A move to include married same-sex couples in immigration reform may lead to Republicans pulling support for a comprehensive legislative package, lawmakers have warned.
When the US Senate’s so-called Gang of Eight released its immigration bill last month it was hailed by the New York Times as “the most ambitious effort in at least 26 years to repair, update, and reshape the American immigration system.”
To be certain, there is much to agree with–at least in spirit–in the bill. With a path to citizenship for America’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and, at the same time, billions to shore up border security, the bill seemed designed to please everybody. Except, of course, binational same-sex couples who found themselves excluded from the package deal.
This, while a cause for concern among LGBT rights groups, was not too big a loss. The bill could always be amended, and now Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is expected to do just that with the oft ignored Uniting American Families Act.
The bill has been around since 2000 and would simply, and markedly, skirt the issue of federal marriage recognition in order to allow green-card privilege for state married same-sex couples, or as the bill puts it “permanent partners,” in the same way heterosexuals currently enjoy automatic coverage.
Given that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, as reflected in a number of national polls, and the very salient qualifier that this would not amount to a federal recognition of same-sex marriage rights but rather a recognition of eligibility based on a state-recognized relationship (marriage, civil unions), there should be nothing controversial here, right? Wrong.
Sen. Marco Rubio of (R-FL), a driving force behind immigration reform in the Senate, is quoted as saying that he’d pull his support and that “if that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not have the support. It will not have my support.”
Similarly, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is quoted by the New York Times as saying he believes the provision would be a “deal-breaker” for the Republicans.
“There’s a reason this language wasn’t included in the Gang of Eight’s bill: It’s a deal-breaker for most Republicans. Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues.”
The other two prominent Republican voices, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, are both known for their anti-gay marriage views and so, though there’s been no official word, it is likely they too have at least some reservations.
However, is it true? Would the Uniting American Families Act really spell doom for immigration reform? Senator Leahy doesn’t think so.
“It’s not going to kill the bill,” Leahy is quoted as saying by Politico while Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), key negotiators in the Judiciary Committee, have said they would support the amendment if offered.
It is also by no means unthinkable that Republican moderates may allow the amendment. Past support has included Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Charles Dent (R-Pa.) who have co-sponsored Senate and House versions of the Uniting American Families Act and together introduced those bills into Congress in February.
But others warn that Democratic lawmakers throwing down the gauntlet on this issue could endanger the wider immigration reform debate at a time when, it seems, true bipartisanship may in fact be possible, at least in the Senate.
Of course, there could be one other way to fix the problem same-sex couples face that would bypass Congress altogether.
Were the Supreme Court of the United States to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act this summer in the case Windsor v. United States, and therein strike the language that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples as married spouses, binational same-sex couples could be able to apply for a greencard through marriage eligibility in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts.
However, not even that is guaranteed, so in the meantime the estimated 20,000 couples denied the right to citizenship live in fear of their spouse being deported while Republican lawmakers neglect to recognize the issue and pass it off as just a ”social issue.”
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