Committed gay partners, including those legally married in U.S. states that recognize their unions or in foreign countries that do, are tragically denied permanent residency in the U.S., causing the couple to relocate outside the country or resulting in painful separations. The primary culprit is the Defense of Marriage Act, whose constitutionality is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. DOMA forbids the federal government from recognizing gay legal unions.
Congress is now formulating an immigration reform bill, and LGBT political groups are making a concerted effort to include within it the Uniting American Families Act, which would let permanent partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents obtain permanent resident status. President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders have announced their support for including the measure in the broader bill. Republicans pushing for immigration reform, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have said that gay inclusion would be a deal killer.
Responded Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, quoted in the Washington Blade, “The LGBT community will not stand for Congress placing the blame of their own dysfunction on our shoulders.”
IGF’s own Jonathan Rauch penned an impassioned commentary at the liberal Daily Beast saying “Really? Republicans will deep-six the entire effort and demolish themselves with Latino voters, business interests, and young people to prevent gay people from having someone to take care of them?” Jonathan rightly explains that
From a conservative point of view—indeed, from a social conservative point of view—keeping same-sex life partners out of the country makes even less sense substantively than it does politically. It betrays rather than upholds conservative values.
I agree with that point (though I’m not sure the Daily Beast site is the place to reach conservatives with conservative arguments). And yet…something isn’t quite right here. If the Supreme Court strikes down the DOMA section that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, then gay couples married in states or countries that recognized their unions would presumably have their relationships recognized by the federal government and its immigration enforcement authorities on a par with heterosexual marriages.
The Supreme Court’s decision will be handed down next month. So, why go to the mat demanding inclusion of “permanent partner” residency, which includes those couples not married in states that recognize same-sex marriages or in foreign nations that do— a more liberal and problematic standard than spousal residency?
There is a view among conservatives that Obama and the Democrats wouldn’t mind seeing the immigration bill “deep-sixed” because they see its passage or not as a win-win: If it becomes law, they’ll take credit; if it fails, they’ll blame Republicans and use the issue to galvanize Latino and other pro-reform voters in the party’s campaign to re-take the House in 2014.
I support legal equality for gay spouses in immigration and other areas. But I also expect the federal ban on recognizing same-sex marriages will fall, and I know that getting any immigration bill through the GOP House is going to be problematic at best.
And, in the end, I don’t trust the Democratic coalition that’s insisting on a provision in the immigration bill that Republicans are just not going to accept, because I believe the party’s strategists would be just fine with a failed outcome.
More. For what it’s worth, the Washington Post editorializes:
With anti-reform forces preparing their assault, it’s critical that the pro-reform camp doesn’t provide them with ammunition. … Civil rights groups, in particular, will insist on amending the bill to provide visas for the foreign same-sex spouses of American citizens. … [Americans] overwhelmingly favor legalization and a path to citizenship. That, and Republican alarm at losing the Latino vote, have generated fresh momentum to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Those who favor a fix should be wary of asking too much and, in the process, sapping that momentum.
Furthermore. The Washington Times reports:
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced amendments Tuesday to grant gay couples the same immigration rights as other married couples, setting up a key hurdle for the immigration bill. …
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the committee chairman, introduced two different versions: One would apply to “permanent partners,” which critics said could invite widespread fraud. The other would only apply to same-sex couples who are legally married, which given the laws in various states would dramatically limit who could qualify.
Actually, if the Supreme Court does the right thing, I think it would be wrong to assume that federal rights such as spousal residency would disappear if a legally married same-sex couple moves to a state that doesn’t recognizes same-sex marriage.