Leahy amendments would be first official exception to DOMA
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced two amendments to the 'Gang of Eight' immigration bill on May 7, providing protections for binational same-sex couples.
The first amendment creates a new category of 'permanent partners' to allow Gay and Lesbian U.S. citizens in a 'long-term committed relationship' to sponsor their foreign partners for a green card. Opposite-sex spouses are already entitled to that protection under existing law, but protections for same-sex couples have been left out of the Gang of Eight bill.
A second Leahy amendment 'provides equal protection to lawfully married binational same-sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.'
A 'MASTER STROKE'
'For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,' Leahy said in a statement. 'We must end the discrimination that Gay and Lesbian families face in our immigration law.'
Lavi Soloway, an immigration-rights lawyer who represents same-sex couples and co-founded The DOMA Project, said Leahy's second amendment is 'nothing short of a strategic master stroke.'
'It would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act so that all marriages of Gay and Lesbian binational couples would be recognized for immigration purposes only, thus creating the first-ever 'carve-out,' or exception, to DOMA under federal law,' Soloway told BuzzFeed on May 7.
If passed, the 'carve-out' would give protection to foreign-born same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of DOMA. That ruling is expected next month.
MURRAY, CANTWELL AGREE
Washington's Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, while not Judiciary Committee members, quickly endorsed Leahy's amendments.
'Who a person loves should have no bearing on their immigration status, so I strongly support Senator Leahy's amendment to ensure all families are treated equally under our nation's immigration laws,' Murray said in a statement e-mailed to SGN.
'This important issue is a reminder that the Gang of Eight's bill is only a starting point for this debate, and that there is still plenty of work to be done to pass legislation that creates a fair immigration system focused on uniting families.'
Cantwell spokesperson Janeen Heath May said that her boss also supports equal treatment for same-sex couples.
'As a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act for the past three Congresses, Sen. Cantwell supports the policy behind Senator Leahy's proposed amendments to provide equity in our nation's immigration laws for same-sex couples,' May told SGN.
President Obama gave the Leahy amendments public support in a press conference in Costa Rica, the day before they were officially submitted to the Judiciary Committee.
'The LGBT community should be treated like everybody else,' the president told reporters. 'That's the essential core principle behind our founding documents. The idea that we're all created equal and we're equal before the law...
'And so Senator Leahy may present this provision in committee; it may be presented on the floor. It will be one of many amendments and provisions, some of which I support [and] some of which I think are really bad ideas...
'I can tell you I think that the provision is the right thing to do.'
REPUBLICANS SAY NO
Republican senators, meanwhile, reacted to Leahy's amendments with far less enthusiasm.
'It will virtually guarantee that it won't pass,' Gang of Eight member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Politico blog in a brief interview on May 1, when the proposed amendments were already being talked about.
'This issue is a difficult enough issue as it is. I respect everyone's views on it. But ultimately, if that issue is injected into this bill, the bill will fail and the coalition that helped put it together will fall apart.'
'It'll kill the bill,' Rubio proclaimed even more forcefully on May 7. 'There is a coalition of groups who are supporting immigration reform who will not support it if that's in there.'
'Bad idea,' agreed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who echoed Rubio that such an amendment would 'kill the bill.'
'I'll do everything in my power to see that it's not there,' Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) vowed.
Obama warned Republicans that they would have to accept compromises if they want an immigration bill to pass.
'I'm not going to get everything I want in this bill,' he said. 'Republicans are not going to get everything they want in this bill.'
ACTIVISTS: IT'S ONLY FAIR
A coalition of LGBT rights organizations charged that the existing immigration system 'dehumanizes, scapegoats, and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, and their friends and families.'
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream, and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project said in a joint statement that their 'primary goal is to pass a common-sense, compassionate immigration reform bill that puts our nation's undocumented men, women, and children on a pathway to citizenship.
'That pathway would provide at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented people the opportunity to become full participants in our economy and our democracy,' they added.
The group's statement concludes, 'Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation and the LGBT community.'
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