Connect with us

News

Leahy withholds amendments for gay couples in immigration bill

In tearful speeches, Dems says time is wrong for measures

Published

on

Patrick Leahy, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Vermont, gay news, Washington Blade
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld UAFA as a committee amendment (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld UAFA as a committee amendment. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday withheld amendments to include gay couples as part of immigration reform in the aftermath of speeches — sometimes tearful — from Democrats on the panel who said they couldn’t support the measures.

After an extended speech on why he believes discrimination against gay couples is wrong — Leahy said “with a heavy heart” he wouldn’t introduce the amendments before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They would have made bi-national same-sex couples equal under the law to straight couples for immigration purposes.

“In the immigration context, if you’re an American and fall in love will someone of the same sex from a different country and you get married legally, your spouse will not be treated like any other immigrant spouse would be by your federal government,” Leahy said. “My amendments would change that. I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country.”

During his remarks, Leahy asked members of the “Gang of Eight” who produced the base bill and were also members of the Senate Judiciary Committee why they decided to exclude gay couples from the initial legislation.

Under current law, gay Americans are unable to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States — even if they’re married — unlike straight Americans. For couples that are married, that’s because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. LGBT advocates had been pushing Congress to rectify this issue as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Two amendments were proposed by Leahy. One mirrored the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. The other would have allowed for the approval of marriage-based green card applications for married same-sex couples.

Democrats who are known for being LGBT rights supporters — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — said they were torn on the issue, but couldn’t support the amendments out of fear they would lose Republican support and it would kill the legislative package.

Feinstein said the Supreme Court, which is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA, may make the issue “moot” because a ruling against the anti-gay law in June would end federal discrimination against married same-sex couples.

“We now know that this is going to blow the agreement apart,” Feinstein said. “I don’t want to lose Sen. Graham’s vote because Sen. Graham’s vote can represent and be used as the rationale for dozens of other [lawmakers] who then will not vote for the immigration bill. … I am for what Sen. Leahy is proposing, I would just implore to hold off on this amendment at this time.”

Schumer, a member of the “Gang of Eight,” said he tried to persuade other senators to support the idea and believes current law is “rank discrimination,” but can’t bring himself to support the amendments because of Republican opposition.

“If we make the effort to add it to this bill, they will walk away,” Schumer said. “They’ve said it publicly, they’ve told me privately — I believe them. The result: no equality, no immigration bill. Everyone loses.”

Prior to the vote, Schumer was targeted by LGBT groups for being the only Democrat on the committee to not voice support for including UAFA as part of the larger package.

Durbin was particularly emotional and had tears in his eyes as he explained why they couldn’t support the measures. A member of the “Gang of Eight,” Durbin said he supports UAFA, but doesn’t see immigration reform as the best vehicle for the measure.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that what you’re doing is the right and just thing … but I believe this is the wrong moment, this is the wrong bill,” Durbin said. “There are approximately 250,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants in America that would benefit from passage of immigration reform. I want to make certain they have that chance.”

LGBT rights groups responded to the committee’s exclusion of same-sex couples from immigration reform with vocal disappointment.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of the LGBT group Immigration Equality, attended the markup and — while she said she’s “proud’ of Leahy for his support — expressed frustration with other Democrats.

“I’m very proud of Sen. Leahy; I’m very dismayed that his colleagues did not stand up with him to talk about the dignity of LGBT immigrant families,” Tiven said. “Only Sen. Leahy talked about the LGBT immigrants that he represents who have dreams, too, and who want to see a good bill passed that will help everyone, and who need immigration reform as badly as any other immigrant.”

Tiven named Democrats on the panel with whom she was particularly disappointed because of their previously articulated support for the LGBT community.

“To hear Sen. Durbin say, ‘Well, this is an outside issue like gun control,’ to hear that Sen. Franken didn’t speak up for families like Ginger and Ness Madeiros, whose visa runs out in August — what are they and their eight-month-old son going to do?” Tiven said. “I can’t imagine how they’re feeling right now about Sen. Franken. How could he not say these are immigrant families, too?”

With the exception of Schumer, Tiven maintained the Democrats on the panel expressed support for including same-sex couples in the reform package, which made their statements during the committee markup surprising.

But Republican members of the panel were most opposed to including the measures. They reiterated their opposition to including the measure in the package and said adopting them would break apart the coalition that helped put it together.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican member of the “Gang of Eight,” said the legislation would lose support from evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, who’ve supported the measure, if those protections were included.

“I support traditional marriage without animosity,” Graham said. “I’m not married; I guess that means maybe I shouldn’t speak at all about it, but I do believe that the people of my state, and the people of other states who have gone different ways than Vermont, believe it would throw the coalition out of balance.”

When Leahy asked Graham if anything in the amendments would require South Carolina to change its state law on marriage, Graham said no, but maintained it would be making him vote in favor of a concept he opposes.

“You got me on immigration; you don’t got me on marriage,” Graham said. “I can’t just tell any more directly; you want to keep me on immigration; let’s stay on immigration.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another GOP member of the “Gang of Eight,” also said he expected the coalition that put the bill together to fall apart if same-sex couples were included.

“This is an issue that is being addressed by the courts right now, I think that it would certainly upset the coalition that we have,” Flake said. “Certainly, we in Arizona, like in South Carolina, have spoken on the issue. It would certainly mean that this bill would not move forward. That would be a real shame, given how far we’ve come and the work that’s gone into this.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, pointed at Republicans as the reason why same-sex couples weren’t included in the legislation.

“We’re all disappointed that at this juncture in the process, a small handful of Republicans prevented the provision from being voted on, but we’ve got a long way to go in the process and we’ll continue to work hard to secure the votes on the floor if it comes up,” Stachelberg said.

Following the discussion on the Leahy amendments, the committee reported out the legislation by a 13-5 vote. Supporters of immigration reform in the room — largely members of immigrant community — chanted, “Yes we can! Yes we can!” and embraced senators who voted in favor of the legislation as they snapped photos with them.

According to a report from the Williams Institute, an estimated 275,000 undocumented LGBT Americans would have a path to citizenship as the legislation currently stands if it reaches President Obama’s desk and is signed into law.

In a statement after the vote, Obama, who called for a gay-inclusive bill as part of his vision for reform, commended the committee for completing work on the legislation and urged a floor vote as soon as possible.

“None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I , but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line,” Obama said. “I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.”

Leahy’s announcement came after an Associated Press report saying the White House had asked the Vermont senator to hold off on offering the amendments until the measure goes before the full Senate.

It’s unclear whether Leahy will introduce the amendments once the legislation reaches the Senate floor, which is expected early in June. Passage on the Senate floor would be significantly more difficult than passage would have been in committee if a 60-vote threshold is necessary to overcome a filibuster.

After the committee reported out the bill, the Washington Blade asked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) whether he wants to see UAFA brought up as an amendment on the Senate floor.

“You’ll have to ask Sen. Leahy about that,” Schumer replied. “As you heard, I believe strongly in UAFA. I don’t think I have to say anything more; I spoke long enough on it.”

Although the amendment for same-sex couples wasn’t included, the committee on Monday rejected an amendment that would have removed a provision supported by LGBT advocates that was included in the base bill.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) offered two amendments that would have eliminated the repeal of the one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers. One amendment failed on a vote of 6-12 and the other failed on a vote of 9-9.

LGBT advocates had supported that provision in the base bill because LGBT asylum seekers often don’t know they have a one-year deadline to apply for asylum in the United States, or lack financial resources to make the application.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

National

Police describe Wilton Manors Pride incident as ‘fatal traffic crash’

Pickup truck driver identified as 77-year-old man

Published

on

A screenshot from a video taken at the scene by Joey Spears. (Image courtesy of @pinto_spears, via Twitter.) Screenshot used with permission from South Florida Gay News.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday released additional information about an incident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

A press release notes a 77-year-old man who was “a participant who had ailments preventing him from walking the duration of the parade and was selected to drive as the lead vehicle” was behind the wheel of a 2011 white Dodge Ram pickup truck that struck the two people near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“As the vehicle began to move forward in anticipation for the start of the parade, the vehicle accelerated unexpectedly, striking two pedestrians,” reads the press release. “After striking the pedestrians, the driver continued across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business on the west side of the street.”

“The driver remained on scene and has been cooperative with investigators for the duration of the investigation,” further notes the press release. “A DUI investigation of the driver was conducted on scene and showed no signs of impairment.”

The press release confirms the driver and the two people he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue transported both victims to Broward Health Medical Center “with serious injuries.” The press release notes one of the victims died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is leading the investigation, has not publicly identified the victims and the driver, but the press release describes the incident as a “fatal traffic crash.” The press release notes the second victim remains hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center, but “is expected to survive.”

“While no arrests have been made, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department continues to investigate this incident and will not be releasing the names of the involved parties due to the status of the investigation,” says the press release. “The Fort Lauderdale Police Department asks anyone who may have witnessed this incident, who has not already spoken to investigators, to contact Traffic Homicide Investigator Paul Williams at (954) 828-5755.”

The pickup truck narrowly avoided U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade. Florida Congressman Ted Deutch was also nearby.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tragic accident that occurred when the Stonewall Pride Parade was just getting started,” said Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight in a statement he issued after the incident. “Our fellow chorus members were those injured and the driver was also part of the chorus family.”

“To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” added Knight. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”

Fort Lauderdale mayor initially described incident as anti-LGBTQ ‘terrorist attack’

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially described the incident as “a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” without any official confirmation. Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Saturday confirmed to reporters that investigators are “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but stressed the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“Last evening, at the start of what was to be a celebration of pride for the LGBT community and commemoration of our hard-won victories for equality, our community faced the worst of tragedies. The grief of our LGBT community — and greater Fort Lauderdale as a whole — is palpable,” said Trantalis on Sunday in a statement he posted to his Facebook page.

“I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events. It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement and had strong concerns about what transpired — concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he added.

Trantalis added “law enforcement took what appeared obvious to me and others nearby and investigated further — as is their job.”

“As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he said. “As a result, one man died, two others were injured and the lives of two members of Congress were at risk. My heart breaks for all impacted by this tragedy.”

Continue Reading

News

One person dead after pickup truck hits Wilton Manors Pride parade participants

Vehicle narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Published

on

Stonewall Pride Festival in Wilton Manors, Fla., on July 19, 2021, hours before a pickup truck struck two parade participants. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — At least one person died on Saturday when a pickup truck ran over them during a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Fla.

South Florida Gay News, WPLG and other South Florida media outlets reported the incident took place shortly before 7 p.m. after the Stonewall Pride Parade began on Wilton Drive.

Christian De La Rosa, a WPLG reporter, told his television station a white pickup truck that was lined up with other parade floats hit the accelerator and ran over two people. WPLG reported the vehicle narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade.

“I want to thank our first responders for their heroic efforts as both police and emergency medical personnel stepped into action quickly,” tweeted the congresswoman after the incident.

“We’re praying for the victims and their loved ones as law enforcement investigates, and I am providing them with whatever assistance I can,” she added. “I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration. May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing.”

“This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told WPLG shortly after the incident took place, without any apparent confirmation. “This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident. It was deliberate, it was premeditated and it was targeted against a specific person. Luckily they missed that person, but unfortunately, they hit two other people.”

Detective Ali Adamson of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department told reporters near the scene the “investigation is active and we are considering and evaluating all possibilities.”

“We owe it to our community to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” she added.

Adamson confirmed her department is “working with” the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is “evaluating all possibilities.” The pickup truck’s driver remains is in custody.

“We have to look at all the angles and that’s what we are doing,” said Adamson. 

Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus President Justin Knight told WPLG reporter Liane Morejon that the two victims and the driver who struck them were members of his organization. Knight in his statement also said to his knowledge the incident “was not an attack on the LGBTQ community.”

“We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support,” added Knight.

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is openly gay, in a tweet said he is “heartbroken and in shock over what has happened at Wilton Manors Pride.”

“Praying for and sending love to everyone there, including many friends,” he said.

Washington Blade Senior News Reporter Lou Chibbaro, who is currently on vacation in Wilton Manors, was along the parade route when the incident took place.

The Stonewall Pride Festival had begun earlier in the day. Chibbaro said Pride organizers cancelled the parade.

The incident took place a week after the 5th anniversary of the massacre at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month signed a bill that bans transgender athletes from participating in high school and college sports teams that correspond with their gender identity and vetoed funding that activists say would have funded programs for Pulse survivors and homeless LGBTQ youth.

“We are heartbroken by the news of loss of life and multiple injuries at Wilton Manors Pride tonight,” said Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, in a series of tweets. “Our hearts go out to all those impacted. Our staff and volunteers at Pride are all safe and accounted for.”

“We are, with the rest of the community, awaiting additional info on whether this was a tragic accident or an intentional act of hate,” added Equality Florida.

Equality Florida also said “fears are heightened at a time when Gov. DeSantis and GOP legislators are fanning the flames of anti-LGBTQ hatred for political gain.”

“We can’t help but think of the awful bill passed this session enabling people to use vehicles as weapons against demonstrators. And, just days after the Pulse remembrance, we know dangerous rhetoric comes with real costs,” said Equality Florida. “But let us await the full story and send hope and healing to those injured and grieving tonight.”

The Blade will provide additional details as they become available.

Continue Reading

National

ACLU and Justice Department to jointly challenge anti-Trans laws

Recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Published

on

U.S. Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

WASHINGTON – In court documents filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the U.S. Department of Justice, in Statement of Interest filings, joined the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), arguing that recently passed anti-transgender laws in West Virginia and Arkansas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The suits filed by the ACLU challenges an Arkansas law that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a West Virginia law banning transgender youth from participating in school sports.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project, issued the following statement responding to the Department of Justice submitting a statement of interest in two federal courts supporting transgender youth;

“Today’s filings from the Department of Justice send a powerful message that discrimination against transgender youth is not just wrong, it is also plainly unconstitutional. These filings from the Department of Justice confirm what we have been telling legislatures all year: Banning trans youth from sports and denying trans youth health care violates the Constitution and federal law. We hope that state legislatures finally get the message.” 

Law and Crime reported that in the West Virginia case filing, the Justice Dept. argued that House Bill 3293, which bans transgender athletes at public schools from competing in female sports at the middle school, high school, and collegiate level, violates both the Equal Protection Clause and  Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the parents of transgender girl who said their daughter was unlawfully prohibited from trying out for the school’s cross-country track team because of the measure.

In Arkansas, the Justice Dept. backed an ACLU-filed lawsuit challenging a state law (Act 626) which bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youths. The DOJ also claims that state ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Law & Crime reported.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular