Sen. Patrick J. Leahy introduced an amendment to the immigration bill Tuesday that would extend immigration benefits to gay partners of American citizens, potentially injecting that contentious issue into the middle of the immigration debate.
While federal law doesn’t recognize gay marriages, his amendment would grant immigration benefits to partners in states where gay marriages are legal.
“Seeking equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community, is the right thing to do,” Mr. Leahy said in a statement.
Mr. Leahy had made a similar move in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but withdrew the amendment at the last moment, saying that while he was committed to the issue, he didn’t want to threaten to bring down the entire bill over gay rights questions.
If he had pursued his amendment in committee it would have created a dilemma for fellow Democrats. If they had voted against it, it would have been a black mark on their voting records with gay-rights groups. But voting for it would have added it to the base bill, and it would have been nearly impossible to strike on the Senate floor.
That could have threatened the entire bill, since some of the Catholic and Evangelical Christian groups that are supporting the immigration bill this year might have withdrawn their support over the gay-rights issue.
But by offering the amendment on the floor now, it will likely take a 60-vote threshold to add it in — something that’s tougher to achieve. So Democrats will be able to vote for the amendment, while not having to worry that success would threaten the entire bill.
Mr. Leahy in his statement didn’t say whether he will definitely demand a vote, saying only that “as the entire Senate turns to debate the immigration bill, the fight for equality must go on.”