Inside the immigration bill: Gay-rights groups disappointed

A bipartisan Senate group has agreed on a sweeping legislative proposal that would represent the most ambitious overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in three decades. The Washington Post will be examining portions of the bill on Post Politics in a series of blog entries.

Gay-rights advocates expressed disappointment Tuesday that the Senate group proposal did not include a new category of visas for same-sex foreign national spouses of U.S. citizens, who are not able to apply for such visas under current laws.

An estimated 40,000 foreign nationals are caught in limbo because federal law does not provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Advocates had lobbied the bipartisan Senate group to include a new provision, modeled on the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow U.S. citizens to petition to bring their same-sex spouses to the country under the family visa program.

But on Sunday, Democratic Senate aides told gay-rights advocates on a conference call that the provision would not be in the legislative proposal to be released Tuesday from the eight-member group because of objections from the four Republicans, people familiar with the discussion said.

The advocates said they now will focus on pressuring Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill will be marked up, to offer an amendment to the bill with the new protections.

“We’re disappointed that we’re not in the base but we’ve always known that our best shot would be at the committee level,” said Fred Sainz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. “The goal is to get into the underlying bill. How that happens is not as important as the fact that it happens.”

Sainz said that his organization would send out an action alert this week to  members and supporters in each of the states represented by a Judiciary Committee member to pressure their senators.

Some gay-rights advocates said they hope the question of same-sex spousal visas becomes moot in June when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a challenge to DOMA and could potentially declare the law unconstitutional.

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Aaron Blake | April 16, 2013