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?

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    So, to summarize:
    It’s just too hard to treat _everyone_ like a f*cking human being.

    We have to keep _some_ group officially on the bottom of the totem pole, or the stupidest, most horrible people in society won’t know who they’re allowed to hate.

  2. Grange95 says:

    So, discrimination against gays in immigration is something we should leave out of an immigration reform bill because the Republicans want to pander to their social conservative base? Ridiculous.

    If Republicans scuttle immigration reform, they will pay the price in future elections as they continue to alienate Hispanic voters. But apparently keeping the gays down a few more years is a more important priority.

  3. This one issue, or overall comprehensive immigration reform?

    Don’t ask that of the proposers. Ask that of the opposers.

    Leahy’s doing the right thing on this issue; not only addressing it but taking the proper stance on it. The Republicans, of course, are not only wrong on the merits, they are all too eager to use this as a wedge to kill the whole thing.

    But yes, let’s all jump on Leahy’s ass……..why not?

  4. JWH says:

    I would completely leave it out. Right now, this particular provision would be a distraction; the big show on gay rights is in the Supreme Court … and if SCOTUS throws out DOMA, then Leahy’s provision will be irrelevant.

  5. We have to step one step at a time. That sucks for those that are a later step, but it’s the reality of politics.

    It sucks, and the people wanting to break this apart are evil human beings, but the reality must be acknowledged and acquiesced to.

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I actually am inclined to agree with JWH’s reasoning. I would prefer to see those incremental changes that can be passed included, and those that distract removed, especially given that DOMA Section III may be toast shortly.

  7. Franklin says:

    I think the legitimate fear is all the gay terrorists this bill would allow into the country.

  8. JWH says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Exactly. If you get rid of DOMA, then you actually create a situation where the federal government would recognize marriages under ordinary comity principles.

  9. Ben says:


    You are both assuming they’re going to strike DOMA. I have my doubts. I don’t actually trust Kennedy to do the right thing.

  10. @Christopher Bowen:

    It sucks, and the people wanting to break this apart are evil human beings, but the reality must be acknowledged and acquiesced to.

    Bah. Let the “evil human beings” acquiesce this time. It’s about time they learn how to do it.

    They’re wrong on this issue. That’s all that matters.

  11. Gustopher says:

    Haven’t we discriminated against gays enough? Can’t we start discriminating against libertarians instead?

  12. JWH says:


    You’re right, in that we don’t know if they will. But at the same time, I think it’s worth finding out.

    Besides … even though I would prefer for something like Leahy’s proposal to be part of our immigration law, I think he’s going about it the wrong way.

    We need some form of comprehensive immigration reform, and I see little merit in sinking it over this provision.

  13. Ben says:


    So you’re saying that they should start fixing immigration for some people, but gay people can just keep waiting.

  14. JWH says:


    Have you ever heard the phrase “half a loaf is better than none?” Sounds to me that you’d throw out the whole damn baking pan because there’s too much crust on a single slice of bread.

  15. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Ben: We could have had a Federal employment non-discrimination act that covered gays, lesbians, and bisexuals several years ago. But several legislators insisted that it go to a vote with transgendered persons included. So a bill that could have covered a lot of sexual minorities got tanked.

    Compromise does suck, but getting more than half of what you want this time around and coming back later for the rest is better than getting none of what you want.

  16. @JWH:

    Have you ever heard the phrase “half a loaf is better than none?”

    You mean “half a life?”

  17. JWH says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    Compromise does suck, but getting more than half of what you want this time around and coming back later for the rest is better than getting none of what you want.

    Exactly. And it’s one of the reasons I detest the current batch of Republican lawmakers. I remember reading recently about Eric Cantor trying to build support for a modest, incremental bill. His conference was having none of it. They wanted to vote to repeal Obamacare …. again.

    You’re got a couple choices in politics. You can spend your life tilting at windmills, or you can get into the more frustrating business of crafting substantive laws that will improve people’s lives AND obtain sufficient support to actually be put into law.

    The right spends a lot of time tilting at windmills. I’d hate to see the left take up the sport too.

  18. @Gromitt Gunn:

    Compromise does suck, but getting more than half of what you want this time around and coming back later for the rest is better than getting none of what you want.

    Good point….but when will the anti-gay side enjoy this particular aspect of compromise?

    Oh yeah…..they don’t compromise. Instead, they threaten to derail immigration reform entirely.

  19. Some of the responses here are as bad as what I hear from the “no compromise” wing of the Republican Party. Legislation is a messy process to begin with, and it often means accepting that you can only get so far on an issue at a particular time. The GOP mucks up the legislative process quite often by being unwilling to compromise, I don’t see the value of taking that same position and risking giving up on immigration reform for at least another two years.

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Honestly? Possibly never.

    But you’ve got one party that’s basically an Anti-Governance Death Cult and a second party that encompasses the rest of the entirety of political thought from democratic socialism to the blue dogs, but that actually believes in attempting to govern. The Death Cult wins 100% of the time that no compromise happens and legislation dies, regardless of who is refusing to compromise.

  21. JWH says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    So you’ll derail it, too. That’s useful.

  22. Ben says:


    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I get what you’re both saying, but gays have been at the back of the bus for a long goddamned time. It gets to a point when people get sick of waiting for the right to be considered human beings.

  23. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    The GOP will cave. When you insult gay people in 2013, you are insulting their family, friends, co-workers and teammates, pretty much immediately. Those under 45 do not carry the same flames of passion for stomping all over gay people. Social media assures we know about it… now. This shatters any notion of a “piecemeal approach,” which makes zero sense in this context once majority support among Americans has come. The GOP is terrified of losing what has already been lost.

    “Please proceed, Governor.”

  24. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Ben: I’ve been out of the closet since the late 80s, so I do understand the frustrations.

  25. Grange95 says:

    To all the compromise / take half a loaf folks: It’s pretty easy to compromise away someone else’s life, isn’t it? But if gays are excluded now, when will a gay-only bill have a shot at passage? 10 years? More? Gay Americans with foreign spouses realistically can only obtain equal treatment if it is packaged with a broader immigration bill. Compromise is not always a virtue, and comparing standing on principles of equality is not fairly compared to Republican obstruction for the sake of obstruction.

  26. @Doug Mataconis:

    Some of the responses here are as bad as what I hear from the “no compromise” wing of the Republican Party.

    More “both sides do it”…..

    Don’t make me laugh. “No immigration bill if there’s gay stuff in it” isn’t a “compromise.” The GOP isn’t looking for compromise here. They’re either looking for a poison pill or capitulation.


    So you’ll derail it, too

    Um, no. The GOP would derail it, then point the finger like a five year old. “The gay left made me do it.”

    I’m just looking for a little compromise…….

    I mean, if they want 90% of Hispanics to vote against them for the next twenty years…… all means, don’t support immigration reform. What do I care?

  27. grumpy realist says:

    I’d keep it in, for the following reasons: 1) this is a logical place to put legislation addressing the problem, 2) I can’t see something like this affecting such a minuscule percentage of Americans to be able to be passed on it own, and 3) so what if the Republicans have a fit? By shooting this down, they will piss off the majority of the fastest growing section of the US population.

    And, of course, because adding it is the right thing.

  28. Tyrell says:

    Let’s throw in a gun control provision for good measure. And a provision restarting the military draft. Raise the interstate speed limits while we are at it.

  29. dianne ocampo says:

    Why r these republicans so callous and inflexible.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: Why? None of the topics you have raised have anything to do with immigration. Dealing with the immigration status of same-sex couples where one member of the couple is non-American obviously DOES have something to do with immigration.

    Why do you think that we should add totally unrelated issues to a bill and keep out related issues? Or is it that you are unable to see that the status of the non-American partner in a same-sex couple might have something to do with immigration?

    Do you even understand that we have same-sex couples here in the US where one of the members is an American citizen and the other is not? Or do you believe that they don’t exist?

  31. Republicans are card carrying homophobes. In line with this core value, they will therefore scuttle anything that affords equality to homosexuals. Republicans know this ploy will entrench popular dislike of LGBT by scapegoating us through dumping of this bill, to make us even more unpopular.

    It’s a clever trick. Nasty, spiteful, bigoted, and ignorant maybe, but that has always worked for them up until now.