Senate Judiciary Committee Abandons LGBT Amendments to Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Ending 13-Year Effort to Pass the Uniting American Families Act

Republican Scapegoating of LGBT Families Leads Senate Judiciary Committee to Abandon Gay Partner Provision in Immigration Bill

Uniting American Families Act is Effectively Dead, After 13 Years in Congress

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats shocked advocates with a 180-degree reversal when they abandoned two amendments that would have included LGBT families in U.S. immigration law. Under threats and ultimatums from Republicans that a gay-inclusive bill could not have bipartisan support, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), reluctantly declined to hold a vote on either LGBT amendment. Four Senate Democrats, Durbin, Feinstein, Franken and Schumer, announced that they would not vote for the LGBT amendments because they believed doing so would risk Republican support for the larger immigration reform package. Gay organizations and LGBT families were outraged by the developments, as Democrats caved to Republican blackmail, and broke earlier promises to support the LGBT provisions.


Senator Leahy waited until the last hour of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s mark up to initiate discussion of an amendment would have recognized the marriages of same-sex binational couples for the purpose of U.S. immigration law, by carving out an exception to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Leahy’s other LGBT amendment, the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), was not brought forward by the Chairman for discussion. The exclusion of UAFA was particularly surprising to thousands of binational couples and activists who have worked tirelessly on the bill for 13 years since it was first introduced in Congress in February 2000. Leahy stated: “I wonder if our grandchildren will look back on this day in the same way we look back upon the miscegenation laws of 40 years ago, and we ask, how could the Supreme Court even have had to decide the matter of Loving v. Virginia; why were those laws even on the books and respected and upheld where the Congress should have spoken up?”

DOMA Project co-founder, long-time immigration attorney and LGBT rights advocate, Lavi Soloway, reacted to the stunning loss in the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Senators from both parties failed to bring our immigration law into line with the reality of American families in the 21st century. Republicans behaved like brazen schoolyard bullies, showing contempt for compromise and negotiation, which are inherent to a bipartisan legislative process. Senators McCain, Graham, Flake and Rubio held Comprehensive Immigration Reform hostage by demanding that Democrats capitulate and agree to discriminate against LGBT Americans in return for bipartisan support. Shamefully, for months Democrats stood by while Republicans engaged in a relentless media campaign of anti-gay scapegoating, spreading the myth that LGBT inclusion was tantamount to a so-called ‘poison pill’ that would allegedly doom comprehensive immigration reform. The result is a crushing blow to more than 40,000 lesbian and gay binational couples who have fought for years to be included in family-based immigration provisions. Senate Democrats abdicated their responsibility to fight for and defend all U.S. citizens and their families.”

“It is unconscionable that the U.S. Congress will now move forward with a once-in-a-generation immigration reform bill that excludes LGBT families leaving lesbian and gay Americans to face continued separation from their partners and exile from this country. The failure of the legislative branch to keep our families together underscores the critical importance of the upcoming ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on DOMA. We must defeat DOMA and ensure that all families are treated equally under the law to bring an end to the nightmare that torn apart thousands of families. We will continue to fight to ensure a smooth transition to the post-DOMA future in which all families are secure.”

Without inclusion in CIR, the overturn of DOMA is the last and best hope for same-sex binational couples desperately fighting to be together in this country. By the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. If the Court fails to overturn DOMA, green cards will continue to be denied to same-sex couples. Foreign-born spouses of gay Americans could be apprehended, detained, and deported. Couples will be forced into exile. Spouses will be forced apart and parents will be separated from their children.

For more information about these evolving events, or to schedule an interview, please contact The DOMA Project at [email protected] or contact Derek Tripp, Project Associate, at (646) 535-3788.


  • Morris

    It’s time that those of us who are affected by DOMA start planning out how we will protest in the event that SCOTUS does not do right thing and overturn DOMA section 3. What are we individually willing to do to show that we will not be discriminated against in this most cruel and inhumane way and remain silent?

    For those of us in exile, there are a number of ways to protest. Although we cannot live in the U.S. with our partners, we are forced to file U.S. Federal Income tax returns, and if our income exceeds certain thresholds, we are forced to pay Federal Income taxes. Some of us might protest by refusing to pay. Some of us might consciously decide to manage our incomes so as to guarantee that we never exceed the thresholds that the IRS has in place. Still others might decide to organize their holdings under the name of our partners, who since they are considered strangers by the U.S. government, are not required to file any paperwork nor report any income. The ultimate decision that we can make is to renounce our citizenship; tell the ‘land of opportunity’ that it has failed to live up to its promise and that it has made a mockery of the concept of democracy.

    May 22, 2013
    • aliza jones

      i like your thoughts, Morris, but will they even care? I am praying that our Supreme Court Justices rule in the most humane and correct manner. My spouse is separated from me by a Canadian border and now a 5 year ban.. SCOTUS is our only hope other than my leaving the US and uprooting from a 10 year established career and leaving behind elderly and sick parents. We should continue to pray for their decision and speak out on how DOMA has injured so many of us.
      Thank you Lavi and DOMA Project for being such a loud voice for us.

      May 23, 2013
  • cujodu

    What now? What’s next? Anyone?

    May 22, 2013
  • Sandra

    I wonder what happens if SCOTUS dismisses DOMA? What if their decision is that they won’t decide the case?

    May 23, 2013
    • The DOMA Project

      While we expect a ruling by the Supreme Court on DOMA in June, your question is precisely why this 20-year grass roots movement must continue to grow, build on the tremendous momentum in support of full equality and empower more couples to speak out. A few Senate Democrats just gambled our future on a Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, but if DOMA is not struck down, their wager will be a huge loss for tends of thousands of LGBT families. We are optimistic, because we have seen the strength, dedication, persistance and love that has formed the foundation of our community, of binational couples spread across the world, separated, exiled, or struggling to be together on a daily basis in the U.S. We will defeat DOMA in the Court of Public Opinion, which is ultimately the only way to secure the future for our families.

      May 26, 2013
  • Greg

    I come from a country where our leaders had to fight for freedom for decades. But they got there in the end. Let us not every give up the fight. Not now, not ever.

    “It always seems impossible until it is done” – Nelson Mandela

    May 24, 2013

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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.