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Advocates want same-sex couples included in immigration bill

Gay-rights advocates are urging President Obama to make sure same-sex couples are included in the immigration reform bill that was recently unveiled by eight bi-partisan members of the Senate. Obama has said that he backs equal treatment of same-sex couples, but so long as the Defense of Marriage Act stands, they will be excluded from the immigration reform legislation, including rights to marriage visas and other family-related visas.

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, defines marriage as between one man and one woman only, for purposes of federal laws. DOMA has been challenged before the United States Supreme Court, but the court is not expected to issue a ruling in the case until after the Senate Judiciary Committee completes its markup of the bill prior to the Memorial Day recess.

Though controversial, two amendments to the bill have been sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would extend equal immigration rights to long-term same-sex couples and exempt immigration law from DOMA.

Gay-rights advocates have been successful at convincing the Obama Administration to ease up on deportations involving immigrants in same-sex marriages with American citizens, and last fall, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that undocumented immigrants in same-sex marriages would be given "low priority" in deportation cases.

But some advocacy groups say they want President Obama to take the protection a step further by issuing an executive order that would grant equal treatment to same-sex couples under the immigration law. However, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign said this is not likely.

“The Immigration and Nationality Act defines who is eligible for family-based immigration. And, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex spouses are not eligible. The president cannot issue an executive order that would repeal DOMA or amend the INA.”

In other words, it appears that it will be up to Congress to include an amendment in the immigration reform legislation specifically including same-sex couples or the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA in order for same-sex couples to have the same immigration rights.

Source: The Hill, "Gay-rights groups pressure Obama to help them on immigration reform," Alexander Bolton, May 12, 2013

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