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Binational same-sex couples hope immigration bill passes

They've been together eight years, marrying last month in Canada. Only Roy can't sponsor his partner for a green card because they're a same-sex couple.

"I don't understand how I have a legal document from Canada saying that we are legally married and why I can't bring him to the country," said Roy, 54, of Amityville, who did not want his last name disclosed because he is concerned about his partner's immigration status. "It's absolutely nuts."

Now, Roy and his partner - like an estimated 36,000 gay and lesbian binational couples in the United States - are hopeful that a bill gaining some traction in the U.S. Senate will allow them to live in the country together. Called the Uniting American Families Act, the bill has been introduced every congressional session since 2000, but finally received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bill, which has a House companion, is being pushed by its sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who became chair of the Judiciary Committee this year.

Opposition against the bill includes groups that oppose same-sex marriage as well as those that advocate for restrictions on immigration.

The Family Research Council called it a "back door effort to redefine marriage."

"The law in this country is very clear on what constitutes family," said Tony Perkins, the group's president. "People are connected by blood, marriage or adoption. This immigration policy is none of the above."

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the bill has the potential for "enormous" fraud since there's little way of determining the legitimacy of the relationships.

But supporters note the bill requires extensive documentation.

Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a national advocacy group, said 19 countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes.

Some gay couples, like Gordon Stewart and his partner, who lived in Brooklyn Heights, have found themselves forced to relocate. Stewart, 48, spent 18 months looking for a job within his company, Pfizer, that would enable him and his partner to live in the same country. They moved to London in 2005.

Edwin Blesch, 68, of Orient, has been with his partner, Timothy Smulian, 62, for 10 years. The couple married in South Africa two years ago. Smulian, a South African resident, has a visa that allows him to live in the United States for up to six months every year. For the remainder of the year the couple is transient.

For Blesch, who has a health condition, that means being unable to receive the Medicare benefits he receives here. "For both of us, we feel we don't have a home," he said. "We don't have a country."

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