Former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, the second openly gay Republican to serve in Congress, plans to marry his partner of eight years on Saturday.
Kolbe, of Arizona, plans to marry Hector Alfonso, a Panamanian native.
Alfonso’s one-time immigration problems –his visa expired and he had to leave the United States while he tried to gain permanent residency– inspired Kolbe to testify recently before the Senate Judiciary Committee about why immigration reform should include protections for gay couples.
Kolbe is from Tucson and represented southern Arizona in the U.S. House for 22 years. He was elected in 1985 and disclosed in 1996 that he was gay.
A simple ceremony at the Cosmos Club is planned for Saturday. The ceremony will be officiated by a minister with readings and prayers.
Same-sex marriage is allowed in Washington, D.C., and the 70-year-old Kolbe says it's unfortunate that Arizona doesn't yet recognize it.
"We're very happy," he was quoted as saying in The Arizona Daily Star. "We're very committed."
According to The Arizona Daily Star, Kolbe said he and Alfonso have spoken about getting married for many years, but they had to get Alfonso’s immigration issues settled.
Gay rights groups once criticized Kolbe for doing little to address their issues.
Kolbe became the first openly gay speaker at a Republican National Convention in 2000, but his moment in the spotlight met with some resistance. The Texas delegation, for instance, stood with their backs toward Kolbe while he spoke.
Now, many gay rights groups are hoping he can help persuade members of Congress to include gay couples in immigration reform legislation.
“Congressman Kolbe is the perfect choice to speak to the Judiciary Committee about LGBT immigrant families,” said Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls, according to Politico. “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 binational families face, and the critical need to ensure their inclusion in the Senate’s bill.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.