The Senate Gang of Eight immigration bill, which is nearing completion, will not include provisions allowing same-sex couples to apply for green cards for non-citizen partners, according to people familiar with the Senate deliberations.
Current immigration laws do not treat gay and lesbian couples as legitimate family for purposes of green-card petitions because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. Advocates and many Democrats in Congress hoped that an immigration reform bill would remedy this exclusion by recognizing same-sex relationships.
But supporters of such reforms now publicly acknowledge that the initial bill from the Senate group will fall short of their demands.
“We are not expecting LGBT families to be included in the Gang of 8 [sic] bill,” Immigration Equality director Rachel Tiven told the Washington Blade yesterday. “That in our minds means that of course the bill is incomplete.”
In January, the White House urged Congress to include same-sex couples in legislation. Its proposal on immigration reform recommended “[treating] same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”
But Republicans who champion immigration reform have been clear from the start of this round of deliberations that they wouldn’t support rights for same-sex couples. Gang of Eight member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the provision “a red flag” in a January interview on CBS.
Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced stand-alone bills to provide immigration petitioning rights to gay and lesbian couples. The bills drew support from a few Republicans but appear unlikely to pass on their own. Some members of Congress, including Rep. Jared Nadler, D-N.Y., who introduced one of those bills, said this week that the provision could be inserted into reform legislation once the Senate and House bills are conferenced.
“I will fight like hell to ensure that LGBT-inclusive language remains in any House and Senate conference report,” Nadler told the Blade.
But most acknowledge that the best chance for bi-national same-sex couples rests in the Supreme Court, which is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA. If the justices overturn it, gay and lesbian couples in states with marriage equality laws could petition for green cards like other married couples.