Pro-Gay AND Pro-Immigration? You’re Stuck Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee began considering amendments to that sweeping immigration reform bill the Gang of Eight have been working on for months behind closed doors. As it stands now, the bill, which is called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” and is 844 pages long, aims to provide a pathway to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants, to tighten border security and employment verification, and to revamp the existing visa system. It was drafted by a bipartisan powerhouse — four Democratic and four Republican senators, led by Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and including conservative up-and-comer Mario Rubio (R-Fla.), who have vowed to push it through no matter what, and with good reason — America hasn’t passed an immigration bill since 1986, when the country was a very different place. Approximately zero Americans oppose immigration reform, even if it’s tough to find consensus on what, exactly, that reform should look like.

But now is when the “what” part of “no matter what” comes in, and things get trickier. Judiciary Committee senators have filed over 300 amendments, which the committee as a whole will look over in the next two weeks. These amendments range from small tweaks (like requiring candidates for legal status to prove they’ve paid back taxes) to huge impossible performance-art-type statements (like Ted Cruz’s (R-Tex.) bid to basically deport everyone). Two of them, both introduced by Senator (and Judiciary Committee Chair) Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would specifically use the Act to extend the rights of binational same-sex couples and their families. Although this is already the norm in more civilized countries like Canada and Great Britain, it’s proving to be a controversial position in today’s America, where the Republican House somehow gains strength from strangling everything good.



Under current American law, as long as one member of a married heterosexual couple is a US citizen, his or her foreign-born spouse can petition for a green card. But because this is a federal right, and because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages, binational gay couples — even legally married ones — aren’t invited to the green card party. An estimated 40,000 couples are affected by this inequality. Amendment Leahy-6, which is basically the “Uniting American Families Act” Leahy has been championing for several months, would fix it by extending the same green card petitioning rights to commited same-sex couples, even unmarried ones, by creating a “permanent partners” category. Eligibility for this category would be determined by a set of criteria presented in the bill — couples must “intend a lifelong commitment” and be “financially interdependent,” among other things. (This itself presents potential problems when you consider that couples are probably less likely to dive into either of those things when one of them could be deported at any moment, but I digress.)

Amendment Leahy-7 is a little tricker — it would make it so that a person is considered married under the Immigration Act as long as the marriage “is valid in the state [or country] in which it was entered into.” Basically, in order to be eligible for immigration rights, you just have to go to the nearest state on this map and get hitched, and then, immigration-wise, you’re hitched wherever. If this amendment passes, it will provide the first ever workaround for DOMA (and it would invalidate Amendment Leahy-6 in the process). Lawyers and gay rights activists have described it as “brilliant” and “a strategic masterstroke,” as it will make it difficult for anyone to argue logically against it  — as Human Rights Campaign vice president Fred Sainz puts it, “it’s hard to object to marriage if they’re already married.”



Predictably, though, a lot of people are all set to object anyway. Religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops,  have made it clear that they’ll pull their support from the bill if the gay marriage gets “tangled up” in it, because it is the “wrong place at the wrong time” to deal with this “divisive distraction” (their words, if you didn’t guess). Mario Rubio has said multiple times that he does not personally support the amendment, and thinks it will make his Republican colleagues reluctant to pass the bill. Some of these colleagues, including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), are all too happy to prove his point (McCain: “Which is more important, LGBT or border security? I’ll tell you what my priorities are.“). Compounding the problem, some think, is the fact that Obama supports the provision (in his own level-headed-to-a-fault way) — in our current weirdo political climate, the best way to get Republicans to vote against something is to give it the Obama stamp of approval.

And so LGBT-friendly senators (and those of us who vote them in, toss them money, and cold-call their interns) are faced with a classic dilemma. Do we consider this amendment a make-or-break part of immigration reform? Do we hold fast to the conviction that the “comprehensive” bill everyone keeps talking about must include all citizens, including gay ones, in order to live up to the word? In doing so, do we risk another legislative gridlock like the one that recently made the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act such a depressing experience?



Or do we, as columnist Gabriel Arana argues we should, “take one for the team” and sacrifice the rights of gay couples in order to ensure that the broader legislation goes through? After all, if DOMA is repealed, as it might be this term, the whole issue quickly becomes moot (“Ultimately, recognition for LGBT couples is part of the marriage fight, not the immigration fight,” Arana argues. “[That] broader fight is well underway, and we’re winning.”). Meanwhile, there are about 267,000 undocumented queer immigrants waiting for this bill to go through so they can come out of what amounts to a terrifying and dangerous legal closet. Would this count as setting a horrible precedent and buying into the anti-intersectionalist idea, expressed by some, that gay people are somehow a “less valuable” constituency? Would we be voting ourselves into second-class status? Or just being politically savvy? Is it a copout to spend my energy, instead, planning for a future where those two are never related at all?

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Cara is a former contributing editor for Autostraddle and a current staff writer at Atlas Obscura. She lives in Somerville with her girlfriend, their roommate, and a cat who can flush the toilet, and is generally thinking about gender, sustainable biodiversity, and/or rock & roll music. You can follow her on twitter @cjgiaimo if you want.

Cara has written 113 articles for us.


  1. Oh man. I don’t know how to feel about this either but I’m really glad we’re talking about it. Thanks for writing this.

  2. I hate these no-win scenarios. I’m looking to practice immigration law in the future (I’ve been doing some of it as an intern, and will continue to do so this summer)and I’m honestly not sure which sacrifice is worse. Recognizing queer marriages in immigration law will help a lot of F-visa petitions get on the queue that should have been there the whole time, but our “public charge” and criminal grounds for exclusion and deportation are totally bat-shit, not to mention the scorched-earth consequences for EWI and being a former non-immigrant currently out of status in the fucked-up bureaucratic labyrinth of DHS. It’s times like these I’m secretly thankful that I’m not in a position to make this decision.

    • Whilst skimming your comment, I read “pubic charge.”

      My apologies for this distracting comment; your points are quite salient, although the second-to-last sentence lost me a bit (I may be the daughter of a lawyer, but I try so hard to can to block out all of the memories of Republican, southern elitist, homophobic and otherwise intolerant BS that I have no memory of useful lawyer jargon, either).

      That, and I’m still distracted by the concept of a “pubic charge.”

      • LMAO

        Sorry for the jargon. I’m just in the middle of studying for finals and trying to translate immigration law into something coherent demands more time, and possibly intelligence, than I have to spare. I mean, my textbook for Immigration Law couldn’t even handle making it accessible.

        • No apology needed — I’ve fully grasped it now that I’m fully sober. Sorry, I should really stay off the comments when I’m not!

          Good luck on finals! You certainly seem to have more than enough intelligence to spare, at least in my estimation (for whatever it’s worth), and you’ve clearly been studying up on current events, so may the odds be ever in your favor! We really need competent people who can address these shenanigans.

  3. As someone whose family is personally impacted by this I’ve obviously got more stock in it than average but…

    …wouldn’t it make sense to just throw this in so that we don’t have to deal with people trying to falsify green card marriages and such?? For that matter, the supporters of DOMA should be all over the part that lets the state marriages stand. That doesn’t require a repeal of DOMA, so it’ll pacify both groups, but if you don’t pass it you’ve just angered all those people. There’s nothing that indicates second-class citizenship quite so obviously as keeping queer folk out of the country while letting straight people (who in some cases have known each other for a tenth the time or less) in — a valid point against DOMA, along with all the other federal legislation that queer people don’t have access to that straight people don’t.

    Mind you I am not in favor of DOMA but I feel like people who are should actually be trying to make it sound better.

    • I think you’re expecting an awful lot of rational thinking from DOMA supporters. Also, they tend to be the all-or-nothing, slippery-slope types. I mean the reason why DOMA is even a thing is because they were worried if Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage, all of the federal rights and privileges would be extended to same-sex married couples/ other states would have to recognize same-sex marriages. To create a workaround for one marriage privilege (green card sponsorship), while to you and me sounds like a way for them to keep the rest of DOMA longer, to them it’s the beginning of a slippery slope ending in a queer paradise full of rainbows and glitter (AKA Hell).

  4. Thanks for writing about this! The proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform creates a pathway to citizenship for some, but also a lot, a lot of obstacles to citizenship for many people, including the LGBT community, but certainly not limited to it. It also allows for much greater border security infrastructure, which results in the militarization of our communities and violence against migrant people.

    There are, however, SO MANY great organizations fighting for just immigration reform for everyone, including queer people. Check out or or (Alliance for Global Justice).

  5. I am a long time reader and supporter of Autostraddle and have never commented on a post before but the lack of support in this post for LGBT inclusive immigration reform is offensive to anyone who is in a binational relationship where immigration is a constant worry. To have complete immigration reform LGBT families must be included because unlike the pictures in this post many of us have spouses who cannot return to their home safely and definitely cannot bring us with them. We are not fighting for this just because are not able to maintain a garden. We are fighting for this because as a US citizen it is my right to be able to sponsor the green card of the person I am married to. We shouldn’t have to be the ones who have to compromise yet again, and we should have the full and unbridled support of our community. I understand that many news sites are talking about this very subject but it disheartens me to see my own community to suggest that sacrificing my family is a viable option. I am pro-immigration reform and I want to see our entire system be fixed, but that must include my family and the other 40,000 people who have waited for a long time to have equal rights and protections. As with marriage equality we have to stand together on every fight that impacts even the smallest fraction of our community and not be willing to cut out populations that make it a harder fought battle.

    • I don’t think there’s a lack of support for LGBT inclusive immigration reform in this post.

      I think there’s a realization that LGBT inclusive immigration reform most likely will not pass, so that would mean no immigration reform if the Leahy amendments are added.

      So do we go for the immigration reform and leave behind queers, for now, or do we wait on immigration reform until the political climate is better for us? That’s really what this post is addressing. Obviously everyone here wants LGBT inclusive immigration reform. Whether or not it can happen right now is a different issue. Cara’s just giving us a dose of reality.

  6. I am a US resident currently living in the UK with my partner. Obviously I would like to have the option to live in the US with my partner (who has been denied a US visa). After living abroad for 5 years I am not sure I would actually choose to return to the US, but if I did, I do feel I ought to be entitled to do so with my partner. I may be naive, but I believe that if something is right, then it is worth fighting for, even if it is a bit inconvient. I would feel let down if fair and equal treatment for anyone was neglected in order to appease political fundamentalists. Why not let them be the ones to have to look bad by refusing their support to other immigrant groups they would like to support? As it stands I remain more than a bit disappointed that my native country doesn’t approve of my pursuit of happiness.

Comments are closed.