by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed an immigration reform bill this week and sent it to the full Senate for debate - without an amendment that would have enabled same-sex partners of U.S. citizens to become legal residents and, eventually, citizens themselves.
As he promised, Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced 'Leahy Amendment 7' to recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes on the same basis as opposite-sex ones. That would entitle foreign-born Gay and Lesbian spouses preferential treatment in getting a Green Card and U.S. citizenship.
'I don't want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country,' Leahy told the committee. 'Discriminating against people based on who they love is a travesty.'
REPUBLICANS HOLD FIRM
But Republicans, including members of the so-called Gang of Eight who crafted the immigration bill, stuck to their previous warnings that any attempt to add protections for same-sex couples would cause them to vote down the whole bill.
'If you redefine marriage for immigration purposes [as Amendment 7 proposed], the bill would fall apart because the coalition would fall apart,' Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Gang of Eight member, said last month. 'It would be a bridge too far.'
Committee Democrats said they supported Leahy's amendment in principle, but were reluctant to endanger immigration reform for the sake of one amendment.
'I think [the Leahy amendment] sounds like the fairest approach, but here's the problem - we know this is going to blow the agreement apart,' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) explained. 'I don't want to blow this bill apart.'
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Al Franken (D-MN) also agreed that removing the amendment was better than sinking the entire immigration bill.
LEAHY ADMITS DEFEAT
A mere 30 minutes after introducing Amendment 7, Leahy withdrew it.
'It is with a heavy heart,' he said, 'I will withhold the Leahy Amendment 7 at this point.'
The Judiciary Committee then voted 13 to 5 to send the bill to the full Senate, with Republicans Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, and John McCain joining the committee's Democrats in voting for the measure.
Cheers and chants of 'Sí, se puede!' broke out among spectators in the committee chambers when the vote was announced.
'A FALSE CHOICE'
National LGBT organizations said they were disappointed that LGBT families were excluded from the bill, but many said they still support the goal of immigration reform.
'Despite the leadership of Chairman Leahy, Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to bullying by their Republican colleagues,' said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality Action Fund.
'There should be shame on both sides of the political aisle today for lawmakers who worked to deny LGBT immigrant families a vote. Despite widespread support from business, labor, faith, Latino, and Asian-American advocates, Senators abandoned LGBT families without a vote.'
'We are disappointed that Senator Schumer and his 'Gang of Eight' colleagues accepted a false choice between LGBT families and immigration reform, when the truth is that including LGBT families from the outset would have strengthened the bill,' she added.
'Immigration reform is not comprehensive if it leaves some families behind,' said Emily Hecht-McGowan, Family Equality Council Director of Public Policy. 'Our families are absolutely devastated to learn that two amendments to the immigration bill that would have included protections for their families are being left out.'
HRC: FIGHT NOT OVER
'As we come together as a nation to tackle our broken immigration system, it is deplorable that a small number of senators have been able to stand in the way of progress for Lesbian and Gay couples torn apart by discriminatory laws,' HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement.
'We are extremely disappointed that our allies did not put their anti-LGBT colleagues on the spot and force a vote on the measure that remains popular with the American people. We will continue to work hard to include binational same-sex couples as the bill moves to the floor and remain committed to the underlying principles of inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform. We owe it to the estimated 267,000 undocumented LGBT adults and estimated 24,700 LGBT binational couples living in the U.S. today to get the job done.'
'We remain steadfast in our commitment to passing compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children living in our country, including at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants,' said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
'We are disappointed that certain senators threatened the entire immigration reform bill simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex binational couples equal immigration rights. At the same time, we thank Senator Leahy for standing up for these families. A majority of Americans - 53 percent - believe that all consenting adults should have the right to get married and that gender should not play a role in who is considered family.'
OBAMA WELCOMES VOTE
President Obama said that both political parties had given ground on the immigration issue, and he called for a Senate vote as soon as possible.
'I applaud the Committee members for their hard work, especially 'Gang of Eight' members Senators Schumer, Durbin, Graham and Flake,' the President said.
'None of the Committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I, but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line. I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.'
Washington's senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have stated they support equal treatment for same-sex couples in immigration law, but neither sits on the Judiciary Committee. Both are also supporters of the comprehensive immigration reform package.
LONG DEBATE EXPECTED
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on May 22 that he would not block a Senate debate on the immigration bill, and Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would bring the legislation to the floor in early June. Senate staffers have told NPR that the debate on the bill could take more than a month.
Even if the measure passes the Senate, Republican House Speaker John Boehner has suggested that he might take up piecemeal reforms, rather than trying to vote on a comprehensive reform bill. The Senate bill has engendered widespread opposition among the party's core voters.
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