Will the Push to Include Gay Couples Kill Immigration Reform?

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Photo: David McNew/2008 Getty Images

Gay rights and immigration reform are two of this year's hottest political topics, and they'll go head to head next week when the Judiciary Committee considers adding provisions to protect same-sex couples to the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill. The conflict has been brewing for months, and Democratic senators in the Gang of Eight agreed to leave the provision out of the bill after their GOP counterparts argued that they couldn't sell the bill to fellow Republicans with a gay rights provision. Now it seems likely that the measure will be added as an amendment, and Republicans are threatening to tank the whole bill.

The decision might come down to Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who over the last decade has repeatedly introduced legislation to provide green cards for immigrants in long-term same-sex relationships. (As the New York Times notes, his bill, the Uniting American Families Act, says nothing about legalizing gay marriage.) Leahy's office says he's still undecided, but according to Politico, he told advocates that he's planning to offer his amendment next week. The committee is expected to accept it. The amendment could also be added (or removed) on the Senate floor, but it would be more difficult.

“There’s a reason this language wasn’t included in the Gang of Eight’s bill: It’s a deal-breaker for most Republicans,” Jeff Flake, one of the Republican authors of the bill, told the Times. “Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues.” Marco Rubio put it more bluntly. “If that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not have the support," he said in a radio interview Tuesday. "It will not have my support.”

Leahy declared last week, “It’s not going to kill the bill,” and he and other Democrats are willing to bet that Republicans want to pass immigration reform more than they don't want to extend rights to same-sex couples. However, not all Democrats are confident in that strategy. Chuck Schumer has already apologized to gay rights activists twice for failing to include protections for same-sex couples in the Gang of Eight's bill, and Politico reports that he seemed particularly touchy when asked about the amendment last week:

“No comment,” he said, scolding a reporter for trying to get him to talk about it. “No comment. No comment.”