Fight Over Same-Sex Couples Could Complicate Immigration Reform [Updated]

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LONG BEACH, CA - MAY 18:  A group that wants immigration reform for gay partners marches in the Pride Parade at the conclusion of the two-day 25th annual Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival and Celebration on May 18, 2008 in Long Beach, California. The California Supreme Court voted 4-3 to overturn a ban on gay marriage in California on May 15, 2008 making it the second state where gays and lesbians can marry. Legal gay weddings will begin in about a month. Anti-gay activists vow to change the California constitution to disallow voters the right to approve same-sex marriages.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Photo: David McNew/2008 Getty Images

The news that the Senate and the House both have bipartisan plans for immigration reform put politicians in an unusually optimistic mood on Monday, but it may not last long. President Obama will announce the details of his own plan on Tuesday in Las Vegas, and the Washington Post reports that he's taking a more liberal stance than the senators. One of the most significant areas of disagreement is likely to be how to address same-sex couples in which one partner is American and the other is foreign, and Obama is sticking by his inaugural pledge to ensure "our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law." While the proposal by a group of eight senators made no mention of the issue, sources say that Obama's plan will allow LGBT Americans to confer citizenship on their partner — which they can't do now, even if they're married.

BuzzFeed reports that before the Senate plan was announced, Chuck Schumer, Richard Durbin, and Bob Menendez, three of the Democratic senators who worked on the proposal, told LGBT advocates on a conference call that same-sex couples weren't mentioned in their plan. According to an advocate on the call, Schumer said this was done to ensure support from Republican senators. He added that they'd try to add the provision as an amendment, but couldn't guarantee it.

Senators plan to hammer out many of these contentious issues in the coming weeks, and aim to introduce legislation by the end of March. If the bill does wind up giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to immigration, the Washington Post notes that it would be "almost certain to draw opposition from Catholic and Baptist groups that have been supportive of comprehensive reform."

Bringing gay rights and religious freedom into the debate sounds like a good way to make sure immigration reform never passes, but there's still reason to be optimistic. The GOP has finally shifted its stance on the immigration, and BuzzFeed reports that they're getting some coaching on how to talk about the issue in the form of a memo from a Hispanic organization connected with the party. ("Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens,'" and "Don't use the term 'anchor baby.'") Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, tells the Post that she sees the various proposals as "a healthy competition." The disagreements between Congress and the White House haven't seemed all that healthy recently, but things might be different this time.

Update: John McCain has already started the resistance to the LGBT portions of the president's proposal in an appearance on CBS This Morning. "We'll have to gauge how the majority of Congress feels," he said. "But that, to me, is a red flag that, frankly, we will address in time. We need to get broad consensus over on our proposal to start with. And there are a number of very difficult issues we have to resolve. And as the critics said, we have to go to the floor of the Senate, we have to debate, we have to amend, and we look forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle and the President."