Anyone following the recent coverage of the debate surrounding the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families in immigration reform may be forgiven for wondering if it’s 1993. That was the year Congress was last seen using scare tactics to throw gay Americans under the bus. The argument two decades ago was that gay sailors were incapable of guarding our shores. Today, it is that gay immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to set foot on them. Lawmakers who supported such exclusion were wrong then, and they’re still wrong today.
The Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix our country’s broken immigration system. It gets a lot of things right. A path to citizenship for the 11 million people who have worked hard to build our country is long overdue. So is the DREAM Act for those who are American in every way but needs this act as we need them. Those are critical improvements that help all immigrants, both gay and straight.
The Senate’s good bill, however, can be made better. It should be amended to allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for residency, just as straight Americans have always been allowed to do. Families like Ginger and Ness Madeiros, who are facing separation when Ness’ visa expires this summer, just want the same opportunity to prove their family should stay together. The provision, introduced as a stand-alone bill in the Senate by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a common-sense solution that both Republicans and Democrats should be able to support.
Yet some lawmakers are rallying against lesbian and gay families. This makes even less sense than it did in 1993. It is also politically unwise. November’s presidential elections should have been a wake-up call. It appears, however, that some lawmakers didn’t get the memo. Here’s a short recap:
You can’t build a winning coalition without us: America is a diverse country that wants all of its people respected and protected under the law. Calling for deportations—self-inflicted or otherwise—isn’t a winning strategy. President Obama won re-election thanks, in large part, to the Latino community. If the GOP wants to compete in 2014, 2016 and beyond, it must give up the drug of slandering immigrants and LGBT people.
Immigrant families include LGBT people; LGBT families include immigrants: As more and more people “come out,” both as LGBT and as undocumented, it becomes impossible to ask us to choose between our identities. It’s no wonder that a recent poll commissioned by my organization, Immigration Equality, found that 64% of Latino voters support immigration rights for LGBT families—and among those, 92% said it was important that these rights be included in the immigration reform package.
In 2013, prejudice doesn’t pay: Gone are the days of using marriage as a divisive issue during elections. Today, a majority of Americans support treating gay couples equally, and they’re expressing their support at the ballot box and in state legislatures. On election day in Maryland, gay families helped pass a state DREAM Act; immigrants voted in favor of marriage equality. The message is simple: we’re all in this together.
In the coming days, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on amending the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill to include LGBT families. Already, Democrats on the committee are feeling intense pressure from their Republican colleagues to vote down the amendment. Some of the Senate’s biggest champions of gay families—senators like Dianne Feinstein of California, and Chuck Schumer of New York—are being bullied by GOP lawmakers who are threatening to walk away from their own bill. The question is whether our friends will stand strong, and whether our opponents will wake up.
In 1993, only 12 senators voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that closed our military to gay patriots. Most of the other 88 have acknowledged that their support was misguided, and have recanted. In the intervening years, tens of thousands of service members were fired. This year, senators have a chance to get it right the first time. There is nothing scary or risky about supporting gay families. The only thing that really threatens to derail immigration reform is the poison pill of political cowardice. Our country has moved past the divide-and-conquer politics of 1993. The question now is whether our senators can do the same—and vote with families who are living their lives in 2013.