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Fate of immigration bill gay rights measures in doubt

Fate of immigration bill gay rights measures in doubt
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 1:59pm

As the Senate Judiciary Committee neared completion of its consideration of comprehensive immigration reform legislation on Tuesday, it remained unclear whether the panel's top Democrat would move forward with a pair of controversial gay rights amendments vehemently opposed by congressional Republicans.

The amendments, backed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, would recognize same-sex marriages in which one spouse is an American, and also would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor foreign-born same-sex partners for green cards given proof of a committed relationship.

Contacted by CNN, a Leahy spokeswoman would not say whether the senator would put the measures to a vote. Leahy said Tuesday that it's possible the panel will complete its work on the bill by the end of the day.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent Republican in the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators responsible for crafting the 844-page bill, has publicly warned that Leahy's amendments are a poison pill that will destroy any GOP support for the measure.

If Leahy withdraws the amendments on the committee level, he could offer them again when the bill is taken up by the full Senate. Doing so would be little more than a symbolic gesture, however, as the proposals have virtually no chance of winning the 60 votes almost certainly needed to clear the 100-member chamber.

A spokesman for the Immigration Equality Action Fund, which promotes equality in immigration laws for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, told CNN that gay rights advocates had been repeatedly misled by two key Democrats on the Judiciary Committee -- Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Durbin of Illinois, who are also part of the "Gang of Eight."

"It is important to note that, when the Senate immigration framework (which Schumer and Durbin helped write) did not include LGBT couples, both senators assured our families they would be in the base bill," Steve Rall said in an e-mail.

"When the base bill (which they also helped write) was not inclusive, they assured us we would receive a vote in committee. Now, they may be on the verge of breaking a third promise to LGBT families."

"While Senator Leahy has stuck his neck out for LGBT couples, Schumer has remained notably silent," Rall continued. "Despite Leahy's leadership on the issue, if Schumer does not commit to casting the decisive 10th (committee) vote in favor of the amendments, they would not succeed."

Schumer's office did not respond to a request for comment.

But Max Gleischman, a spokesman for Durbin, told CNN that "Senator Durbin strongly supports equality for binational LGBT couples. While Senator Durbin supported including (Leahy's proposal) in the base bill, he was one of eight members who negotiated a bipartisan compromise."

"Immigration Equality's decision to take pot shots at one of their strongest supporters is unfortunate, but Senator Durbin will continue to push for an immigration bill that is fair and just for everyone as the debate moves forward," Gleischman added.

Earlier this month, Durbin noted the possibility that an upcoming ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the federal Defense of Marriage Act could render the whole issue moot.

"The DOMA ruling could change this whole debate," Durbin said. "They could eliminate DOMA and impose obligations on our federal government (relating to) same gender marriage, and that would dramatically change what we're trying to achieve."

The Gang of Eight's bill creates a 13-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants while strengthening border security and bringing dramatic change to labor policy on America's farms.

If enacted, the plan would constitute the first overhaul of the nation's immigration policy since 1986.

Proponents say the change is necessary to permanently and fairly resolve the status of roughly 11 million undocumented residents. Critics insist the proposed change amounts to amnesty, rewarding those who chose to break the country's immigration laws.

Several Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives are currently working on a separate immigration reform plan.

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