On Monday, former Rep. Jim Kolbe will urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to amend the immigration bill to include a path to citizenship or permanent residency for same-sex partners—including his own. Kolbe became only the second openly gay Republican to serve in Congress and is one of 20 witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing. Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls said he is the only one whose primary aim is to describe the challenges bi-national gay couples face. The 11-term Arizona congressman will talk about the effects the current system has had on his relationship with his eight-year partner, Hector Alfonso, a native of Panama. Alfonso, who is now in the US on a green card, was forced to be separated from Kolbe for a year due to the expiration of a previous visa and the refusal of the federal government to grant any legal status to gay couples. The two plan on getting married on May 18 in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is legally recognized, but the ceremony will not alter Alfonso’s legal status.
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Kolbe, 70, will make his most public foray into gay rights advocacy when he testifies on Monday. He became the first openly gay speaker to address the Republican National Convention in 2000, and was ignored by the Texas delegation when they stood and turned their backs to Kolbe while he spoke. In 2006, Kolby who co-sponsored the Unite American Families Act, a measure to allow permanent residency to foreign partners of Americans, told the New York Blade, a gay newspaper, “the immigration debate is so heavily laden and so fraught with so many issues that adding one like this into it is not terribly practical,” Seven years later he appears to have changed his mind.
According to Ralls, “Congressman Kolbe is the perfect choice to speak to the Judiciary Committee about LGBT immigrant families.” “As a former Representative from Arizona, he understands the impact of immigration law on communities and businesses. As a gay American who has navigated the immigration system in order to remain with his partner, he can also offer Senators his first-hand knowledge of the painful choices LGBT bi-national families face, and the critical need to ensure their inclusion in the Senate’s bill.”[POL]