In his final prominent act as senator, newly-appointed Secretary of State John Kerry sought to resolve a global dilemma. Kerry filed Senate Bill 48, which seeks permanent resident status for Genesio Januario Oliveira—a gay Brazilian national who is facing deportation from the United States because he does not qualify for a spousal visa.
President Barack Obama is hoping to award LGBT couples like Genesio and his American husband, Tim Coco, the same immigration rights as their heterosexual counterparts. If passed, this proposal could permit up to 40,000 foreign nationals in same-sex relationships to apply for U.S. citizenship and legal residency.
The legislative measure has inspired a fervent pushback from the congressional right and various religious groups, who claim it would squash the hopes for a comprehensive agreement aimed at offering a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented aliens.
This debate may force the President to choose between two prominent interest groups—the gay community and Hispanics—that helped him secure re-election last well. President Obama must also weigh how hard he should push the bill, known as the Uniting American Families Act, while not destroying the long-anticipated agreement to clarify the status of undocumented immigrants.
The same-sex marriage initiative was not attached to the immigration proposals last week by a bipartisan Senate working group. Several religious groups that had expressed support for the immigration push have objected to the same-sex marriage attachment, sighting the erosion of traditional marriage as their primary cause for concern.
Additionally, congressional Republicans strongly opposed the idea and warned that the measure jeopardizes broader immigration reform. Senator John McCain and one fellow senator on the eight-member bipartisan working group claimed that the injection of social issues into the immigration debate is the best way to derail progress.
McCain echoed these statements to the press earlier today saying, “Which is more important, border security or the LGBT community? My priorities are keeping the nation safe.”
Several Senate Democrats on the other side of the argument, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, participated in a conference call with several LGBT organizations to discuss the Republican Party’s refusal to include a same-sex provision in the bipartisan immigration proposal.
In the meantime, the United States Supreme Court is determining the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act—a federal mandate that provides marriage benefits only to heterosexual couples. Several gay rights organizations and advocates believe that if the court strikes down the law, the question of same-sex stipulation in immigration law could be rendered pointless.