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Leahy withholds amendment to include LGBT couples in immigration reform

Acknowledging that it would jeopardize the passage of a sweeping immigration reform bill, a top ally of LGBT rights advocates will not call for a committee vote on an amendment that would include the spouses of LGBT individuals with the same standing as heterosexual couples in immigration law. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced "with a heavy heart" that he would withhold his amendment during the final hours of the committee's negotiations on the immigration bill. 

"I do not want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and love of their country," he said in his opening remarks on the amendment, for which gay rights advocates had heavily lobbied in the weeks leading up to the marathon markup session.

Republican members of the Gang of Eight had made clear in the days before the vote that the LGBT provisions - if included - would be a dealbreaker for GOP supporters of the delicate bipartisan compromise. But gay rights organizations said the inclusion of the protections for LGBT individuals is a crucial social justice issue. 

The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, called opposition to Leahy's proposal "deplorable" and vowed to keep up the fight on the Senate floor. 

"We are extremely disappointed that our allies did not put their anti-LGBT colleagues on the spot and force a vote on the measure that remains popular with the American people," the organization said in a statement. "We will continue to work hard to include bi-national same-sex couples as the bill moves to the floor and remain committed to the underlying principles of inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform." 

Rachel Tiven, the president of immigrant advocacy group Immigration Equality, said “there should be shame on both sides of the political aisle" for the move. 

"Despite widespread support from business, labor, faith, Latino and Asian-American advocates, Senators abandoned LGBT families without a vote," she said. 

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the Gang of Eight negotiators, affirmed that the amendment would fracture the "strong but fragile coalition" nurtured by the bipartisan group. 

"When it comes to passing this immigration bill, to interject a redefinition of marriage would be a bridge too far," he said. 

Before Leahy announced the withholding of the amendment, Gang of Eight members Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, both Democrats with strong records of supporting gay rights, each expressed anguish at the prospect of voting against the measure to preserve the chances of passage of the larger bill. 

"I believe this is the wrong moment. This is the wrong bill," said Durbin. 

Schumer acknowledged that current immigration policy towards LGBT foreign nationals amounts to  "rank discrimination"

But, he added, "I cannot support this amendment if it would bring down this bill." 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said that she believes there is a "very good chance" that the Supreme Court will find the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional this summer, largely addressing the concerns of the LGBT community when it comes to protections for binational couples.

"I am for what Sen. Leahy is proposing," she added. "I would just implore you to hold off on this amendment at this time."