June 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Leahy poised to help bi-national gay couples on Senate floor
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) filed a floor amendment for bi-national gay couples. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) filed a floor amendment for bi-national gay couples. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Senate Democrat who has championed legislation for bi-national same-sex couples has filed a floor amendment to ensure they can stay together in the United States without fear of separation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced on Tuesday he filed an amendment to comprehensive immigration reform along the lines of a carve-out to the Defense of Marriage Act that he proposed — and withdrew — when the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering the bill.

“Seeking equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community is the right thing to do,” Leahy said in a statement. “I withheld my anti-discrimination amendment during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup. As the entire Senate turns to debate the immigration bill, the fight for equality must go on.”

The amendment filed by Leahy, No. 1182, would repeal part of DOMA to enable married bi-national same-sex couples to apply for a visa through the marriage-based green-card application process.

It was one of two amendments that Leahy filed when immigration reform was before committee. The other amendment mirrored the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign “permanent partners” for residency in the United States.

Leahy withdrew the amendments from the committee — saying he was doing so with “a heavy heart” — after Republicans said they’d bolt from immigration reform if it were adopted and Democrats said they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the amendment if it meant the larger bill would lose bipartisan support.

LGBT advocates, who expressed displeasure with the failure of the committee to include bi-national same-sex couples as part of immigration reform, had asked for a floor amendment when the bill came before the full Senate.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, praised Leahy and said the amendment would be “consistent with Sen. Leahy’s long-time commitment to LGBT binational families.”

“From the first introduction of UAFA more than a decade ago to his strong show of support during the Committee mark-up, he has always been at the forefront of the work to ensure our immigration system treats everyone fairly,” Ralls said. “If the Supreme Court doesn’t end this injustice, I have no doubt Senator Leahy can, and will. We will do everything we can to help him in that effort.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, advocates said Leahy introduced the “mini-DOMA repeal” amendment — and not the one that more closely mirrored UAFA — because the former is more likely to reach the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster on the Senate floor. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), for example, voiced concerns last month about UAFA because she’s “not for just accepting affidavits.”

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project, said the floor amendment filed by Leahy doesn’t change U.S. immigration code, but “simply removes the extrinsic barrier” caused by DOMA that prevents gay Americans from filing petitions for their spouses.

“The implication of Sen. Leahy’s focus on equality is the overarching message that our families are no different than any other American families comprised of citizens and non-citizens,” Soloway said. “We must have access to the same immigration law protections that ensure that no family is torn apart.”

Filing the amendment doesn’t necessarily mean Leahy will for certain offer the measure on the Senate floor. The U.S. Supreme Court may issue a ruling against DOMA as a result of pending litigation this month that would make offering the measure a moot point.

But Jessica Brady, a Leahy spokesperson, said she “can’t predict” whether offering the amendment would be dependent on a Supreme Court decision that upholds DOMA.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said determining whether the amendment has 60 votes for passage is difficult as the wait continues on the Supreme Court decision for DOMA.

“Your 60 vote question is unclear at this point and there’s a lot of moving parts to this amendment, like will the decision from SCOTUS come down first, like this Thursday,” Sainz said.

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

  • This is great and will show us who is with us by forcing a floor vote on the amendment

  • A floor amendment is pointless and can only be seen as a political stunt to make Leahy look better on LGBT issues when the truth is he sold us out. If the Supreme Court nullified DOMA, it would have been easy enough to take the LGBT amendment out later, but by not putting it in while in committee, we can rest assured of a Republican filibuster on the floor. Moreover, if it came down to the bill really losing, or not getting through the House with LGBT protection, it could have been removed later, but getting it in later won’t happen so we’ve been seriously betrayed. There are 11 million illegal immigrants in this country and 36,000 binational same sex couples. There is no reason force thousands natural born Americans should be forced to move overseas to be with their spouse but then allow 11 million undocumented workers into this country with a path to citizenship. It is morally indefensible, and worse, it’s just plain stupid. I pay far more in taxes and consume way less in government services than the typical undocumented worker.

  • Senator Leahy – apparently the only senator left in Washington who feels like doing his job.

  • Let's be clear: the Republicans in Congress are looking for any excuse to bow out of its support for any immigration reform bill. They have now once again sunk into the toilet to defeat the bill by once again making reform look like its being derailed by Gays.

  • At least there is one Senator who has taken the time to actually talk to bi-national gay couples and understand our plight. I am in this boat too, and am so frustrated that my partner of 4 years from Bethlehem, Palestine, may have to leave the USA, while his two sisters got status in the USA, when they were just engaged, and came over to enjoy being with their husbands-to-be with no fear of exile. IS THIS FAIR? Not. Keep trying and speaking out, Senator Leahy.

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