In a surprise development that has some LGBT activists angry, reports began circulating late Tuesday morning that the White House reportedly asked that the two LGBT-related amendments to the immigration reform bill be set aside, at least until the full Senate takes up the overall bill.
Many LGBT immigration activists were watching for the two amendments, both from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be offered Tuesday afternoon. But late Tuesday morning, Leahy surprised many when he stated that all the amendments from the Democratic side of the committee had been addressed.
While some thought perhaps he still intended to bring up his amendments, Associated Press released a report in the late morning, saying that "two people familiar with Senate immigration deliberations say the White House has suggested [to Leahy] that it would be best to put off a controversy over gay marriage until a bill goes before the full Senate."
AP said both sources spoke on the condition that its news report would not identify them.
An aide to the Judiciary Committee said Leahy and President Obama speak often but that Senator Leahy "does not discuss what they speak about in any given week." The White House also had no comment about the AP report Tuesday.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said he did not know whether the report was true and would have no comment until after the Senate Judiciary Committee completes its mark-up of the immigration bill Tuesday night.
Steve Ralls, a spokesman for Immigration Equality, said the AP report "seems possible though not yet confirmed - that Senator Leahy will be unable to offer the amendments for an up-or-down vote," and pointed to the lead Democrat on the immigration bill, Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
"We know that Senator Schumer remains uncommitted regarding a vote on the amendments, and has not pushed back on GOP Senators on the Committee who are making threats about the amendment," said Ralls. "Earlier this afternoon, Schumer would only say 'no comment' when asked if he would vote for the amendments."
Schumer is considered a strong supporter of equal rights for LGBT people, and he is a co-sponsor of a stand-alone bill, the Uniting American Families Act. The UAFA provides the language for one of Leahy's two gay-related amendments and seeks to allow a U.S. citizen to gain citizenship for his or her "permanent partner."
Schumer is also a leading member of the "Gang of Eight," a group of Democratic and Republican senators who drafted the overall comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) under consideration. Politico.com reported Monday that a May 10 "off the record" meeting between Schumer and a group of LGBT activists and elected officials grew "heated" over the issue. Politico reported that some "key Democrats have quietly pushed" President Obama to ask Leahy to delay the gay amendments.
The apparent motivation for any delay is that several Republican senators have threatened to derail the immigration bill if the UAFA language, and another amendment, are allowed.
The second amendment would treat as a "spouse" a person who has entered a marriage with a citizen that is "valid in the State in which the marriage was entered into."
Ralls added that Schumer and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) "assured our families" that gay-related protections would be in the immigration reform bill from the beginning.
"When the base bill was not inclusive," said Ralls, talking about the Gang of Eight's original draft proposal, "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."
At a hearing last month on the proposed draft bill, former Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe urged members of the Judiciary Committee to "fix" the bill by adding language to help LGBT citizens with foreign partners or spouses. But neither Schumer, Durbin, nor Senator Dianne Feinstein, who also helped the Gang of Eight on the draft, said anything in support of adding gay-related language during the hearing. Meanwhile, several Republicans on the committee and in the Gang of Eight have been very vocal about their opposition to the gay-related language. As recently as May 13, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a Twitter post saying, "If the Judiciary Committee tries to redefine marriage in the immigration bill they will lose me and many others." Gang of Eight member Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told politico.com last month that adding language to allow same-sex permanent partners to immigrate would "virtually guarantee" that the overall bill won't pass and undo the cooperative spirit of the "Gang of Eight" senators who put the bill together. And Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said last month at a forum, "if you're going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it in my view."
"If the amendments are not offered for a vote," said Ralls, "there will be bipartisan blame: On Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake for making threats and bullying colleagues to abandon our families; and on Senator Schumer, for refusing to stand up, in the face of that bullying, for his own constituents who desperately need him to cast his vote in their favor."
Others urged caution over the AP report itself. Liberal political blogger Greg Sargent, who writes in the Washington Post, wrote Tuesday that the unidentified sources for the AP report, "could represent Dems on the Hill trying to shift blame to the White House for what they themselves have decided is inevitable: Not voting the pro-LGBT amendments out of committee."
The reported effort to delay the gay-related amendments on the immigration bill came just one day after the White House announced it would honor the late astronaut Sally Ride, whose same-sex relationship was revealed after her death last year, with a Medal of Freedom Award, the nation's highest civilian honor. Also on Monday, the White House announced it would honor ten long-time LGBT civil rights activists and elected officials with "Champions of Change" awards Wednesday (May 22) in a ceremony at the White House.
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