At long last, our country's military will soon afford its dedicated, patriotic troops some of the liberties they have long fought for abroad. The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is surely one of the biggest steps our country has taken, since the de-segregation of our forces, to honor the men and women who selflessly sacrifice for our nation.
It will also, as I mentioned in my very first post for Bilerico, be a watershed moment for the entire LGBT community. All over the globe, countries which have made advances on LGBT civil rights began that progress by first welcoming lesbian and gay service members into their armed forces. Countries which now offer federal relationship recognition did so after their military bans were lifted. The consequences of ending our own prohibition on open service can only begin to be imagined.
The first, and immediate, impact, however, will be on our men and women in uniform. These brave men and women will no longer be forced into the shadows, or made to lie or hide. The days of secret good-bye ceremonies before deployments will soon be over, and the families of lesbian and gay troops will, at long last, also receive the accolades and recognition they deserve.
Unless, however, those families happen to include one partner from abroad.
It has long been true that service members meet, fall in love and even marry while serving abroad. In nearly every conflict - from Vietnam to Iraq - some American troops have fallen in love, and started families, with husbands and wives they met while deployed around the world. The United States has rightly honored those relationships by allowing service members who marry foreign national partners to sponsor their new husband or wife for residency in the U.S.
That, however, will not be possible for lesbian and gay troops who find themselves in the same situation.
Under current U.S. immigration laws, even lesbian and gay service personnel who can now serve openly, and proudly, cannot bring their loved ones from abroad back home. Our country still does not recognize those families under federal law.
At Immigration Equality, we often hear from Americans who have courageously served in our armed forces, but are unable to keep their families together in the country they have fought for, and defended. Instead, they - like more than 36,000 families like them - face separation because of our discriminatory immigration laws.
If we truly want to fully honor our troops, we must also honor their families. That includes critical benefits for the partners and children of lesbian and gay troops . . . and the ability for those troops to keep their families together, even when they include a partner from abroad.
That is why, with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" behind us, we must now pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), too.
UAFA - which enjoys more Congressional co-sponsors than any other immigration bill in Congress - would make a simple, but profound fix, to our broken immigration system. Through a small change to immigration policy, it would allow lesbian and gay Americans, including troops with loving partners from other countries, to build their homes, lives and families here in the country they love.
Now that we've recognized the extraordinary sacrifice of lesbian, gay and bisexual troops, it is time we stop asking that they sacrifice their families because of out-dated immigration laws, too.
In the coming weeks and months, LGBT advocates, allies and organizations will begin their push for equality anew. There is much that still needs to be done, including relationship recognition, employment protections and more. We must not forget, however, that too many Americans still suffer from the basest, and most heinous discrimination of all: The inability to share their home, and build a life, with the person they choose in the country they love.
We owe it to every LGBT American who faces this unconscionable reality - including those who serve our country in uniform - to right this wrong, too.