As you know, Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee last night yanked provisions out of the immigration reform bill that would extend immigration rights to gay married couples, angering the gay rights community.
But this battle is not necessarily over. What comes next could get quite interesting from a strategic and political standpoint.
Democratic aides expect Senator Patrick Leahy — who as chair of the Judiciary Committee had previously pushed two amendments to protect gay married couples, but pulled them last night — to reintroduce one or both of those amendments at some point, when the immigration bill is on the Senate floor.
This could theoretically force a floor debate over one or both of these amendments. They probably wouldn’t pass, unfortunately. While most Democrats — and perhaps a few Republicans, such as Mark Kirk and Rob Portman, who have come out for gay marriage, and even Susan Collins — would vote for them, they might not get the 60 votes they need to clear a GOP filibuster. But Republicans would be forced to vote against them.
For Republicans, apparently, immigration reform is completely unacceptable if it is extended to gays. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham — two leading pro-reform GOP Senators — have both warned darkly that any such move would immediately destroy the hopes for reform. Gay advocates urged Dems to call the GOP’s bluff. But Senate Democrats say they believed the threats, which is why they pulled the LGBT amendments.
Regardless of who was right on that point, Dems now face an interesting question on timing. At some point in June, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. If the Court strikes down DOMA as unconstitutional, that could largely resolve many of these issues by extending federal recognition to legally married gay couples. Gay rights lawyers believe this could largely render the battle over immigration reform’s sought after LGBT protections moot.
And so, if Dems wait until the DOMA decision comes down, they could find themselves without any real need to push the LGBT issue in the immigration reform debate. At the same time, though, this is a fight Democrats — and the White House — want to have, for substantive and political reasons. So they may introduce the amendments before the DOMA decision comes down — forcing a public battle with the GOP over gay rights.
That would theoretically gin up the right wing base, forcing Republicans to rail against — and vote against — the simple act of extending a bill many of them support, i.e., immigration reform, to cover gay married couples, too. That would again reveal the GOP’s unwillingness to evolve on gay marriage along with the rest of the country, at a time when even some Republican officials and strategists are urging the party to develop a more tolerant and inclusive aura, something that is being made impossible by the refusal of most Republican voters to accept the inevitable.