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Senator Patrick Leahy Offers Up LGBT Immigration Rights Protections

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has submitted two amendments to the immigration bill that the Senate is putting together that would extend to same-sex couples the same immigration rights as opposite-sex married couples enjoy. The move by Senator Leahy is not one that is approved of by Senator Rob Portman who would prefer to wait for the outcome of the cases in front of the Supreme Court dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act.

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

Despite Portman’s desire to wait, time is essential because the amendments had to be in at the end of Tuesday 7 May, and will be considered on Thursday 9 May. The amendment includes a provision that would recognize same-sex couples who are legally married for the purposes of immigration.

The Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognizing marriages entered into by same-sex couples, including those who have a spouse who was born outside the United States and who is not a US citizen. This means that it would be impossible for the US born member of the same-sex couple to sponsor their partner for a green card.

Among the amendments offered by Leahy is one that is, essentially, the Uniting American Families Act, which would create the category of “permanent partners”. This would enable lesbians and gays to sponsor their foreign born partner.

The provision governing marriage would, as Leahy’s office noted, “provides equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.” The person would be considered marriage under the Immigration and Nationality Act so long as the marriage “is valid in the state in which the marriage was entered into.”

According to Lavi Soloway, a lawyer representing binational same-sex couples, “It would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act so that all marriages of gay and lesbian binational couples would be recognized for immigration purposes only, thus creating the first ever ‘carve out’ or exception to DOMA under federal law.”

Soloway also noted that the UAFA “would become immediately inoperative if the second amendment was passed into law because the key component of UAFA is the creation of the ‘permanent partner’ category, which only exists as long as same-sex marriages are not recognized under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Of course, Senator Marco Rubio is adamant that the amendments would ensure that the bill would fail though he did say “I understand this is an issue that’s moving across the country and different states are dealing with it differently. I understand all that, I do.” Which is kind of like saying ‘hey, we can’t do this because if we do, we’ll make Mississippi feel like bigots.’

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