May 7, 2013 at 4:40 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Leahy to amend immigration bill for gay couples
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will amend immigration reform to include UAFA (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will amend immigration reform to include UAFA. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act in the Senate has announced that he’ll introduce the legislation as one of two committee amendments for gay couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement on Tuesday that he filed the measure — which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States — along with several other amendments before the committee for the immigration bill.

“For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,” Leahy said. “We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”

According to the statement, Leahy also filed a separate amendment that would provide equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.

Jessica Brady, a committee spokesperson, said the UAFA-like amendment covers permanent partners, but the other measure is for bi-national same-sex couples who are married. The amendment for permanent partners can be found here and the amendment for married couples can be found here.

LGBT advocates have said they previously received assurances that Leahy would offer UAFA as an amendment when the committee marks up the bill, but Leahy’s announcement is the first time that he’s publicly committed to offering the amendment.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said his organization “fully supports” both amendments and is optimistic they will find majority support in committee.

“We expect in the coming days that the chairman will, as he has so far, work to get the votes for a successful amendment in committee,” Ralls said. “We have every faith that we’re going to win.”

All committee amendments to comprehensive immigration reform are due at 5 p.m. The committee is scheduled to vote Friday on the first round of amendments. Subsequent votes are slated for May 14, May 16, May 20 and every day that follows until there’s a final vote on the bill. Chances are the amendments for gay inclusion will come up on one of these later days.

Leahy files this second amendment that would only apply to married same-sex couples after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had previously withheld support for UAFA, was quoted in Politico as saying she he had concerns about the legislation as currently written, but would accept it with certain changes.

The California Democrat reportedly said she’d vote for the amendment if it required gay couples to marry in the United States within 90 days in a state that allows same-sex unions.

“But I’m not for just accepting affidavits,” she reportedly added.

Plans for a vote on the amendment come as Republican senators among the “Gang of Eight” who produced the base immigration bill have spoken out against its inclusion in reform. A piece last week from Politico quoted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as saying it would “virtually guarantee” the legislation won’t pass.

“This issue is a difficult enough issue as it is,” Rubio was quoted as saying. “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.”

Leahy had previously commented on these assertions on Sunday during the NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked by host David Gregory to respond to Republican criticism that including the measure in immigration reform would kill the legislation.

“You know, we’ve had about 10 different things that people say will kill it,” Leahy said. “If we don’t make the fence long enough, that kills it. If we don’t have a high enough fine, that kills it. Well, the fact is, a lot of people want to kill an immigration bill, no matter what.”

On Sunday, President Obama weighed on the matter when asked about it during a news conference in Costa Rica, reiterating his support for including gay couples immigration reform while maintaing both sides in the immigration debate will have to accept compromise.

“I can tell you I think that the provision is the right thing to do,” Obama said. “I’ll also tell you that I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill. Republicans are not going to get everything they want in this bill.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Human Rights Campaign sent out a statement to members of the media responding to GOP claims that they’d scuttle immigration reform over gay-inclusion in the bill.

“If they end up doing that, they should just own it and call it what it is: homophobia,” said Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications. “Labeling the inclusion of bi-national couples in the immigration bill as toxic is nothing more than a tired, insulting ruse designed to distract attention from their own failure to represent all Americans.”

The HRC statement cites statistics on the overwhelming support that LGBT rights enjoy among the American public. Among them are polls showing 58 percent support for marriage equality and 73 percent support for employment non-discrimination protections. No statistics on UAFA were provided in the statement.

“There is a jarring disconnect between the American public and these senators when it comes to issues of LGBT equality,” Sainz concluded. “It’s pretty dated to consider LGBT equality as a controversial, hot-button issue like these senators are portraying it to be. In fact, a strong and diverse majority of Americans support equality. These senators are towing a tired line that no longer represents mainstream opinion, and they’re throwing same-sex couples under the bus in the process.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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