From left, Senators Schumer, Grassley and Leahy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Although the Senate Judiciary Committee has been making amendments to the massive comprehensive immigration reform bill for two weeks, it wasn’t at all clear whether Senator Patrick Leahy would offer his amendment to include LGBT couples in this bill. He waited until late last night to attempt to do so, as the final amendment. In the end, Leahy withdrew his bid, after Republicans threatened to derail the entire bill, and Democrats agreed to sell out queer couples for a supposed greater purpose.
Leahy, who began by explaining that he himself has been married for fifty years, highlighted that during the time since the immigration bill was first introduced, three states have legalized same-sex marriage. All three, Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota, are represented on the Senate’s committee. But that didn’t stop Republicans like Lindsey Graham from politely urging Leahy from submitting his amendment to a vote. That reverent tone—a departure from many of the amendments that were hotly debated in the past two weeks—was echoed by other Republicans, who concurrently acknowledged the passion for equality while threatening to derail the bill if the LGBT amendment passed.
Democrats, meanwhile, appeared perfectly comfortable outlining their justification for homophobia. Senators Diane Feinstein and Dick Durbin fervently pretended to want to protect equality, but soon abandoned the principle and encouraged Leahy to drop his amendment. Senator Chuck Schumer—who had spent most of the day kicking back in his leather office chair and texting on his cell phone while he and his colleagues slowly decide the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants—stated that not including Leahy’s amendment amounted to nothing less than “rank discrimination.” Nevertheless, Schumer made clear that he wouldn’t support the amendment because it would threaten to bring down the entire bill. With zero support for equality from his colleagues, Leahy withdrew his amendment.
As often as senators stated that the process was difficult for them, the result is most difficult for those couples that could soon be separated even if immigration reform passes. Meghan Austin, a 34-year-old who works with Immigration Equality, blogged her disappointment last night after both parties sold out her community. Speaking to her this morning was far more painstaking than listening to senators make excuses yesterday. “It was heartbreaking to see the Democrats abandon Senator Leahy and let him stand alone in defending what’s right,” she told me.
Austin met her partner, who is in the United States on a work visa, three years ago. She wants to sponsor her to stay, but doesn’t have that option—which straight couples do. Austin says that she, along with some twenty families, met with Schumer’s office four times recently, and he assured that he would stand with them in committee. Responding to reports that Schumer found the process among “the most excruciatingly difficult decisions” he’s ever had to make, Austin responded, “Standing for what’s right should never be an excruciating choice.”
With the exception of Leahy’s attempt to introduce the amendment, Austin added that the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves—and that they should have reframed the debate and stood for equality. “Openly admitting to discrimination is shocking, especially to me as a constituent,” explained Austin, who hails from Brooklyn, in Schumer’s state of New York.
President Obama was rumored—but never confirmed—to have asked Leahy to drop his amendment. As the bill finally moves forward for debate to the full Senate, it’s more than likely that Obama won’t veto a bill that throws LGBT couples and their families under the perennial bus of inequality. In his failed attempt to bring the equality amendment up for a vote last night, Leahy expressed that our grandchildren will look back at marriage inequality the way we look back at anti-miscegenation laws. He’s only half right: We don’t have to wait until the future to know that the way senators acted is shameful and indefensible today.
Whither the GOP’s anti-racist facade? Read Mychal Denzel Smith’s take.