Leahy Tries (Again) to Include Gay Couples in Immigration Bill

PHOTO: Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., holds a news conference on Friday, May 24, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. Leahy says reforming the U.S. immigration system requires a comprehensive, rather than a piecemeal, approach.

Sen. Patrick Leahy is making another attempt at including same-sex couples in immigration reform.

The Vermont Democrat on Tuesday evening reintroduced an amendment to the Gang of Eight immigration bill that would allow Americans in long-term, same-sex relationships to sponsor their foreign partners for green cards. Under current law, heterosexual couples can apply for residency together, but same-sex couples cannot.

In a statement, Leahy said his proposal would "remove discrimination from our immigration system.

"Seeking equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community, is the right thing to do," he added.

Leahy first offered the amendment when the bill was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he withdrew it from consideration after lawmakers from both parties expressed fear that it would fracture the bipartisan coalition supporting immigration reform.

"As the entire Senate turns to debate the immigration bill, the fight for equality must go on," he said in his Tuesday statement.

So far, Senate leaders have not decided which amendments will be voted on by the full chamber.

One Democrat on the Gang of Eight, which authored the bill, said Wednesday he wants the entire Senate to take up Leahy's proposal.

"I think that amendment should get a vote on the floor," Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

But even if it does come to a vote, the Leahy amendment is unlikely to achieve the 60-vote threshold that will probably be required to pass it, since 54 senators currently caucus with the Democrats, and there's little indication that Republicans on the Gang would support the proposal.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) compared Leahy's amendment to efforts by some House Republicans to insert anti-abortion language into immigration proposals. It's best if such divisive social issues are left out of immigration reform, he told reporters at the Monitor breakfast.

When the Leahy pulled his amendment from consideration in the Judiciary Committee, "I think we wisely put that issue aside and kept to the main elements of the bill," Flake said.

Pro-LGBT advocates have long pressured Democrats to address the status of same-sex couples in the immigration bill itself, instead of waiting for the Supreme Court to decide its pending case on the Defense of Marriage Act this summer.

"That legislation would help couples regardless of DOMA," Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the group Immigration Equality, told Fusion earlier this year. "We're really hoping the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA in June. But if it doesn't happen, immigration reform is a critical safety net for lesbian and gay couples, because if DOMA does not get struck down, they would be vulnerable to separation."

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