Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Gay rights push threatens immigration deal

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.
(PHOTOS: 25 gay-rights milestones)
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.
(Also on POLITICO: Rubio: Bill can't pass House)
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 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.
“It’s not going to kill the bill,” Leahy said tersely last week when asked about the impact.
A Leahy spokesman said the senator has not yet decided to offer the amendment in committee, where the threshold for passage is a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold on the Senate floor. But officials with the Human Rights Campaign and Immigration Equality said Leahy has made clear in meetings with advocates and Vermont constituents that he will move ahead with it.
Democrats in the Gang of Eight had pledged to band together with Republicans and work to defeat amendments that could imperil the bill.


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