US senators have voted to repeal travel ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.
The ban first imposed 20 years ago, and made law in 1993, required foreigners with HIV to apply for special waivers. But opponents said it discriminated against people with the disease without cause.
'Barring some unforeseen event, the HIV Travel Ban -- a relic of the days when HIV was a source of fear and stigma and terror -- is finally over,' commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog on the Atlantic magazine's website.
The travel ban law was repealed Wednesday in an amendment to a bill providing increased funding to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and elsewhere. The bill won backing from both parties in a 80-16 vote.
Earlier this year, Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Gordon Smith amended President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to also include a repeal of the HIV travel ban.
PEPFAR passed with that amendment intact, despite efforts by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to stop the repeal of the travel ban.
'Today we are one step closer to ending a discriminatory practice that stigmatizes all those living with HIV, squanders our moral authority, and sets us back in the fight against AIDS,' said Kerry in a statement.
If approved by the President, the bill would remove the anti-HIV language from the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Existing laws — codified by Congress in 1993 — give border agents the authority to refuse entry of those who are HIV-positive, from tourists to those seeking permanent entry. Waivers are very difficult to obtain.
Queer rights groups and HIV activists hailed the outcome of the Senate vote.
'We applaud the Senate for rejecting this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States,' said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a statement. 'We call on the leaders of the House and Senate to retain the Kerry-Smith provision in conference and ensure it is included in the final legislation sent to the President's desk.'
Those comments were echoed by Immigration Equality, an advocacy group for queer and HIV-positive immigrants. Rachel B Tiven, the organization's executive director, says the decision is long overdue.
'The HIV ban is ineffective, unnecessary, and simply bad public health policy,' said Tiven in a press release. 'It is especially harmful to gay and lesbian families, who do not benefit from the waiver available to opposite-sex couples.'
Only a dozen countries have bans on HIV-positive visitors, including Russia, Sudan, Saudia Arabia and Lybia. China announced last year that it would ease its HIV travel restrictions.