Friday, June 28, 2013


U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) talking to area folks at the Corn Hill Arts Festival, July 8, 2012.  Sen. Schumer sent a staffer to the DOMA/PROP 8 rally to do damage control. Photo: Ove Overmyer
With all due respect Senator Schumer, you have me scratching my head
-Ove Overmyer

Rochester, N.Y. -- The Supreme Court ruling this week overturning a denial of federal benefits for married gay couples removed a contentious issue in the congressional immigration debate by giving foreign-born spouses of gay U.S. citizens the same rights as those in traditional marriages.

With encouragement from Schumer, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, withdrew an amendment guaranteeing that right from a broad rewrite of immigration law that cleared the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27. Some Republican senators, including Rubio (FL) and Graham (SC), said the measure wouldn't have passed in the Senate if the inclusive language was in the final bill.

On June 26, the Supreme Court concluded, in a 5-4 vote, that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act violated the Constitution’s equal protection provision under the Fifth Amendment. Republicans who oppose gay marriage said they would now take the fight over the issue to the states.

Consequently, this happenstance gets U.S. Sen. Schumer off the snide, so to speak. He was willing to throw bi-national same sex couples under the bus in his “Gang of 8” discussions but got a reprieve from the judicial branch ruling in a decision favorable to bi-national same sex couples.

From my point of view, Sen. Schumer sees himself as this savior pragmatist, the guy who can get things done amid all the chaos. He is probably the most media savvy politician in Washington today. However, I still have my reservations about his decision-making-- e
ven when it means marginalizing tens of thousands of bi-national same sex couples and dispensing of his "democratic principles." Lucky for him, SCOTUS came to his rescue to quell the equality coalition’s rebuke of his less than popular position. I for one thought his office’s presence at the DOMA / PROP 8 Day of Decision rally in Rochester, N.Y. was all about damage control.

Schumer staffer Chris Zellman tried to placate the crowd by saying this: “The decision upholds one of the truly defining qualities of American democracy – our unstoppable drive toward equality. Sen. Schumer was an original co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have repealed DOMA. The fight for equality is not over. Sen. Schumer is co-sponsor of ENDA, which would prohibit employer discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Majority Leader Reid will bring ENDA to the Senate floor for a vote. Passage will be another vital step to achieving equality for all.”

Sorry Chuck-- you still have a long way to go to convince me that you are a champion of equality. While I applaud your efforts to send a staffer to be at this rally, to me it came off as a transparent attempt to make amends. You were the last Democratic elected official in New York State to jump on the equal marriage bandwagon and have never been out in front on equality issues especially when it comes to immigration and assisting our bi-national same sex married couples. There are folks around the county who have been working on this issue long before you stepped into public office. When you had the opportunity to step up and represent them and the Democratic Party as a whole, you looked at public policy polls and took the path of least resistance.

Back at the Senate

Back at the Senate, Sen. Leahy said, “It appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I’ve long advocated will apply to our immigration laws and to bi-national couples and their families can now be united under the law.”

Both Rubio and Graham joined 12 other Republican colleagues in voting for the immigration bill offering 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, revising visa laws for employees in technology, agriculture and other businesses and increasing border protection. It includes $46 billion in funds to secure the U.S. border.

The Fight Rages On

As the immigration focus shifts to the Republican-run House, some senior Republicans said an extension of green-card benefits to gay couples won’t be a big part of the House debate.

“I don’t think it will be a major factor,” said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. “There’s already enough controversy around the bill and it’s now in effect becoming a state issue.”

The high court’s decision opens the door immediately for many gay couples to apply for a green card if the foreign spouse is documented. Those couples must reside in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal.

In 2010, there were about 40,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. who would have been eligible to use immigration mechanisms available to different-sex spouses, according to the Williams Institute, a research group at the UCLA Law School in Los Angeles that follows sexual orientation law and public policy. About a quarter of those were living in California.

Gay-rights groups say they’ll still monitor the House debate to be sure that a final immigration law passed by both chambers includes green-card eligibility to same-sex spouses within the population of 11 million undocumented residents already in the U.S. They would be eligible for permanent legal residency under the Senate measure.

Without a foothold in the immigration system to start with, the Supreme Court decision doesn't change the mission of those fighting for same-sex benefits under immigration law.

The Williams Institute estimates there are about 267,000 individuals who self-identify as lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual among the adult undocumented immigration population.

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