November 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Advocates eye immigration, ‘tax’ parity in next Congress
Jerrold Nadler, U.S. House of Representatives, congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest allies of the LGBT community in Congress, is optimistic about possible advances for LGBT equality in Congress next year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With free-standing LGBT supportive bills having little or no chance of passing in Congress next year due to the Republican-controlled House, advocates are developing plans to push for inserting LGBT-supportive language in broader, non-gay bills that enjoy bipartisan support, according to Capitol Hill insiders.

One bill under consideration for inclusion in a broader, non-LGBT measure is the Uniting American Families Act, which would provide equal immigration rights to foreign nationals who are same-sex partners of American citizens.

Another bill under similar consideration is the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which would allow domestic partners to obtain the same tax exemption for health insurance and other health benefits provided by employers that married opposite-sex couples now enjoy.

“There are lots of ways you can do this,” said Allison Herwitt, legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, which is mapping strategy for LGBT-supportive legislation in the 113th Congress, which convenes in January.

“You can do it in committee. You could try to get it put in the bill as the bill is being written,” Herwitt said. “It’s always better to have the pro-equality language that we want put in the bill before it gets to the floor because it’s easier to protect your language from being stripped than it is to affirmatively add language.”

Herwitt and representatives with other LGBT advocacy groups say that despite the positive developments for the LGBT community in the Nov. 6 election, the makeup of Congress has remained largely the same in terms of the support for at least seven LGBT related bills.

Among them is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. DOMA defines marriage under federal law as a union only between a man and a woman.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the national LGBT group Immigration Equality, said the group is “highly optimistic” that the Uniting American Families Act will pass in the first half of next year as part of a broader immigration reform bill.

Ralls notes that President Obama, most Democratic lawmakers, and some congressional Republicans support an immigration reform measure. With the Hispanic vote going overwhelmingly to Obama and Democratic congressional candidates in the election two weeks ago, Republican leaders are much more likely to go along with a comprehensive immigration bill that’s strongly supported by the U.S. Latino community, Ralls said.

He said Immigration Equality is confident that the Senate, under the leadership of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, will support the inclusion of language from the Uniting American Families Act in an immigration reform bill.

“I am very hopeful that by next summer we could have a very significant win on this,” Ralls said.

Herwitt said she is similarly hopeful that the House and Senate will go along with including the tax parity measure for employer health benefits aimed at same-sex partners within a tax-related bill expected to come up next year.

R. Clarke Cooper, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, has said an LGBT-related bill most likely to gain Republican support in Congress is one that would redress unfair taxation on Americans, including LGBT Americans.

While HRC and Immigration Equality expressed optimism over the strategy of seeking to add gay bills to broader non-LGBT legislation, gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s retiring from Congress in January, said he’s far less optimistic about the prospect of any LGBT legislation while Republicans control the House for at least the next two years.

“The Republicans continue to be opposed to everything,” he told the Blade. “Look at the Republican platform. We certainly can block any negative stuff they may try to do,” he said.

“But with the Republicans controlling the House there’s zero chance of anything good happening…They’re negative on everything. They voted 98 percent against us on everything that came up,” he said. “They voted 90 some percent to reaffirm the Defense of Marriage Act. So there’s zero chance of them allowing anything.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the strongest allies of the LGBT community in Congress, while agreeing that the GOP majority in the House remains “fiercely opposed to LGBT rights,” is optimistic about possible advances for LGBT equality in Congress next year.

“On the heels of tremendous momentum nationally – with the recent victory of marriage equality in four states, the president’s explicit support for LGBT rights, the tide of federal court cases backing equal protection for LGBT Americans, and a rapidly growing acceptance of the LGBT community – we have a great deal of validation to take with us into the 113th Congress,” Nadler said in a statement to the Blade.

Nadler said he, too, is optimistic about the prospects passing the gay immigration and tax parity measures as part of broader bills.

“We must prepare to work together, with Democrats and our GOP allies, to use every tool available to us to advance pro-equality legislation now,” he said.

HRC’s Herwitt, however, points out that the breakdown in the House between LGBT supportive and anti-LGBT members in the 113th Congress will make it difficult to pass LGBT legislation in any form.

“If you look at the makeup of the 113th Congress, they are going in with about 225 members who are solidly anti-LGBT,” she said, noting that most in this group are Republicans but some Democrats. About 184 House members, most Democrats, are supporters of LGBT equality and are expected to vote for LGBT bills, Herwitt said.

The remaining 26 are “in the middle,” with HRC and congressional allies uncertain how they will vote.

With 218 being the magic number needed to pass a bill, an amendment, or a discharge petition that could force GOP House leaders to bring a bill to the floor for a vote, LGBT advocates are not too far away from reaching that number, Herwitt and other advocates said.

But even if they were to convince House GOP leaders to allow an LGBT bill like ENDA to reach the floor for a vote, supporters don’t think they have the votes now to pass such a bill.

“Clearly, what we need to do during these next two years is work like hell to change the hearts and minds of the voters to make sure we have the support we need in the next election in 2014,”said Maryland transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Laura

    In the House of Representatives the hard right conservatives continue to be negative on everything put in front of them except supporting defense spending, DOMA and tax breaks for millionaires. Then write LGBT legislation into some of their most cherished bills. Defense authorization bills are certainly open to additions.

    • beki

      appologies for my ignorance, but what does this have to do with equal LGBT rights?

    • Gabriel

      You are acting as if only illegal immigrants commit these crimes. There being no illegal immigrants will not remove the fact that people are killed in accidents or through homicide or what have you. It is not as if these people don’t get punished for the crimes they commit, they get caught, and sent to prison and then deported. I don’t understand what else you want. It is impossible to completely halt illegal immigration, unless you have some magical barrier to block immigrants, walls don’t cut it — unless you want to waste billions on having hundreds of thousands of troops stationed at the border patrolling the entire area; I think we can agree that there are more serious threats the U.S. has to worry about.

      I don’t think you realize how much the U.S. economy relies on illegal immigrants. The reason you can afford to buy food and other products is because there are illegal immigrants who do this work for pay well below minimum wage. Of course we don’t want there to be illegal immigrants period, it’d be nice to have everyone be a citizen and such, but that would drive inflation through the roof.

      I think your comment is fueled by an irrational fear. I’m sure that when you say illegal immigrant your talking about Mexicans in particular, when in fact there are plenty of illegal immigrants from Asia and Europe as well as from other parts of the world. You honestly have nothing to fear. These people can’t really take your job, because really, do you want to work at McDonalds, in a field picking tomatoes, or in construction? Think about it. Of course if there was some magical influx of skilled labor coming into the country then, yeah, of course you should be scared.

      Saying that illegal immigrants increase crime is simply inaccurate. Crime was here well before the influx of immigrants from Mexico and other parts of the world. The reason you may think that many of them are part of this criminal world is that a lot of these immigrants are illegal, yes, and so they do not have rights or the ability to find a real job. A lot of them fall into crime because it is the one of the only ways they can make a living. Of course I don’t want these people to be criminals, and I’m not saying it is ok for them to be. I’m simply saying that if there was a way for normal working class people to be naturalized that maybe there wouldn’t be this connection between illegal immigrants and crime. Maybe we should be looking for ways to work with the 11+ million illegal immigrants already here instead of trying to figure out a way of getting rid of 11 million people, which is a massive and impossible undertaking. Of course people are going to commit crimes if they are disenfranchised, did you expect people to just come here and be happy with being payed 3 dollars an hour for work and be able to survive off of that without any possibility of advancement?

      This country is completely made up of immigrants. There is no such thing as not being an immigrant or not being part of a family that immigrated to the U.S. at some time (except if you’re Native American). This whole cycle of being afraid of immigrant influx has repeated itself time and time again, with the Chinese, the Irish, Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews, Russians, and now it is another group. The only thing that has changed is that now it is a lot harder to become naturalized.

      These so called illegals use to come here only to work and then would return to their countries, but now they stay. This is mostly due to U.S. law, something you may have heard about, NAFTA. A lot of these immigrants coming from Mexico are former farmers and people who worked on farms. NAFTA destroyed the Mexican agricultural industry, especially the corn industry, because of the huge influx of cheap American corn into Mexican markets. These people were left without work and they had no means of getting a better education to find better employment in their home countries, so they came here to stay permanently to work in the same industry they knew, agriculture.

      I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on this topic, amazingly without the use of caps lock.

      Just remember. These are people. They may not be American citizens, but they are human beings, not cattle. If you treated them like human beings maybe we wouldn’t be debating this right now.

      Oh, and nobody was slaughtered. People weren’t hung in a butchers shop and cut up for sale. Try to use appropriate vocabulary and avoid being too overly dramatic, being dramatic just makes you look less credible and fanatical.

    • JRS

      To Dave Francis – really sorry for your loss. I am sure there are many such stories, but hundreds of thousands? In how many years? I doubt that drunk illegal immigrants accounts for even a minor fraction of the drunk Americans who kill other Americans every year. This is probably why the media does not highlight those cases. Under Obama, immigration has been tougher than under any recent president. Under Bush, illegal immigration soared. Please read the facts. And, yes, deaths caused by illegal immigrants has nothing to do with this article and the need to be fair to gay couples who have foreign spouses.

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