Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins again took a step outside of her party's box Wednesday on the issue of gay rights when she became the first Republican in the Senate to co-sponsor legislation that she says would give same-sex couples immigration rights equal to those of heterosexual couples.
Collins, who's bucked her party before on gay rights issues, joined a long list of Democratic sponsors of the Uniting American Families Act. The bill would give same-sex couples the chance to sponsor their significant other for citizenship. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]
"This legislation would simply update our nation's immigration laws to treat bi-national couples equally," Collins said in a release. "This important civil rights legislation would help prevent committed, loving families from being forced to choose between leaving their family or leaving their country."
Under current law, same-sex couples are not afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to the country's immigration policies.
According to U.S. census data there are roughly 36,000 same-sex, binational couples this bill could affect.
Collins has been a long-time advocate for gay rights and has co-sponsored other legislation including the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would give gay federal employees the same health and insurance benefits that heterosexual employees receive for their families. She also sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 29 states, there is currently no law to protect people from being denied jobs or promotions based on their sexual orientation. [Rand Paul Fillbuster on Pakistan Aid Could Force Senate into Overtime.]
Those who oppose the bill say the legislation could increase immigration fraud because same-sex couples can't legally marry in most states.
"Because there isn't a paper trail for many people like this, it might be more open to fraud," says Mark Kirkorian, the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington that seeks tighter control on immigration.
Kirkorian says it is possible individuals might lie about being in a "permanent" relationship in an effort to get a green card, adding the country must decide on whether to give all gays the right to marry before they try and give them equal rights through immigration reform.
"This is a culture war issue that is trying to be advanced through immigration law, and I think that is a mistake," Kirkorian says.
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Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. She can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow her on twitter @foxreports.