Gay couples seek changes to US immigration law

Currently only hetrosexuals can sponsor a spouse or partner from abroad for a US visa.

US lawmakers are now drafting immigration-reform bills that would include proposals to let gay people bring their partners to the United States permanently and Senator Al Franken is expected to co-sponsor such a proposal, his spokeswoman said.

If adopted, the legislation would affect about 40,000 couples in the US, allowing them to obtain an American visa and later residency.

Gay-rights advocates are courting Minnesota senators and hope to meet with Franken and Senator Amy Klobuchar before Labor Day.

"Minnesota is especially important because it has the unique position of two senators on the Judiciary Committee," said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, a DC-based organization that lobbies for gay rights.

"It also has a significant community of binational gay couples."

More than 100 legislators in the House and about 20 in the Senate have co-sponsored proposals in support of binational gay couples. Ralls said Immigration Equality will focus its lobbying efforts first on the Senate, which is likely to vote on an immigration bill this fall.

Klobuchar spokesman Linden Zakula said without seeing the proposal he could not predict how the senator would vote. But, Zakula said, "Klobuchar has been a supporter of legal civil unions for gay couples."

Despite such support, Knoll said he knows there will always be opposition.

"When rights are granted to a new class, there's a backlash of people saying, 'I can't believe they give Martians the right to ride unicycles,'" he said.

"But as people get used to binational gay couples, they see that "the sky doesn't fall; life goes on. It's not as big a shock to their idea of the world as they thought."

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in American visa and immigration services.