Gay Rights Initiative To Imperil Immigration Reform?
Politico is reporting that Republicans are warning that a push by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy to insert a gay rights initiative into the Senate “Gang of Eight”‘s immigration reform bill could kill the bill:
The most serious threat to bipartisan immigration reform doesn’t involve border security or guest workers or even the path to citizenship.
It’s about gay rights.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has told advocates that he will offer an amendment during the bill markup next week allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for green cards, just as heterosexual couples can. The measure is likely to pass because Democrats face pressure from gay rights advocates to deal with it in committee, rather than on the Senate floor, where the odds of passage are far less favorable.
But by doing so, Republicans warn that Democrats will tank the whole bill.
“It will virtually guarantee that it won’t pass,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Gang of Eight negotiating group, told POLITICO in a brief interview. “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.”
As the legislation moves through the Judiciary Committee and on to the Senate floor, many people will make pronouncements about things that must be kept in or kept out of the bill — but few issues worry the Gang of Eight as much as same-sex partner rights.
The provision has the potential to immediately fracture the senators and a diverse alliance of backers that includes conservative evangelicals and liberal union chiefs. It’s the focus of an intense lobbying push this week by the United States Conference of the Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Human Rights Campaign and others as senators map out strategy ahead of the markup.
The amendment, known as the Uniting American Families Act, would address an inequity in immigration law by permitting “permanent” partners of U.S. citizens or legal residents to apply for a green card. The term “permanent partner” is defined as someone who is older than 18 and involved in a financially interdependent, committed relationship.
The legislation could help as many as 40,000 same-sex couples, including some who have left the country in order to stay with their partners who can no longer live here legally. But Republicans are skittish about dealing with too many controversial issues all at once.
Democrats, led by Leahy and the party’s progressive allies, are expected to make the high-risk push because they aren’t convinced that Republicans would ultimately abandon the measure if it includes protections for same-sex couples. The GOP made similar threats about the Violence Against Women Act before Congress passed a version that covered victims of domestic violence in same sex relationships, advocates point out.
Let’s leave aside the merits of Leahy’s proposal for the moment. The fact of the matter is that we’re dealing with an already complicated piece of legislation and a coalition of broadly diverse political and ideological groups that are supporting this law. At the moment, we can’t even say for sure that the bill, which will probably make it through the Senate is even going to have a chance of passing the House. (Yesterday, before this issue even came up, Senator Rubio expressed serious doubts about whether the Gang of Eight’s plan would pass the House.) When you’re dealing with a bill like this, the more you add on to it, the more you risk cracking apart the coalition that you need to get the bill passed. Perhaps Leahy is right and his proposal really won’t imperil the bill, but it strikes me that he ought to take the warnings of Rubio and Jeff Flake, both of whom support the overall Senate plan itself, in this regard. What’s more important? This one issue, or overall comprehensive immigration reform?