Image via WikipediaAdvocates for gays and immigrants are clashing over a proposed immigration bill that would let gay and lesbian Americans sponsor their immigrant “permanent partners” for legal U.S. residency.
The chasm inside the immigrant rights community has led the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — a major partner in the drive for expanded immigrant rights — to withdraw its support from a House bill to be filed Thursday that would speed up reunification of immigrants with their families.
Including the same-sex provision in the family reunification bill “would erode the institution of marriage and family by according marriagelike immigration benefits to same-sex relationships, a position that is contrary to the very nature of marriage, which pre-dates the church and the state,” the bishops said in a letter to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).
“The last thing the immigration debate needs is another politically divisive issue,” said Kevin Appleby, the bishops’ director of migration and refugee policy.
Another major ally, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, called the efforts to slip gay rights into the immigration debate a “slap in the face to those of us who have fought for years for immigration reform.”
Rodriguez, who has worked with evangelical churches to build support for a broader immigration bill that would expand visa laws, said that if the same-sex language stays in, it will “divide the very broad and strong coalition that we have built on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform.”
But backers of same-sex couples contend “permanent partners” — two adults in an intimate and financially interdependent relationship — should be given equal rights under immigration law.
Too often, gay and lesbian rights issues “are easily discarded as part of the [legislative] process,” and that needs to change, said Honda, the House sponsor of the bill and a longtime advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “It’s too big of an issue to me for it to be treated this way.”
The split comes just days before President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold his first White House discussion on comprehensive immigration legislation.
Also, today is the formal kickoff of the national Reform Immigration for America campaign — comprising labor, business, civil rights, immigrant rights and religious groups — to win congressional passage of a comprehensive immigration measure.
While gay rights and immigration law reforms have fit under the civil rights advocacy banner, churches have long been sanctuaries for immigrants and leaders in the battle for expanded visas and legal protections.
Last year’s vote in California ending same-sex marriage also showed a lack of affinity between Hispanics and gay rights supporters in the state. The ban on same-sex marriage passed in the Golden State last November with support from 53 percent of Latino voters, even though almost three-fourths voted for Obama.