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Could UAFA pass as a floor amendment to immigration reform?

LGBT groups support bill despite exclusion of bi-national gay couples

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Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has raised the possibility of UAFA as a floor amendment. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the wake of a Senate committee decision to exclude bi-national gay couples from immigration reform, LGBT rights supporters are turning to a possible floor amendment as a way to salvage inclusion in the bill.

LGBT groups working on the issue — Immigration Equality and the Human Rights Campaign — told the Washington Blade they’ve asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to offer the language as an amendment when it comes before the full Senate as expected this month.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said discussions are underway to push for a floor amendment along the lines of UAFA, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States, but a lot depends on the case before the Supreme Court challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I can tell you if the immigration bill is moving toward a vote before we have a Supreme Court DOMA ruling — or after we have a bad Supreme Court ruling — a floor option is something we very much want to look at,” Ralls said. “We’re kind of in two competing timelines here; it’s not entirely clear how quickly the immigration bill will move forward for a vote, and we don’t know exactly when we’re going to have a Supreme Court ruling.”

Bombarded by accusations on his Facebook page that he betrayed the LGBT community by asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold off on the amendment, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in response raised the possibility of a floor amendment.

“I’ve been a lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act for a number of years and I believe and desire that its principles should be included in the immigration bill,” Schumer writes. “There will be an opportunity to add it to the bill on the Senate floor.”

But none of the groups involved say they’ve received commitments from Leahy that he’ll introduce the amendment on the Senate floor, nor has the Vermont senator publicly committed to offering the amendment.

Jessica Brady, a Senate Judiciary Committee spokesperson, said she doesn’t have anything to offer in terms of public commitment for offering UAFA as an amendment on the floor.

“I’m going to have to refer you back to Sen. Leahy’s comments in the markup, when he said he would continue to fight to take discrimination out of the law,” Brady said. “He didn’t specify if he would offer an amendment on the floor.”

Moreover, finding the 60 votes on the Senate floor to end a filibuster on UAFA is significantly more difficult than obtaining the simple majority needed for passage in committee.

Assuming all 54 members of the Democratic caucus support UAFA — and the votes from Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Landrieu (D-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who don’t support marriage equality, are in question — five Republicans would need to vote “yes” in addition to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the only GOP co-sponsor. The Democrats are now short one vote following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Ralls said finding the necessary 60 votes to end a filibuster on the Senate floor will be “tough,” but he expects Schumer and other Democrats in committee who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for amendments out of fear of losing Republican support for immigration reform to find support for a measure for bi-national couples on the floor.

“I think all of the Democrats on that committee who told Sen. Leahy not to offer the amendment last week owe to our families and they owe it to Sen. Leahy to find the path to 60 votes if we need them to get us there,” Ralls said.

The White House has talked about the possibility of UAFA as a floor amendment to immigration reform once it reaches the Senate floor. Under questioning from the Washington Blade on Friday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he thinks “there is an amendment process on the Senate floor where this could be considered, so I don’t want to predict the outcome at this point.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Schumer said he expects the immigration bill to see action soon on the Senate floor — meaning the question of whether UAFA will be introduced as a floor amendment will have to be answered soon.

“We’re going to put immigration on the floor starting on June 10. I predict it will pass the Senate by July 4,” Schumer said. “We’re hoping to get 70 votes — up to 70 votes, which means a lot of Republicans.”

LGBT groups continue to back reform

Even without the provision for gay couples, LGBT groups are continuing to say they support the measure because it contains other provisions that would directly impact the LGBT community and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 267,000 LGBT people who are among the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Among the provisions that directly impact the LGBT community is repeal of the one-year deadline on filing for asylum — a deadline that many LGBT asylum seekers in the United States miss because they’re unaware of it or lack the financial resource to meet it — and improvements in immigration detention facilities to benefit transgender detainees.

In a conference call with reporters, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD and GetEQUAL highlighted these aspects of immigration reform to bolster its support among LGBT people.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was among those who said the provisions related to asylum and detentions facilities are important to the work done by LGBT advocates.

“We also recognized early that the bill will impact many more LGBT people than simply would be impacted by UAFA,” Kendell said. “We have seen some of the most horrific stories of damage done, discrimination, harassment, terrorizing [involving] LGBT asylum seekers and detention facilities in this country.”

Ralls acknowledged that Immigration Equality continues to support the immigration bill despite discontent over the lack of UAFA-like language in the legislation.

“We’re very disappointed that the bill does not currently include binational families, but as the LGBT organization that speaks to more immigrants than every other group in our community combined, we support the bill, as it includes important provisions that would help many of those individuals, many of whom are our clients, too,” Ralls said.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, also said his organization still supports immigration reform even without language for bi-national gay couples.

“We are committed to immigration reform,” Sainz said. “Undocumented individuals that happen to be LGBT will immeasurably benefit from immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House has its own “Gang of Eight” working on its version of reform, although the legislation that group of lawmakers produces, as Ralls noted, isn’t expected to include a provision for bi-national gay couples.

“Our strategy all along has been we want to be in the Senate bill, that if a Senate and House bill go to conference, we can rely on our champions in both chambers to make sure that we stay in the bill that reaches the president’s desk,” Ralls said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), sponsor of UAFA in the House, would likely be the one to amend the bill to include the provision, but given the conservative nature of the House, amending the bill in either committee or the floor to include UAFA seems unlikely.

Ilan Kayatsky, a Nadler spokesperson, said plans for what will happen with the House bill after it’s unveiled by the House “Gang of Eight” are unclear.

“We still don’t know what form or process the House CIR bill will take, so it’s premature to sort out the UAFA specifics just now,” Kayatsky said.

What happens if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA?

The best hope for bi-national couples may be a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on pending litigation challenging DOMA, the federal law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Obama administration has consistently cited this law, and only this law, as the reason why married bi-national gay couples are ineligible for a visa through the marriage-based green card application process.

Moreover, UAFA would no longer be operable for these legally married couples if DOMA were struck down. Even though UAFA provides a path to residency for “permanent partners,” it would no longer provide relief for couples in these states because the law, under Section 2, subsection D, only applies to those who are “unable to contract with that other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act.”

But the situation is murkier for bi-national couples who live in states without marriage equality. Will someone living in Texas be able to sponsor someone as a “permanent partner” or will they have to travel to a marriage equality state, wed, and then apply for a green card through a marriage-based green card application process? What if they cannot leave the state out of financial constraints?

Ralls said the way Immigration Equality interprets UAFA, the law would still have some use in non-marriage equality states even if DOMA is struck down.

“In some ways, it would make it simpler for couples in non-married states, they would not have to travel, they would be able to apply from their home state for their green card,” Ralls said. “So, in some ways, it’s broader and it applies to couples in all 50 states without forcing them to travel.”

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said he can’t say at this point under what circumstances a bi-national same-sex couple in a non-marriage equality state would be eligible to apply for a visa if UAFA were law and DOMA were struck down.

“I don’t believe there is a definition of that term in the bill and the focus has been on creating relief from DOMA, not the range of reasons that might make it impossible to travel to a state where same-sex couples can marry,” Davidson said. “Indeed, if the bill were to pass, a court might interpret ‘unable to contract’ to reference legal inability not practical inability in light of one’s personal circumstances.”

But even with the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling against DOMA that would allow at least married bi-national couples to stay in the United States, Ralls said it’s incumbent upon Congress to act.

“We think DOMA is unconstitutional, and we hope the court agrees,” Ralls said. “But when it comes to advocating for real families who are impacted by this, we’re not willing to put all of our eggs in a basket that hasn’t yet been delivered. I do not want to have to tell our couples, the day after a bad DOMA ruling, ‘I wish we had fought harder in Congress.'”

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GOP senator willing to delay school meal funding over LGBTQ+ rights

Funding for school meal & nutrition programs is set to expire July 30, a delay could lead to a hunger crisis for millions of schoolchildren

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Photo of a typical school lunch via the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

A bipartisan piece of legislation for school meal programs is at risk after one U.S. senator has signaled he may delay its passage over LGBTQ-related guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Keep Kids Fed Act, released Tuesday by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), has already garnered support from both sides of the aisle as it seeks to provide roughly $3 billion in continued funding for pandemic-era universal school nutrition programs.

“My agreement with Senator Boozman, Representative Scott and Representative Foxx will help keep kids fed and is fully paid for,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said in a statement. “With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal operations, this will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues.”

The legislation would provide additional federal funding to programs established during the COVID-19 outbreak designed to waive financial requirements for all students and allow them to access free school meals throughout the year.

However, guidance issued in May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that prohibits school nutrition programs receiving federal dollars from discriminating against the LGBTQ community has sparked reservations in Congress that could endanger the funding’s ability to pass before its deadline.

On Wednesday, one day after the bipartisan deal was announced, Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) signaled that he would consider objecting to the bill for fear that the USDA guidance would ultimately exclude schools in his state from being eligible to receive the funding.

“This administration is holding women’s sports as ransom for the radical woke agenda,” Marshal said at a press conference on Thursday. “Now, they’re going to do the same thing with school lunches. They want kids to go hungry at school that don’t fall in line with letting boys play girls sports.”

Further indicating his opposition to the USDA guidance that could persuade him to object to the meal funding, Marshall attempted to turn the tables on the Biden administration for not allowing meal programs in schools to act on their discriminatory beliefs. 

“In these trying times where families are faced with rising inflation, the Biden administration is considering taking food out of the mouths of hungry children over their woke agenda,” Marshall said.

But while the press conference was centered around the 50th anniversary of the landmark anti-sex-discrimination Title IX legislation and the issue of transgender athletes in school sports, the USDA guidance only pertains to discrimination within school nutrition programs funded with federal dollars. Under the language of the guidance, equal access and non-discrimination would be required toward only those involved with the meal programs, like LGBTQ students. 

Other programs under a school district’s jurisdiction like sports programs, that may attempt to limit participation by transgender athletes, would not have any relevance to nor would affect the school’s ability to receive federal meal funding like that in the Keep Kids Fed Act.

Current pandemic-era funding for school meal and nutrition programs is set to expire on July 30. Although the funding has bipartisan support, the looming deadline to pass more funding increases the chances that a delay could lead to a hunger crisis for millions of schoolchildren around the nation.

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Caitlyn Jenner celebrates FINA ban on Trans swimmers on Twitter

“[…] what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner tweeted

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Screenshot/YouTube Fox News

Former Olympian and one-time California Republican gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner enraged Trans activists Monday after she tweeted her approval of the FINA vote Sunday that essentially bans Trans women from participating and competing as collegiate swimmers.

“It worked! I took a lot of heat – but what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner tweeted Sunday after the international athletic organization announced its vote to ban trans athletes.

The Swimming’s world governing body voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions. The final vote tally of the representatives was 71.5% approval for the new policy which requires transgender athletes show that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA’s president, Husain Al-Musallam, said in a statement.

The organisation is maintaining that it was necessary to use sex and sex-linked traits to determine eligibility criteria because of the “performance gap” that appears between males and females during puberty.

Jenner’s appearances on the Fox News Network over the past six months have been unrelenting attacks on Trans athletes, especially University of Pennsylvania Women’s Team swimmer Lia Thomas. Jenner also appeared on the network to defend her attacks on Trans athletes.

“We must protect women’s sports. We cannot bow down to the radical left wing woke world and the radical politically charged agenda of identity politics,” Jenner tweeted. In another tweet she said;

“Thank you @seanhannity and @HeyTammyBruce for having a conversation grounded in common sense. All we want to do is protect women’s and girls sports! It’s that simple. And calling out the libelous, defamatory lies of @PinkNews and @emilychudy@benjamincohen

Jenner has been asked about her position on the multiple pieces of anti-Trans youth sports legislation across the United States. She responded that she saw it as a question of fairness saying that she opposed biological boys who are Trans- competing in girls’ sports in school.

“It just isn’t fair,” Jenner said adding, “and we have to protect girls’ sports in our school.”

In April the Fox network hired Jenner as on-air contributor role with her first appearance on Hannity.

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Biden to sign wide-ranging executive order on conversion therapy, LGBTQ youth

Directive stands against state anti-LGBTQ measures

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President Biden is set to sign a wide-ranging executive order on LGBTQ youth and conversion therapy.

President Biden, in recognition of Pride month during a reception with LGBTQ leaders and advocates at the White House, is set to sign Wednesday a wide-ranging executive order advancing his administration’s goals for LGBTQ policy, which includes new prohibitions on widely discredited conversion therapy and resources for parents and children in states enacting laws against transgender youth.

The executive order is the latest measure from the Biden administration building on its reputation for steadfast support for transgender and non-binary youth, who are the targets of more than 300 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation in state legislatures and new state laws. Many of these measures ban transgender girls from sports consistent with their gender identity or penalize medical providers and parents for providing transition-related care for youth.

Key components of Biden’s order direct U.S. departments and agencies, including the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Education, to develop regulations and policies that would counteract the state measures, according to a White House fact sheet.

Among the components of the directive:

  • HHS and the Department of Education are tasked with developing sample policies for states on expanding access to health care for LGBTQ youth and developing policies for “achieving full inclusion for LGBTQ students”;
  • HHS is tasked with leading an initiative against conversion therapy, which is set to clarify federal funds cannot be used for the practice, increase public awareness about its harms and provide support to survivors;
  • the secretaries of State, Treasury, and HHS are directed to develop an action plan to promote an end to conversion therapy overseas and ensure that U.S. foreign assistance dollars don’t fund the practices;
  • HHS is set to publish a “Bill of Rights for LGBTQI+ Older Adults” as well as guidance on the non-discrimination protections for older adults in nursing homes and other long-term care settings.

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday ahead of the signing of the executive order, senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity laid out the key components of the measure and put the executive order into context of the Biden administration’s broader mission for equity and inclusion.

Asked by the Washington Blade if the White House is anticipating a response from states that have enacted laws against transgender and non-binary youth, many of which have taken the Biden administration to court over federal policies, a senior administration official declined to say.

“We don’t know,” the official said. “The focus is not really on what their response will be. What we’re focused on is responding to the frankly un-American policies they’re pushing through state legislatures. They’re going after kids, they’re going after families just because of who they are, and the president has said repeatedly that he will stand with LGBTQI youth and families and people across the country. That’s what this executive order is going to do.”

The executive order, however, falls short of the Biden campaign’s pledge to sign the Equality Act into law, which in the 2020 election he promised he would do within the first 100 days of his administration. Although the comprehensive LGBTQ legislation has cleared the House, it is all but dead in the Senate and has yet to come up for a vote.

Asked by a reporter about why Biden hasn’t placed as much emphasis on the Equality Act as other legislative measures, such as the Build Back Better package or voting rights legislation, a senior administration official shot back that was at odds with the facts.

“The president is a strong supporter of the Equality Act and he has not wavered in that,” the official said. “He continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act. You heard him renew that call during the State of the Union address … Any assertion that he hasn’t been full-throated on that is just completely at odds with the facts. The president today will reiterate the need to sign this legislation into law.”

Read the White House fact sheet on the executive order here.

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