Ronald Reagan once said that “All great change in America begins at the dinner table”.
He was right.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. The film considered the then controversial subject of interracial marriage, which had been illegal in most states, and was still illegal in 17 states, until June 12, 1967, when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.
The plot centers on a daughter’s return to her affluent American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiancé to dinner to meet her parents. She finds it difficult to comprehend her liberal parents’ reaction to her plan to marry an African American. While they taught her to treat others as equals, the parents strike a different tone when it comes to their daughter’s choice of a life mate. The fiancé’s parents fly up from Los Angeles to the dinner but, like the parents of the bride to be, they are shocked when they learn their son intends to enter into an interracial marriage. The dinner evolves from an awkward dinner party to a meeting of tolerance and understanding as family and friends try to accept the couple’s choice.
Today the subject of Immigration Reform can also make for an uncomfortable dinner party. Like the gradual but important acceptance of interracial marriage in the 1960s, immigration concerns the evolution of America’s dearly held founding principles.
By recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, Congress rightly reiterated that we are a Nation which will continue to protect our most vulnerable members of society – women and children. Congress proved it can put politics aside and work together to do the right thing for women and for America. As our leaders come together to continue the dialogue on the reform of our immigration system – the parameters have been set.
To start, on January 29, 2013 President Obama outlined his principles for immigration reform: maintaining border security, building a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented, stopping employers who game the system by illegally employing unauthorized immigrants, and streamlining our legal immigration procedures to ensure family unity for all Americans, including same-sex couples.
The Senate bipartisan framework for immigration reform presented on January 28, 2013 sets forth similar principles for reform but it does not mention binational same sex couples.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) lead the effort in the Senate last year by introducing the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). UAFA would give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples — including the right to petition for green cards for partners or spouses. She has made clear that she is committed to getting the legislation passed, either on its own or as part of comprehensive immigration reform package. UAFA was reintroduced in the House as a bipartisan bill for the first time this past February. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) reintroduced the bill with the backing of Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY). They signed on in support of the bill last year, but the legislation has never before been introduced with Republican co-sponsors.
The inclusion of same-sex binational couples as part of an immigration reform package has received support from many advocates, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) even legally-married same-sex couples are unable to petition for legal status for a foreign-born member. This translates into partners being separated by deportation or the inability to obtain visas, with couples at times living apart for long periods of time or leaving the United States entirely.
The Williams Institute at UCLA estimated in 2011 that there were about 40,000 couples who were ineligible to receive the same treatment on immigration as heterosexual couples. Nearly 25,000 children had parents who fit into that category, according to the institute.
As members of Congress come together at the “dinner” table to discuss the reform of our dysfunctional immigration system there is no question that immigration benefits for same sex binational couples should be part of the conversation and proposed reforms.
You heard right, guess who’s coming to dinner? Our nation’s history, founding principles and evolution are all indicators that the dinner table can no longer be missing an important member of our society. LGBT families are truly part of the American family, and not just a partisan political issue. There are many who may be “shocked and offended and appalled”, but the time is here and the time is now to end all the prejudices, bigotry, blind hatred and irrational fears surrounding two individuals falling in love and building a family.
The reform of our immigration system must demonstrate that America is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are created equal and that all people have rights, no matter what they look like, where they came from, or what their sexual orientation is.
America must seize this historic opportunity. As Spencer Tracy’s character taught us, it does not matter what others think of another’s relationship. What is important is how much they feel for each other and if it is half of what we feel for our loved ones, that’s everything!