Immigration Bill Amendment Would Carve Out Benefits For Some Same-Sex Couples

(Credt: America's Voice)

When the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform plan was considered before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, LGBT advocates were heartbroken to watch as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) withdrew an amendment from the bill that would haven given the same immigration rights to bi-national same-sex couples that are enjoyed by their straight counterparts. But now, the amendment is back.

On Tuesday, Leahy tried to rectify that problem after the bill was approved for debate. His new amendment, which will be voted on by the whole of the Senate, would ensure that same-sex couples in legal marriages are considered as a family unit in immigration proceedings. Should the amendment be adopted, it will allow, for example, a gay American man to sponsor his non-native born spouse for citizenship.

There are an estimated 40,000 same-sex couples that could benefit from having the same rights as straight couples in immigration law, according to the Williams Institute: 24,700 binational couples, and an additional 11,700 two-immigrant couples. These couples — and the unknown number of couples where one partner is undocumented — could see a new future should the immigration bill pass.

Given the current Republican antipathy toward Leahy’s similar amendments in committee, however, (and its likely failure in the House, even if it passes the Senate), immigrant same-sex couples face a long road ahead.

Of course, the entire argument over the amendment could be rendered moot: This month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that blocks the government from recognizing same-sex couples in federal law. If DOMA is overturned, same-sex couples will get equal treatment overall, and will need no added protection in the immigration bill.