By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
FORTUNE -- When Gordon Stewart met his partner Renato over a decade ago, he never imagined he'd have to leave his country of birth for his relationship. But since 2005, Stewart, a Pfizer vice president, has lived in London and commuted regularly to New York because same-sex partners of U.S. citizens can't immigrate to the U.S. the way that heterosexual spouses can.
Pfizer moved Stewart to London because the couple could live there together legally, after U.S. officials refused to renew Renato's student visa halfway through his planned four years at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. "It takes a significant commitment from both Pfizer and me to maintain this relationship," says Stewart. "If I didn't have this opportunity, I would've had to choose between my partner and my career."
Now, Pfizer (PFE) is one of a few dozen large employers, including Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs (GS), and Medtronic (MDT), that are pushing to change immigration law through the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would let U.S. citizens and permanent residents sponsor their same-sex partners for citizenship. The bill has attracted 143 co-sponsors in the House and 30 senators, and should benefit from the momentum on both immigration and LGBT rights coming out of last month's elections, argues Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a national nonprofit that advocates for equal immigration rights for LGBT people.
"The timeline is really dramatically speeded up by the attention to immigration reform that came out of the election," as well as state ballot initiatives in favor of LGBT rights, Tiven says. "We're seeing an enormous amount of energy on the Hill and a lot of optimism."
Broad immigration reform is seen as a top priority for the White House and Congress starting in January, when newly elected lawmakers take office. In November's elections, Maryland and Maine residents voted to legalize gay marriage, but the federal Defense of Marriage Act supersedes state law when it comes to immigration. Minnesota voters defeated an anti-gay marriage measure, and voters in Wisconsin, New York, and Rhode Island elected openly gay national lawmakers. More
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