Leahy submits language to help bi-national same-sex couples

Patrick Leahy

As expected, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy introduced amendments Tuesday (May 7) to enable gay citizens to sponsor their “permanent” same-sex partners for immigration, under the proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin considering amendments to the immigration bill (S. 744) starting Thursday (May 9) and the committee’s work on the bill is expected to spread out over several days throughout the month.

A total of 53 amendments were submitted by the May 7 deadline, including 29 from the committee’s Democrats and 24 from Republican member Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) did not introduce amendments.

Only Leahy’s amendments address same-sex couples. One seeks to insert the language of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) into the bill to allow a U.S. citizen to gain citizenship for his or her “permanent partner.” The second amendment would treat as a “spouse” a person who has entered a marriage with a citizen that is “valid in the State in which the marriage was entered into.”

The latter amendment, said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for Immigration Equality, seeks to “recognize married LGBT couples for immigration purposes.”

“This second amendment – which is specifically in line with what Senator Feinstein has said she will support in Committee – provides the same benefits LGBT bi-national couples would receive if the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Ralls.  “It is important to note that this second amendment, when passed, would permit couples in non-marriage states to travel to a marriage equality state and still receive a green card. It would also allow couples in exile to marry abroad and have their marriage recognized for U.S. immigration purposes.”

“The demise of DOMA would lead to gay and lesbian couples having the same access to immigration benefits” as male-female married couples, said Lavi Soloway, head of The DOMA Project, which is working to help same-sex bi-national couples.

Immigration Equality supports both amendments.

Ralls said his group expects Republican opposition to the same-sex couple language will “get louder” during the committee mark-up on the amendments.

“But we are confident that Senator Leahy will secure the 10 votes our families need, and that immigration reform will be inclusive when it arrives in the full senate,” said Ralls.

If the Leahy language goes into the bill in Committee, where Democrats have a majority, any effort to strip out that language on the Senate floor would likely require 60 votes to gain cloture before proceeding to the vote to strip the language. But even if the UAFA language passes the Senate, the Republican-led House version of immigration reform will almost certainly not include it. That will put it in the hands of a Senate-House conference committee, where trade-offs and compromises often take place in order to hammer out one version of the legislation to take back to both chambers.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told politico.com last month that adding language to allow same-sex partners to immigrate would “virtually guarantee” the overall bill won’t pass and predicted it would undo the cooperative spirit of the “Gang of Eight” senators who put the reform bill together.

Congress is expected to vote on the overall bill in June.

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