As committee markup continues, gay inclusion in immigration reform uncertain

The pressure is on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy to bring a vote on two amendments he filed to provide protections for binational same-sex couples in immigration reform. But as of late Tuesday afternoon, it remains unclear if Leahy will do so.

Thumbnail image for Patrick Leahy.jpgDespite his longstanding commitment to LGBT families, amid threats from Republicans to derail immigration reform if same-sex couples are included, Leahy has not publicly committed to holding a vote on his amendments during the committee markup process of the legislation.

The Vermont Democrat filed two amendments earlier this month to the 844-page Senate immigration bill drafted by the bipartisan group of senators known as the “gang of eight.” Leahy’s first amendment would add protections that mirror the language of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would recognize immigrants in relationships with Americans of the same sex and grant rights denied to immigrants in relationships with Americans of the same sex, including eligibility for green cards, due to the Defense of Marriage Act. His second amendment would provide equal protection to married binational same-sex couples.

For months, advocates have been pushing key senators to include protections for same-sex couples in immigration reform, but threats from Republicans have caused some of the LGBT community’s most strident allies to apparently waver in the face of dooming immigration reform entirely. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in particular has faced fierce criticism for his refusal to commit to voting for Leahy’s two amendments. Without his support, it remains unlikely the committee will adopt the amendments. Schumer would not speak to reporters Tuesday afternoon, telling Metro Weekly he had “no comment” when asked if he had decided if he would support Leahy’s amendments.

“It is important to note that, when the Senate immigration framework (which Schumer and Durbin helped write) did not include LGBT couples, both Senators assured our families they would be in the base bill. When the base bill (which they also helped write) was not inclusive, they assured us we would receive a vote in Committee. Now, they may be on the verge of breaking a third promise to LGBT families,” Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls said in an email to Metro Weekly. “While Senator Leahy has stuck his neck out for LGBT couples, Schumer has remained notably silent. Despite Leahy’s leadership on the issue, if Schumer does not commit to casting the decisive 10th vote in favor of the amendments, they would not succeed.”

The Associated Press reported today that the White House has suggested Leahy delay consideration of his amendments until the bill reaches the Senate floor. The bill is expected to move out of committee by the end of this week, setting the stage for a battle on the Senate floor in early June. Tuesday’s hearing is expected to go late into the night. 

However, some stipulate that if the amendments are not offered, they stand little chance of being adopted when the bill is considered by the full Senate. 

“Without an amendment in Committee, there stands zero chance of such an amendment being added next month on the Senate floor,” wrote immigration lawyer and co-founder of The DOMA Project, Lavi Soloway, in a piece published Tuesday on the project’s website.

Although Republicans who have threatened immigration reform over possible inclusion of same-sex couples will no doubt be assigned a great deal of the blame if Leahy’s amendments are not considered, Schumer in particular is expected to face a fierce backlash from LGBT advocates. According to Politico, Schumer called a meeting of LGBT elected officials and activists earlier this month to address concerns over the amendments, which grew heated at times.

Said Ralls, “If the amendments are not offered for a vote, there will be bipartisan blame: On Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake for making threats and bullying colleagues to abandon our families; and on Senator Schumer, for refusing to stand up, in the face of that bullying, for his own constituents who desperately need him to cast his vote in their favor.”

[Photo: Patrick Leahy (Courtesy of the U.S. Senate)]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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