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Leahy Drops Fight For Same Sex Marriage Immigration Reform But Vows Fight In The Future

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he regrets calling for the resignation of senator Al Franken before the Senate Ethics committee had a change to fully investigate the matter
Toby Talbot
Sen. Patrick Leahy at a July news conference in Montpelier.

Senator Patrick Leahy has decided not to include an amendment providing rights to same sex couples in the immigration reform bill because he’s concerned that it could cause a number of senators to vote against the overall legislation.

Over the course of the last three weeks, the Senate Judiciary committee considered hundreds of amendments to an immigration reform bill.

But as work on the bill came to a close, Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the committee, decided not to offer a final amendment. It would have allowed an individual in a same sex marriage to sponsor their foreign partner for a green card. It’s a right that’s currently available to heterosexual couples.

Leahy withdrew the amendment because he says he knew that several senators on his committee, who were set to vote for the overall bill, would switch their position if the amendment passed.

“It was a difficult thing for me because I feel very strongly on this,” said Leahy.  “I don’t know how I can look at two legally married couples in Vermont and say to one we can help you but then turn to the other one equally legally married and say however under our law we have to discriminate against you. It’s not right and it’s not fair.”

Leahy says that while it’s very unlikely that he’ll offer this amendment on the Senate floor, that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on this issue.

“I’m not going to allow any amendment of mine to kill overall immigration,” said Leahy. “What I am saying is I want to get immigration through but I also want to get this provisions through. Somewhere I will get it through.” 

Leahy says the effort to pass this plan will be greatly enhanced if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. It’s a law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages.

“Of course it would help if the Supreme Court rules the way I hope it does next month and then it makes our job much, much easier.”

And as the immigration bill heads to the Senate floor, Leahy says he thinks the plan provides a reasonable path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in this country illegally.

“We did a lot of good in this so I’m feeling a lot more optimistic today than I did in January when we first started talking about this.”

Leahy expects that the full Senate will begin its debate over the immigration bill by the middle of next month.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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