Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Democrat from Vermont who is the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is adding another controversial ingredient to the volatile mix of an immigration debate that President Obama has said he hopes to spur in Congress before the end of the year.
Mr. Leahy has offered a bill that would allow American citizens and legal immigrants to seek residency in the United States for their same-sex partners, just as spouses now petition for foreign-born husbands and wives … Senator Leahy said the bill would eliminate discrimination in immigration law against gay and lesbian couples.
Under family unification provisions in immigration law, American citizens and legal residents can petition for residency for their spouses. There is no numerical limit on permanent residence visas, known as green cards, for spouses of American citizens, and this is one of the main channels for legal immigration to the United States. Same-sex couples, though, cannot petition for partners, and many face the prospect of an immigrant partner’s deportation.
Senator Leahy’s bill would add the term “permanent partner” to sections of current immigration law that refer to married couples, and would provide a legal definition of those terms.
“I just think it’s a matter of fairness,” he said Tuesday in an interview, noting that a number of American allies, including Canada, France and Germany, recognize same-sex couples in immigration law.
Last year, when Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council was asked about this legislation, he made it clear why they opposed it:
We oppose this bill because it is, although it may be at the margins, part of an assault on the definition of family … I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society.
Sprigg eventually apologized for his remarks … and maybe that has something to do with the Right’s rather muted opposition this time around.
But when I say “muted,” I mean only by typical right-wing standards. I fully expected this issue to become a full-blown right-wing “controversy” with each group trying to out-outrage one another and warn in increasingly charged language how its passage would lead to the downfall of the United States.
That has not happened … yet. But that doesn’t mean that right-wing groups aren’t trotting out all the same old tired and offensive claims in opposing this legislation.
From a letter [PDF] sent to the US Senate by Focus on the Family:
This bill will create opportunities for abuse and fraud of United States immigration laws but more importantly, S. 424 is a fatal step toward the purposeful undermining of marriage, this country’s most pro-child institution.
Supporters of S. 424 seek to use Congress to gain legal recognition for a lifestyle in the name of “equality.” But the institution of marriage is not a legal vehicle for equality; it is a social institution with children at its heart. If passed, S. 424 will be much more than a minor tweak to federal law, it will be a large step toward the redefinition of vital family policy with inestimable consequences for our children.
We urge you to uphold the institution of marriage and reject the redefinition of “family” to grant special immigrant visas for same-sex couples.
From a letter [PDF] sent to the Judiciary Committee by the Family Research Council, whose opposition seems to be rooted in the belief that “homosexual relationships do not benefit American society,” suggestions that gay partners would bring STDs into the country, and the absurd claim that this legislation would somehow discriminate against married couples:
Regardless of whatever personal benefits homosexual partners may believe that they derive from their relationship, they simply do not provide benefits to society that are at all comparable to the benefits provided by marriage between one man and one woman, and there is therefore no reason why society should privilege such relationships over ones which are merely close friendships without a sexual component.
Apart from family relationships, which do not exist in this circumstance, preference in American immigration law has historically been given to persons who have skills of particular value to the American economy or society. Again, engaging in homosexual relationships does not provide such value. On the contrary, homosexual conduct is associated with numerous problems which would burden society, most notable among them the high rates of sexually transmitted diseases among homosexual men.
While S. 424 says that its purpose is “to eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws,” it actually introduces whole new areas of discrimination into those laws. Because, as noted above, entering and exiting a “permanent partnership” is much easier than entering and exiting a legal marriage, the bill actually introduces discrimination against those who are legally married, because they face higher hurdles for entry into a relationship that can derive benefit from the law than “permanent partners” do.
In fact, the bill can also be said to introduce discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as well—discrimination in favor of homosexuals, that is, because only homosexual couples (those “unable to contract with that other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act”) are able to reap its benefits, thus placing both married heterosexuals and heterosexuals in their own “permanent partnership” at a disadvantage.