Defeat of DOMA More Critical Than Ever as Key Senate Democrats Signal They Will Abandon LGBT Amendments to Comprehensive Immigration Reform



Today will likely be the day many of us have long known would come. Twenty years of grassroots organizing and exhaustive advocacy have brought us here and yet it will now fail. The historic opportunity to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with an amendment providing for the unification of LGBT families is almost certainly gone.

Without an amendment in Committee, there stands zero chance of such an amendment being added next month on the Senate floor. Media reports (Politico, Washington Blade, AP) in the past few days have all but confirmed that at least two leading Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to empty Republican threats to sabotage immigration reform if lesbian and gay Americans are included. These two prominent members of the Senate Judiciary Committee could have stood up to the outrageous Republican scapegoating of lesbian and gay Americans, but they did not. If you have ever felt like calling a U.S. Senator, particularly if you live in New York or California, you should consider making that call now.


Despite hearing from tens of thousands of constituents in recent weeks, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) have not budged. They will refuse to vote for either amendment, and as a result, Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy will likely not call either of his LGBT amendments (the one based on the Uniting American Families Act, which I helped write 14 years ago, or his historic and unexpected Marriage Equality “DOMA Carve Out” exception) for a vote, knowing that the amendments will fail to garner the necessary 10 out of 10 Democratic votes to pass out of Committee.

The betrayal of our community by Senator Schumer who voted for DOMA as a member of the House and fought for gay votes when he ran for Senate despite HRC’s controversial endorsement of his incumbent opponent, Republican Alphonse D’Amato, is appalling to put it mildly. After all his promises to fight for LGBT inclusion in CIR, he has signaled day after day that he won’t upset the bipartisan Gang of Eight applecart by standing up for our community. Dianne Feinstein, who, 35 years ago, became Mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, has once again failed to provide leadership when the going got tough. Her leadership on the repeal of DOMA via the Respect for Marriage Act notwithstanding, this was the moment that counted. This was the moment that required courage and leadership. The most vulnerable members of our community relied on Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein to stand up for us and end decades of catastrophic and irreparable harm to our families caused by DOMA and our exclusion from US immigration law.

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Today, it seems clear, they will betray us. Remember this when you are rejoicing about the seemingly inevitable momentum we are experiencing as one state after another passes Marriage Equality. Remember this when Facebook is filled with BREAKING NEWS telling you that 54 Senators have declared support for Marriage Equality. Remember this when staggering public polling results show support for marriage equality reaching new highs in places as far as Virginia, and with every demographic, including the oldest Americans. Certainly, this progress should be greeted with elation, but if our elected officials refuse to vote for our lives, for our equality, and for our future, our families will continue to be torn apart. Parents will continue to be separated from their children for years, couples will continue to be forced into exile or separated for many years, and foreign spouses and partners of lesbian and gay Americans will continue to be deported.

Who could have stopped this? Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein. Who has refused to prioritize the needs of their large constituencies of LGBT binational couples? Senators Schumer and Feinstein. Please, by all means, call their offices and let them know how you feel.  Regrettably, I am forced to conclude that at this point it is almost certainly too late to pressure them to change their position; nonetheless, they deserve to know what their cowardice means to our community. They have thrown us under the bus, caving to Republican threats, rather than challenging their GOP colleagues to be accountable for their inflammatory anti-gay messaging.

What’s worse, in my opinion, it is becoming clear that there was never any chance that either of them were planning to go to bat for us.  So, for weeks, we endured gay bashing by Republicans over amendments that were doomed to failure in Committee because they lacked the support of cowardly Democrats. This was a foregone conclusion, and it cost us dearly.

What remains? We must defeat DOMA (see more here) because these U.S. Senators, generally regarded with good reason as being allies of our community, refuse to exercise leadership when the going gets rough.  We must win a decisive blow against DOMA in the Court of Public Opinion, and ensure a smooth transition to a post-DOMA future in which all our families are reunited and secure.

-Lavi Soloway, Co-Founder The DOMA Project, Partner in the immigration law firm, Masliah & Soloway



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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.