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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has filed two pro-LGBT amendments to immigration bill

DOMA trials Marriage equality

By Scottie Thomaston Capitol Hill

In the Senate yesterday, The Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he plans to introduce two amendments to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that Congress has spent months working on. In a statement, he said the amendments have been filed. The first amendment to the reform bill had been expected: the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to allow same-sex couples to stay in the United States by creating a category of “permanent partner” so that an American in a binational same-sex relationship can sponsor their spouse or partner. The UAFA is needed because right now the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still in force and constitutional unless and until it’s struck down by the Supreme Court in June. Because of the restrictive definition of “marriage” and “spouse” in DOMA, only opposite-sex couples are recognized as married, and only those couples can stay together in the United States without fear of deportation. The UAFA is essentially a type of “work-around” that protects LGBT families without relying on marital status.

The second amendment that was introduced is new: It would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to ensure that for purposes of immigration law, a marriage would be recognized if it was recognized as valid in the state where the marriage took place. Immigration attorney Lavi Soloway discussed the amendment with Buzzfeed‘s Chris Geidner:

A second amendment, according to a news release from Leahy’s office, “provides equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.” The provision asserts that a person would be considered a married spouse under the Immigration and Nationality Act if the marriage “is valid in the state in which the marriage was entered into” or, if “entered into outside of any state,” was valid where entered into and would be valid in a state.

Lavi Soloway, an immigration rights lawyer who represents same-sex couples and co-founded The DOMA Project, told BuzzFeed the second amendment was “nothing short of a strategic master stroke.”

Explaining, he said, “It would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act so that all marriages of gay and lesbian binational couples would be recognized for immigration purposes only, thus creating the first ever ‘carve out’ or exception to DOMA under federal law.”

Soloway said that if this amendment were included in the final bill, or if the Supreme Court were to strike down Section 3 of DOMA in United States v. Windsor in June, the UAFA would be unnecessary, since if same-sex couples who are married were recognized as married for purposes of federal law, the additional category of “permanent partner” would not be needed. The Court could, at least in theory, rule at any time. Briefing is completed and oral arguments were heard at the end of March. But Court-watchers believe the decisions in the marriage cases won’t come down until late June.

According to reports, LGBT rights groups are saying they are strongly in support of the two amendments. Immigration Equality (who filed the Blesch v. Holder challenge to Section 3 of DOMA) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) back the bill.

Some Republicans have said that including LGBT families in the bill would effectively kill it, but President Obama recently reiterated that including these families is “the right thing to do.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill and its amendments for consideration on Thursday. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA will likely impact whichever amendments are passed in the final bill.

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