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In a stunning and disheartening defeat, Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee chose yesterday not to include protections for binational same-sex couples in the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently making its way through Congress.
Republicans on the committee had publicly and privately stated that including the measure, known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), would force them to withhold their support from the entire bill. UAFA would have created a classification of ‘permanent partners’ through which U.S. citizens in binational same-sex relationships could sponsor their partners in immigration proceedings. A related amendment would have extended immigration protections to married same-sex couples in spite of the Defense of Marriage Act.
During yesterday’s committee markup, four crucial Democrats–all of whom support marriage equality, in theory–spoke of a difficult decision in withdrawing support for the amendment but defended the move in light of Republican threats. ”If we make the effort to make [the protections] part of this bill, they will walk away,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said during the hearing. “They’ve said it publicly. They’ve told me privately. I believe them.”
The other three Democrats on the committee who pulled their support of the amendment were Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who had introduced the UAFA amendment in the first place, was the only Democratic Senator who spoke in favor of the measure unreservedly. ”I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the life of their life and the love of their country,” he said when introducing the amendment, but later said he would withdraw it “with a heavy heart” given its lack of support in the chamber.
The committee eventually voted 13-5 to send the comprehensive immigration reform bill to the full Senate. The UAFA amendment could be considered by the full Senate in June when the immigration reform legislation comes up for a floor vote, although it would likely require 60 votes to pass, making its chances of success exceedingly slim. The measure could also be taken up as a stand-alone bill, but such a path would also be sure to falter in the face of a 60-vote threshold.
“Despite the leadership of Chairman Leahy, Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to bullying by their Republican colleagues,” Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality Action Fund, said in a statement after the vote. “There should be shame on both sides of the political aisle today for lawmakers who worked to deny LGBT immigrant families a vote. Despite widespread support from business, labor, faith, Latino and Asian-American advocates, Senators abandoned LGBT families without a vote.”
LGBT immigration advocates pointed out yesterday as reports surfaced that the Leahy amendments might be tabled that they were essentially burned three times by Democratic Senators on the issue. ”It is important to note,” Immigration Equality’s Steve Ralls told Metro Weekly, “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. When the base bill (which they also helped write) was not inclusive, they assured us we would receive a vote in Committee.” Of course, no such committee vote ended up occurring.
The immigration protections debate underscores the vital importance of understanding that, while the LGBT community’s successes on the marriage equality front in the last few months have been remarkable, there are still many issues on which politicians still need to be pushed. Even though all four of the Democrats in question on the Judiciary Committee support marriage equality, that support did not carry over to support for same-sex couples’ rights when it comes to immigration. It’s worth asking these senators whether they support LGBT equality categorically, or in words only.
By Jacob Combs
A new Gallup poll released yesterday confirms that a majority of Americans favor marriage equality, with 53 percent saying they support equal marriage for same-sex couples and 45 percent saying they are opposed.
The new poll, conducted from May 2-7, asked respondents the following question: “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages? Three percent of respondents said they had no opinion on the issue.
In a blog post announcing the poll’s results, Gallup wrote that the new data “suggests Americans’ support for gay marriage is solidifying above the majority level.” The new 53 percent figure matches two previous polls–one in May 2011 and one in November 2012–for the highest level of support Gallup has ever recorded.
In the 17 years that Gallup has been polling on marriage equality, support has essentially doubled from an initial figure of 27 percent. Just three years ago, a Gallup poll found only 44 percent support for equal marriage rights and 53 percent opposition.
While support for marriage equality has grown across all subdivisions of the U.S. population, Gallup notes that the majority of shifting opinion has occurred amongst more liberal political groups. Since the poll’s inception, Democratic support for marriage equality has grown by 36 percent and independent support by 26 percent, while Republican support has increased only by 10 percent. (The numbers for liberals, moderates and conservatives were similarly proportioned.)
In perhaps its most fascinating conclusion, Gallup’s new poll found that most Americans are unaware of public opinion on marriage equality: respondents tended to overestimate opposition to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples and underestimate support.
A remarkable 63 percent of respondents said they believe the American public opposing providing marriage rights to same-sex couples, while only 30 percent believed there was widespread support for it. This held true amongst nearly all age groups and political groups, with only liberal respondents saying that Americans as a whole support marriage equality–and even liberals underestimated the level support by several percentage points.
Gallup’s new polling data demonstrates that supporters of marriage equality may need to step up their efforts to educate Americans about the dramatic shift in public opinion over the last three years. Opposition to equal marriage rights continues to be fierce, as demonstrated by the emotional and sometimes sensational testimony that has been on display in recent weeks as Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota passed marriage equality legislation. News reports often include quotations from both supporters and opponents of equal marriage rights, which may further the impression that opposition marriage equality is still a majority view.
Finally, the poll found that most Americans believe that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have either no effect on society (40 percent) or will worsen society (39 percent). Nineteen percent say marriage equality will change society for the better, a number which has nearly doubled over the last decade. Over the same time period, the percentage of respondents who believe equal marriage rights will worsen society has declined 8 points, while the number of respondents who believe it will have no effect has stayed roughly the same.
Intriguingly, even the groups most support of marriage equality tended to respond that it would have no effect on society. Gallup attributes these numbers to “a more libertarian perspective that allows people to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt other people.”
The poll’s full results can be found here.
- Lawmakers in Minnesota who are supporting the marriage equality bill are considering a last-minute change to the bill, the addition of the word “civil” in front of “marriage”, in hopes of gaining the votes of legislators who might otherwise argue that religious institutions would be forced to perform same-sex marriages.
- In the UCLA Law Review, there are two notable articles on LGBT issues: Nan Hunter has written “Reflections on Sexual Liberty and Equality: “Through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall”“, and Douglas NeJaime has written “Framing (In)Equality for Same-Sex Couples”.
- In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have introduced two anti-discrimination bills aimed at protecting LGBT Pennsylvanians, this week. Think Progress notes that more than 70% of Pennsylvanians support these protections.
- The Advocate profiles some people who have been fired from their jobs for being LGBT, and explains the need for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
- Buzzfeed spoke with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) about his views on LGBT issues like DOMA and ENDA, now that he has announced support for marriage equality. In response to a question about the criticism he received after announcing support for marriage equality only when his son came out, Portman said that he hadn’t thought much about marriage equality for same-sex couples before his son came out, but, he suggested, perhaps he should have.
- The Illinois GOP Chairman who recently announced his support for marriage equality has resigned from his position.