Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: Advocates call on Feinstein to support UAFA
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Advocates for same-sex binational couples are continuing to call on California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) to support them as a comprehensive immigration reform bill moves through the Senate.
Feinstein's backing has been sought for years, as she has never become a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which is designed to end discrimination of couples where one partner isn't a U.S. citizen.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is expected to introduce an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill Tuesday (May 7) that would include UAFA's language in the broad proposal, which was introduced by the bipartisan "Gang of 8" senators in April.
Despite calls from President Barack Obama and others for those lawmakers to address the rights of same-sex binational couples in their legislation, they left such provisions out of the package. The deadline for amendments is Tuesday at 5 p.m. (Eastern Time).
The first stop for the amendment would be the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Feinstein sits. Steven Ralls, a spokesman for the national LGBT group Immigration Equality, said she "is an immensely important vote."
California is home to more binational couples than any other state, he said, and his group is "alarmed" that the senator hasn't committed to the bill.
Feinstein "hasn't even made a preliminary commitment to vote for the language when Senator Leahy offers it," Ralls said. Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) hasn't committed either, he said.
"It's important that her constituents call and let her know this is important to them," Ralls said.
In an email to the Bay Area Reporter , Feinstein spokesman Brian Weiss said she is giving the UAFA language "serious thought."
Weiss noted that Feinstein is the lead author of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage, is the subject of a lawsuit recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices are expected to announce their decision in June on the DOMA case.
Schumer's office didn't provide comment by late Monday, May 6.
There are 10 Democrats and eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs.
"We need every Democrat on the committee to vote in favor of the amendment," Ralls said. "If it's a 9-9 tie, the amendment fails."
Despite concerns about Feinstein and Schumer, he said, "We're cautiously optimistic that every Democrat will come through."
If the amendment makes it to the full Senate as part of the overall bill, 40 votes will be needed to keep it. If the amendment isn't added in committee, 60 senators will need to support it, Ralls said.
Delaware vote expected; Rhode Island gets marriage
Also Tuesday, state senators in Delaware are set to vote on House Bill 75, legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the First State. If it passes the Senate, the bill, which the House has already approved, will proceed to Governor Jack Markell, who's expected to sign it into law.
[Updated Tuesday afternoon: The Delaware state Senate approved the marriage equality bill and Markell has signed it.]
Eleven of the state's 21 senators need to support the bill for it to pass.
"I think it'll be a close vote, but I'm feeling optimistic," Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins (D), a prime sponsor of the legislation, said Monday.
Under HB 75, which carries the same name in both of Delaware's legislative bodies, same-sex civil unions would no longer be performed after July 1, the bill's effective date. All civil unions would be converted to marriages within one year.
If the bill passes, Delaware would become the 11th state, plus the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Last week, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee (I) signed legislation permitting gay unions in his state.
"This is truly a proud day for Rhode Island," Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage Equality, said in a May 2 statement. "Chafee's signature on this historic marriage equality legislation ensures that all families are recognized, valued and respected equally under the law."
Same-sex marriages are expected to begin in the Ocean State August 1.
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at email@example.com or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues normally appears every other Tuesday. The column will return June 4.