Vermont already grants civil unions (but not “marriage”) to same-sex couples, giving them all the lovely rights and benefits when it comes to death and taxes as straights. But one glaring loophole? If your wannabe same-sex husband or wife is a foreign national, you’re going to face quite a fight to keep ’em in the country. Vermont’s Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy wants that to change.

So he’s introducing federal legislation that would grant same-sex couples composed of one American and one foreigner the same rights as couples made up of two citizens. Naturally, opponents argue Leahy’s just trying to get us on the path toward federal recognition of gay marriage. Reports Vermont Public Radio:

(Jones) Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced legislation amending immigration law to include provisions for a permanent partnership. It’s called the Uniting American Families Act.

(Leahy) “If you’re married in a heterosexual relationship, you can get special visas to bring your spouse here to the U.S., if one is a U.S. citizen, I’m trying to do it for a same sex couple in a committed relationship.”

(Reporter Whitney JonesJones) Some Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas don’t like the proposal. They cite the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

(Texas Sen. John Cornyn) “Well I think we should preserve and protect the institution of marriage because it creates an environment where children can be raised by two loving parents and I think they’re better off in the long run under those circumstances.”

(Jones) Senator Leahy says he doesn’t see the bill as a step towards gay marriage. He calls it a step towards basic fairness.

(Leahy) “I don’t see it as endangering marriage. My wife and I have been married for 46 years and I don’t think my putting in the legislation suddenly is putting my marriage at risk.”

(Jones) Leahy says marriage should be left up to the individual states and the bill would not affect any state law.

Kruse, the advocate, says they’re not looking for marriage rights.

(Immigration Equality spokesperson Julia Kruse) “What we’re asking is for to end government discrimination in the immigration arena against gay and lesbian couples and we’re asking for gay and lesbian couples to have the same immigration rights as straight couples do.”

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