Gay-Rights Issue to Immigration Reform Bill Is At a Standstill

May Become a Senate Showdown

An amendment sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would allow U.S. citizens in long-term relationships to sponsor foreign partners for green cards (as opposite sex married couples are allowed by law). Out of the 300 proposed changes that have been filed by Judiciary panel members, this amendment, seems to be causing the most controversy.

Leahy has two amendments: One would implement the Uniting American Families Act; the other would exempt immigration law from the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that could be struck down by the U.S Supreme Court next month anyway.


Gay-rights groups want President Obama to offer more support to immigrants in same-sex marriages.  Equal treatment for same-sex couples was included in the president’s principles for comprehensive immigration reform last January. Yet, the President could do much more to advocate for amendments sponsored by Senator Leahy. Obama has said that “protection for same-sex bi-national couples is “the right thing to do” yet does not say that it has to be part of immigration reform. Through an executive order, it’s speculated that Obama could extend equal treatment to same-sex couples under immigration law.

The lead author of Senate immigration reform legislation and a co-sponsor of Leahy’s Uniting American Families Act, which would extend equal immigration treatment to long-term same-sex couples is Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. are the two Democratic members of the bill-writing group known as “Gang of Eight.” The eight senators have committed to join together to defeat amendments from either side that could derail the bill. Schumer and Durbin have not said how they will vote.  Durbin, Senate Majority Whip, said the bipartisan coalition did not agree to add the gay partner amendment.

One of Leahy’s amendments would implement the Uniting American Families Act; the other would exempt immigration law from the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that could be struck down by the U.S Supreme Court next month anyway.


The Democrats are in a tough place.  They are being forced by Republicans to choose between delivering a win for gay families and maintaining bipartisan support. They don’t want to tell gay rights advocates that the amendment may not get a vote in the Judiciary Committee and take the blame.

If the amendment gets into the immigration bill, it could endanger the whole comprehensive immigration reform plan.

The four Republicans among the eight senators who  wrote the immigration bill have said that such a provision could cost their support and kill the bill. Said Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., “if that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail.”

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) commented on May 13, 2013 that “if the Judiciary Committee tries to redefine marriage in the immigration bill they will lose me and many others.”

Also opposed are religious groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention that have backed the immigration reform

A Stalemate?

Gay-rights advocates said on May 15, 2013, they didn’t know when Leahy will offer his amendment to require equal treatment for same-sex couples.  One source predicted it would come late in the markup of the bill, which is expected to span a couple of weeks, but before the Memorial Day recess.






Senator Leahy submits Gay Rights Amendment to Senate’s Immigration Bill

Would Allow Gays to Sponsor Foreign-born Partners

On May 7. 2013, Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) submitted to the Senate’s Immigration Bill an amendment that would allow legally married gay Americans to sponsor foreign-born partners for green cards. The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the bipartisan immigration reform bill on May 9, 2013 as Congress returns from recess. The bill is expected to head to the full Senate in June.

Over the last decade through his push for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), Leahy has championed the issue for binational same-sex couples.  Leahy endorses that “for immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families.  We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.” President Barack Obama backs the amendment as the “right thing to do.”

Leahy doesn’t believe his efforts to allow U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to petition for the foreign same-sex partners to come to the U.S. will harm the legislation prospects. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, although he supports the amendment, warned on television that the group of negotiators didn’t have “a specific agreement.”

Expected Opposition to the Amendment

Republicans feel that the inclusion of LGBT rights into the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act will “kill” the Senate’s Immigration Bill, crafted by eight senators, that would increase border security, create new work-visa programs and offer a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the nation.

Says Marco Rubio, perhaps a Republican hopeful for the next presidential election, “there is a coalition of groups who are supporting immigration reform who will not support it if that’s in there.” Rubio, a Cuban immigrant, is not the only Republican sparring with the Democrats over this issue.

Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation, said on television the week of May 6 that his conservative think tank this week would argue that the immigration proposals would “cost Americans trillions of dollars” as unauthorized immigrants gain legal status and drain our government, taking government benefits.

As Senator Durbin said, “both sides may have to accept parts of the bill they don’t like.”