fairness."
Fairness dictates that lesbian and gay couples should be included in immigration reform, too.
This past spring, the White House indicated that it supports including LGBT families in a larger, comprehensive reform bill. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee - and lead sponsor of The Uniting American Families Act, a stand-alone bill for binational couples - has said he supports the measure, too. And in June, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) sent a strong message that no reform is truly comprehensive without our families, too, when he included LGBT families in his immigration bill, The Reuniting Families Act.
The surest and quickest way to right this wrong, however, is inclusion of families like Matthew's in comprehensive immigration reform. And the campaign to do that, Advocate editor-in-chief Jon Barrett recently noted, is "one of the issues that does seem to be getting some traction in Washington these days."
Immigration Equality, which represents Matthew and thousands of other couples who are separated or facing having their families torn apart, told Harmon that LGBT immigration reform "is the little gay issue that could." Its success, however, will mean hard work on the part of the entire LGBT community.
"If LGBT voters bring new support to a large, comprehensive bill, we also bring credibility to other fights that impact our families, too," Julie Kruse, the group's policy director, wrote earlier this month in The Washington Blade. "That's why it is so important that our community support comprehensive immigration reform and urge Congress to pass an inclusive reform package that benefits us."
Including LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform will require speaking out. And, for families like Matthew's, the clock is ticking. It is imperative that each of us call our Senators and ask that they first weigh in with Senator Schumer, on behalf of an inclusive immigration bill that leaves no family behind. Then, it is imperative that we call on Senators to stand with us throughout the process, and refuse to allow Matthew, and other families like his, to be taken out of this critically important bill once we're in.
The American people do want fairness in immigration reform. And fairness means allowing Americans to be with the one they love, and ending the hiding that has gone on for too, too long.
The September 2009 issue of The Advocate includes 'Crossing Borders,' which tells Matthew's story in more detail and looks at the campaign to end discrimination against LGBT binational couples. The new issue is on newsstands this week.