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House Democrats Insert Gay Rights into Immigration Debate

FILE - In this file photo taken June 17, 2008, John Lewis, left, puts a wedding ring on the hand of Stuart Gaffney, both of San Francisco, as they exchange marriage vows at City Hall in San Francisco. County clerk offices opened their doors June 17, 2008, to hundreds of gay and lesbian couples with appointments to secure marriage licenses and exchange vows on the first full day same-sex nuptials were legal throughout California. (AP Photo/Darryl Bush, File)AP

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats are trying to broaden support for immigration reform by reaching out to the gay and lesbian community with a provision in immigration legislation that would allow gay and lesbian Americans to bring foreign partners home to the United States.

Under current law, American citizens and other legal permanent residents can get a green card or immigrant visa for a spouse or immediate family members living abroad. However, the same rights do not extend to same-sex couples living in the country.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Mike Honda of California, among others, urged Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package this year.

"Right now too many same-sex, binational couples face an impossible choice," said Gutierrez, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, "to live apart or to break the law to be with partners, their families and children."

“Government should never engage in purposeless, gratuitous cruelty and we should stop it," Nadler said.

With no support from the GOP, the comprehensive immigration bill introduced by Gutierrez last December has stalled in the House. Republicans say this legislation won't help.

"These are creative people who just have the wrong philosophy," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a member of the immigration subcommittee. "It's an alliance designed to grant amnesty."

"It tries to redefine traditional marriage. I can't support that," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Fox News. "If they're looking to truly reach out to conservatives and Republicans and do something in a bipartisan way, this isn't it."

The legislation appears to be part of an effort to strengthen support on the left, rather than the right, by targeting a constituency that has yet to be heard from in the immigration debate -- the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered community.

"Last time around the pro-immigration side took us for granted. ...  It is crucial to shore up the support of real genuine progressives who will pick up the phone and call their representatives," said Rachel Tiven of Immigration Equality, an organization that describes itself as one fighting for equal immigration rights for the LGBT community as well as HIV positive immigrants and their families.

Last month in Arizona, Phoenix' gay chamber of commerce urged national gay rights groups not to boycott the state over its impending immigration law that allows a crackdown by local police on illegals, saying the decision would hurt gay-friendly businesses. Proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation in Congress is in part a reaction to criticism that the federal government has not done enough to resolve illegal immigration in the country.

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