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EXCLUSIVE: Former manager of Russian gay nightclub to seek asylum in U.S.

Arkady Gyngazov, Russia, Moscow, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkady Gyngazov arrived in D.C. last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview on Thursday he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Arkady Gyngazov and three of his friends arrived in D.C. on Dec. 14 after flying from Moscow to New York the day before.

He told the Blade he has obtained a pro bono lawyer through Immigration Equality and the D.C. Center who agreed to take his case. Gyngazov has also worked with Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, an organization that monitors the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record, since he arrived in the nation’s capital.

Gyngazov said he will formally seek asylum once his visa expires in June.

“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.

Gyngazov was managing the Central Station nightclub in Moscow on Nov. 16 when two men whom security personnel refused to allow inside the establishment opened fire. None of the estimated 500 people who were inside the club during the incident were injured, but the assailants destroyed its surveillance camera and left bullet holes in the building’s facade.

An estimated 500 people evacuated Central Station on Nov. 23 after a group of assailants launched poisonous gas into the club. The Moscow Times reported roughly 100 people on Dec. 14 “dismantled” the roof of the building in which Central Station is located and either damaged or stole some of the club’s equipment that had been stored in the attic.

Gyngazov told the Blade during an interview from Moscow after the Nov. 16 incident the owners of the building placed a large neon sign above the club’s entrance the month before that reads “gay club here.” It also contains an arrow that points toward the door.

“I’m afraid because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what will happen to me,” he said on Thursday. “I’m not going to hide all my life.”

Gyngazov, 32, grew up in the Siberian city of Tomsk. He moved to Moscow in 2006.

Gyngazov is not out to his two younger siblings or his grandparents, even though he said he realized he was gay when he was a child. His parents are deceased.

He said life for LGBT Russians was “easier than now” in the 1990s under then-President Boris Yeltsin, in part, because his government was struggling to rebuild the country’s economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gyngazov told the Blade “he never thought” the Russian Duma would pass a bill that sought to ban gay propaganda to minors and that President Vladimir Putin would sign it into law.

“He’s making a dictatorship, like the Soviet Union two,” said Gyngazov.

Gyngazov said he recently read an article in a Russian newspaper in which government officials said the suicide bombers who killed 34 people in two separate bombings in Volgograd late last month targeted the city because the West has sought to export homosexuality to Russia. Authorities said two men tortured and killed Vladislav Tornovoi near Volgograd last May after he came out to them.

The Duma last month approved a sweeping amnesty bill that prompted the release of two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot who had been serving two-year prison sentences for staging a protest against Putin inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. Authorities in December also released a group of 30 Greenpeace members who had been in custody since they tried to board an oil rig in the Barents Sea in September and Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was serving a 10-year prison sentence after his conviction on fraud charges in 2005.

Gyngazov told the Blade he thinks Putin granted amnesty to members of Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace members and Khodorkovsky because he wanted to temper criticism of his country’s human rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place next month in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. He said he remains fearful of what will happen to LGBT Russians once the games end.

“I’m afraid for my friends who stay there,” said Gyngazov. “When I talk to them, I can’t help them.”


Rea Carey arrested during immigration protest

Rea Carey, NGLTF, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, immigration reform, gay news, Washington Blade

Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said she wants action on comprehensive immigration reform (Photo by Kathy Plate)

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey is among the 27 people who were arrested outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday during a protest in support of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

She and others blocked an intersection outside the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a “Stop Separating Families Action” the Fair Immigration Reform Movement organized. Carey and her fellow activists specifically urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to allow a vote on the measure the U.S. Senate approved last year.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” said Carey before her arrest. “In this instance, Speaker Boehner is the problem. His intransigence on fixing our broken immigration system is inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on millions of vulnerable undocumented immigrants and their families.”

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement protest is among the events in support of the issue that have taken place in D.C. this week.

Participants who took part in a march from the National Mall to Lafayette Park that CASA de Maryland hosted called upon President Obama to stop deporting undocumented immigrants from the country. The National Council for La Raza and Causa, an Oregon immigrant advocacy group that backs marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues, are among the groups that also took part.

Immigration Equality on Tuesday hosted a press conference in front of the White House to draw attention to the issue.

Fernanda Vallejos, an undocumented transgender woman from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula who currently lives in New York City, is among those who spoke.

Vallejos — who worked for an HIV/AIDS service organization in the Central American country before traveling to Texas where her family lives — told the Washington Blade after the Tuesday press conference that she came to the U.S. in hopes of finding “a new chance of life.” She noted in Spanish that LGBT Hondurans are frequently tortured and receive death threats.

“If I go back to my country, I will return to torture or death,” said Vallejos.

Diego Ortiz, Fernanda, Immigration Equality, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

Fernanda Vallejos speaks outside the White House on April 29, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vallejos last year spent two months in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities north of Houston. She told the Blade that officers made jokes about her gender identity and expression and placed her with male inmates — even though she identifies as a woman.

Vallejos urged Obama to help her and other undocumented immigrants.

“We are people in need,” she said. “We cannot return to our country.”


Robinson to moderate asylum discussion

Gene Robinson, gay news, gay politics dc, Washington Blade

Bishop Gene Robinson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) presents “LGBT Asylum: How Faith Communities Can Respond,” a discussion about how churches can provide help to asylum seekers, on Wednesday from 7-8:30 p.m.

Bishop Gene Robinson will moderate the discussion that will focus on how faith communities can assist individuals who flee their homes due to LGBT persecution and relocate to the District. Discussion topics include how to provide assistance through shelter, food and other basic support. Speakers for the event are Michael Sistzky, staff attorney for Immigration Equality; Temi Oke, a former asylum seeker; and Steven Brooks, who has provided housing for asylum seekers.

This event will be videotaped and shared with the community. ID is required for admittance. For more details, visit



Tensions high as Senate panel considers immigration reform

Advocates are looking to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to amend the immigration bill with UAFA. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Advocates are looking to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to amend the immigration bill with UAFA. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tensions were high as observers waited to see on Tuesday whether Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would introduce amendments before a Senate committee to include bi-national same-sex couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform. The committee is expected to wrap consideration of the measure by 10 p.m. Tuesday. The Washington Blade will update this post as developments warrant.

Leahy is facing pressure to withhold the amendments from Senate Republicans who say their introduction will kill the larger package and, according to recent media reports, from other Senate Democrats as well as the White House.

Both amendments were already filed by Leahy. One mirrors the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. The other would allow for the approval of marriage-based green card applications for married same-sex couples.

At the start of Tuesday, many advocates were pessimistic about the chances of the amendments passing in the wake of comments from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said he won’t commit to supporting the amendments. His vote is necessary for unanimous support among Democrats and a majority vote in committee.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said blame will be shared on both sides of the aisle if the committee doesn’t amend the immigration bill to include protections for gay couples.

“If the amendments are not offered for a vote, there will be bipartisan blame: On Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake for making threats and bullying colleagues to abandon our families; and on Senator Schumer, for refusing to stand up, in the face of that bullying, for his own constituents who desperately need him to cast his vote in their favor,” Ralls said.

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney and founder of The DOMA Project, was anticipating defeat and criticized Schumer as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who only supports the DOMA carve-out amendment, for what he said was “betrayal” over not providing full support to the LGBT community.

“This was the moment that required courage and leadership,” Soloway writes. “The most vulnerable members of our community relied on Senator Schumer and Senator Feinstein to stand up for us and end decades of catastrophic and irreparable harm to our families caused by DOMA and our exclusion from U.S. immigration law.”

Leahy hasn’t committed to offering the amendments before the committee, although he has promoted their inclusion in immigration reform. A Senate aide said if they were to come up, they’d likely be the last piece of businesses for the final committee vote on reporting out the legislation to the Senate floor.

Adding to the tension was an Associated Press report saying that the White House had asked Leahy to hold off on introduction of the amendments until the legislation reaches the Senate floor. Passage on the floor would be more difficult than in committee and the amendments are unlikely to succeed there.

After the the daily briefing on Tuesday, the Blade shouted a question to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to verify the accuracy of the report. Carney offered no response.

A Senate Judiciary committee aide also wouldn’t verify the accuracy of the Associated Press article.

“The chairman speaks to the president often but he does not discuss what they speak about in any given week,” the aide said.

The AP report comes of the heels of another report from Politico saying key Democrats on the panel asked the White House to intercede to persuade Leahy to hold off on introducing the amendments. The Vermont Democrat is quoted in the article as saying the issue didn’t come up in his discussion with the White House.

Ralls said the AP report indicates a lack of support and all parties who support LGBT rights should also advocate on behalf of the Leahy amendments.

“There is no pro-LGBT position to take in this debate other than full support for the chairman’s amendments,” Ralls said. “That’s what we expect from the White House, and every senator who has proclaimed their support for the repeal of DOMA and the equal treatment of our families under the law. You can’t say you support equality, and then work to delay or derail it.”


Leahy withholds amendments for gay couples in immigration bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld UAFA as a committee amendment (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld UAFA as a committee amendment. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday withheld amendments to include gay couples as part of immigration reform in the aftermath of speeches — sometimes tearful — from Democrats on the panel who said they couldn’t support the measures.

After an extended speech on why he believes discrimination against gay couples is wrong — Leahy said “with a heavy heart” he wouldn’t introduce the amendments before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They would have made bi-national same-sex couples equal under the law to straight couples for immigration purposes.

“In the immigration context, if you’re an American and fall in love will someone of the same sex from a different country and you get married legally, your spouse will not be treated like any other immigrant spouse would be by your federal government,” Leahy said. “My amendments would change that. I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country.”

During his remarks, Leahy asked members of the “Gang of Eight” who produced the base bill and were also members of the Senate Judiciary Committee why they decided to exclude gay couples from the initial legislation.

Under current law, gay Americans are unable to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States — even if they’re married — unlike straight Americans. For couples that are married, that’s because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. LGBT advocates had been pushing Congress to rectify this issue as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Two amendments were proposed by Leahy. One mirrored the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. The other would have allowed for the approval of marriage-based green card applications for married same-sex couples.

Democrats who are known for being LGBT rights supporters — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — said they were torn on the issue, but couldn’t support the amendments out of fear they would lose Republican support and it would kill the legislative package.

Feinstein said the Supreme Court, which is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA, may make the issue “moot” because a ruling against the anti-gay law in June would end federal discrimination against married same-sex couples.

“We now know that this is going to blow the agreement apart,” Feinstein said. “I don’t want to lose Sen. Graham’s vote because Sen. Graham’s vote can represent and be used as the rationale for dozens of other [lawmakers] who then will not vote for the immigration bill. … I am for what Sen. Leahy is proposing, I would just implore to hold off on this amendment at this time.”

Schumer, a member of the “Gang of Eight,” said he tried to persuade other senators to support the idea and believes current law is “rank discrimination,” but can’t bring himself to support the amendments because of Republican opposition.

“If we make the effort to add it to this bill, they will walk away,” Schumer said. “They’ve said it publicly, they’ve told me privately — I believe them. The result: no equality, no immigration bill. Everyone loses.”

Prior to the vote, Schumer was targeted by LGBT groups for being the only Democrat on the committee to not voice support for including UAFA as part of the larger package.

Durbin was particularly emotional and had tears in his eyes as he explained why they couldn’t support the measures. A member of the “Gang of Eight,” Durbin said he supports UAFA, but doesn’t see immigration reform as the best vehicle for the measure.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that what you’re doing is the right and just thing … but I believe this is the wrong moment, this is the wrong bill,” Durbin said. “There are approximately 250,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants in America that would benefit from passage of immigration reform. I want to make certain they have that chance.”

LGBT rights groups responded to the committee’s exclusion of same-sex couples from immigration reform with vocal disappointment.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of the LGBT group Immigration Equality, attended the markup and — while she said she’s “proud’ of Leahy for his support — expressed frustration with other Democrats.

“I’m very proud of Sen. Leahy; I’m very dismayed that his colleagues did not stand up with him to talk about the dignity of LGBT immigrant families,” Tiven said. “Only Sen. Leahy talked about the LGBT immigrants that he represents who have dreams, too, and who want to see a good bill passed that will help everyone, and who need immigration reform as badly as any other immigrant.”

Tiven named Democrats on the panel with whom she was particularly disappointed because of their previously articulated support for the LGBT community.

“To hear Sen. Durbin say, ‘Well, this is an outside issue like gun control,’ to hear that Sen. Franken didn’t speak up for families like Ginger and Ness Madeiros, whose visa runs out in August — what are they and their eight-month-old son going to do?” Tiven said. “I can’t imagine how they’re feeling right now about Sen. Franken. How could he not say these are immigrant families, too?”

With the exception of Schumer, Tiven maintained the Democrats on the panel expressed support for including same-sex couples in the reform package, which made their statements during the committee markup surprising.

But Republican members of the panel were most opposed to including the measures. They reiterated their opposition to including the measure in the package and said adopting them would break apart the coalition that helped put it together.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican member of the “Gang of Eight,” said the legislation would lose support from evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, who’ve supported the measure, if those protections were included.

“I support traditional marriage without animosity,” Graham said. “I’m not married; I guess that means maybe I shouldn’t speak at all about it, but I do believe that the people of my state, and the people of other states who have gone different ways than Vermont, believe it would throw the coalition out of balance.”

When Leahy asked Graham if anything in the amendments would require South Carolina to change its state law on marriage, Graham said no, but maintained it would be making him vote in favor of a concept he opposes.

“You got me on immigration; you don’t got me on marriage,” Graham said. “I can’t just tell any more directly; you want to keep me on immigration; let’s stay on immigration.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another GOP member of the “Gang of Eight,” also said he expected the coalition that put the bill together to fall apart if same-sex couples were included.

“This is an issue that is being addressed by the courts right now, I think that it would certainly upset the coalition that we have,” Flake said. “Certainly, we in Arizona, like in South Carolina, have spoken on the issue. It would certainly mean that this bill would not move forward. That would be a real shame, given how far we’ve come and the work that’s gone into this.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, pointed at Republicans as the reason why same-sex couples weren’t included in the legislation.

“We’re all disappointed that at this juncture in the process, a small handful of Republicans prevented the provision from being voted on, but we’ve got a long way to go in the process and we’ll continue to work hard to secure the votes on the floor if it comes up,” Stachelberg said.

Following the discussion on the Leahy amendments, the committee reported out the legislation by a 13-5 vote. Supporters of immigration reform in the room — largely members of immigrant community — chanted, “Yes we can! Yes we can!” and embraced senators who voted in favor of the legislation as they snapped photos with them.

According to a report from the Williams Institute, an estimated 275,000 undocumented LGBT Americans would have a path to citizenship as the legislation currently stands if it reaches President Obama’s desk and is signed into law.

In a statement after the vote, Obama, who called for a gay-inclusive bill as part of his vision for reform, commended the committee for completing work on the legislation and urged a floor vote as soon as possible.

“None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I , but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line,” Obama said. “I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.”

Leahy’s announcement came after an Associated Press report saying the White House had asked the Vermont senator to hold off on offering the amendments until the measure goes before the full Senate.

It’s unclear whether Leahy will introduce the amendments once the legislation reaches the Senate floor, which is expected early in June. Passage on the Senate floor would be significantly more difficult than passage would have been in committee if a 60-vote threshold is necessary to overcome a filibuster.

After the committee reported out the bill, the Washington Blade asked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) whether he wants to see UAFA brought up as an amendment on the Senate floor.

“You’ll have to ask Sen. Leahy about that,” Schumer replied. “As you heard, I believe strongly in UAFA. I don’t think I have to say anything more; I spoke long enough on it.”

Although the amendment for same-sex couples wasn’t included, the committee on Monday rejected an amendment that would have removed a provision supported by LGBT advocates that was included in the base bill.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) offered two amendments that would have eliminated the repeal of the one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers. One amendment failed on a vote of 6-12 and the other failed on a vote of 9-9.

LGBT advocates had supported that provision in the base bill because LGBT asylum seekers often don’t know they have a one-year deadline to apply for asylum in the United States, or lack financial resources to make the application.


Gay donor cuts off Dems over immigration bill

Jonathan Lewis, gay news, Washington Blade

Jonathan Lewis (Photo courtesy of Paul Yandura)

Prominent gay Democratic Party donor Jonathan Lewis is pledging to cut off funds to the party over his disappointment that bi-national same-sex couples were excluded from the immigration reform bill.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade on Tuesday, the Miami-based philanthropist said he’s turning off the tap for Democrats and urging others to do the same over the immigration issue and President Obama’s reluctance to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“During the immigration reform debate Senate Democrats had the opportunity to reverse some of the harm caused by DOMA and they buckled under pressure, essentially taking LGBT families for granted,” Lewis said. “With the president failing to deliver on his promised federal contractor executive order and with Senate Democrats caving to Republican threats, now is the time to stop investing in Democratic cowardice and stand proud by withholding donations until we see our friends’ actions and deeds align with their rhetoric — I will be withholding my donation and asking all of my friends and family members to do the same until such time.”

Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld from the committee amendments that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act after Democrats on the committee — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — said they couldn’t vote for the measures out of fear of losing Republican support for the larger bill.

Lewis, who provided money to fund LGBT groups such as Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL, provided the maximum amount of $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee and the maximum amount of $2,500 to President Obama’s re-election campaign in the last election cycle. His fortune comes from his family, founders of Progressive Insurance.

Neither the White House nor the DNC responded to a request for comment on Lewis’ statement.

Lewis’ statement to the Blade builds off an op-ed piece he published on the same day in The Huffington Post, titled “No More Excuses: Mr. President,” in which he calls on Obama to issue the executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination as a way to make amends for the absence of UAFA in immigration reform.

The op-ed and the statement to the Blade come on the eve of the annual LGBT DNC gala held in New York City. This year, first lady Michelle Obama and gay NBA player Jason Collins are set to headline the event while “Love Song” singer Sara Bareilles will perform as the musical guest. It remains to be seen whether Lewis’ statements will have any impact on the funds that the DNC raises at the event.

But the anger at Senate Democrats isn’t universal among LGBT donors. Bruce Bastian, a gay Utah-based philanthropist known for his support of the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade via email he blames Republicans for the exclusion of UAFA from immigration reform and said his donations to Democrats will continue to flow.

“Like most if not all LGBT Americans, I am very disappointed that Republicans continue to define our relationships as ‘less’ than straight couples and have derailed the Uniting American Families amendment,” Bastian said. “But this is not the time to pull back in support of any kind. We are moving in the right direction. Those who do not want us to have full equality will continue to try to stop our momentum. I will continue to fight them with my time, effort and money.”

Still, one LGBT advocacy group that worked to include UAFA is saying Lewis’ sentiment is shared by others who’ve supported the Democratic Party.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said he’s heard from Democratic donors that they’re “rethinking the political contributions and priorities” following the exclusion of the amendment for gay couples from immigration reform, although he wasn’t immediately able to provide names.

“I can assure you that in private conversations, significant Democratic donors have had with our executive director and with other people working on this said they were very disappointed in what happened last week, and they’re looking at where they invest their donations moving forward,” Ralls said.

Ralls further pointed to the comments on Schumer’s Facebook page expressing anger over his refusal to back UAFA as part of immigration reform — along with warnings not to attend New York City Pride — as evidence this anger is felt not just by donors, but the LGBT community at large.

“There is palpable anger among the LGBT community in social media, in conversations that we’ve had with supporters,” Ralls said. “I do think there will be a political price for senators to pay.”


Could UAFA pass as a floor amendment to immigration reform?

Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has raised the possibility of UAFA as a floor amendment. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the wake of a Senate committee decision to exclude bi-national gay couples from immigration reform, LGBT rights supporters are turning to a possible floor amendment as a way to salvage inclusion in the bill.

LGBT groups working on the issue — Immigration Equality and the Human Rights Campaign — told the Washington Blade they’ve asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to offer the language as an amendment when it comes before the full Senate as expected this month.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said discussions are underway to push for a floor amendment along the lines of UAFA, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States, but a lot depends on the case before the Supreme Court challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I can tell you if the immigration bill is moving toward a vote before we have a Supreme Court DOMA ruling — or after we have a bad Supreme Court ruling — a floor option is something we very much want to look at,” Ralls said. “We’re kind of in two competing timelines here; it’s not entirely clear how quickly the immigration bill will move forward for a vote, and we don’t know exactly when we’re going to have a Supreme Court ruling.”

Bombarded by accusations on his Facebook page that he betrayed the LGBT community by asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold off on the amendment, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in response raised the possibility of a floor amendment.

“I’ve been a lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act for a number of years and I believe and desire that its principles should be included in the immigration bill,” Schumer writes. “There will be an opportunity to add it to the bill on the Senate floor.”

But none of the groups involved say they’ve received commitments from Leahy that he’ll introduce the amendment on the Senate floor, nor has the Vermont senator publicly committed to offering the amendment.

Jessica Brady, a Senate Judiciary Committee spokesperson, said she doesn’t have anything to offer in terms of public commitment for offering UAFA as an amendment on the floor.

“I’m going to have to refer you back to Sen. Leahy’s comments in the markup, when he said he would continue to fight to take discrimination out of the law,” Brady said. “He didn’t specify if he would offer an amendment on the floor.”

Moreover, finding the 60 votes on the Senate floor to end a filibuster on UAFA is significantly more difficult than obtaining the simple majority needed for passage in committee.

Assuming all 54 members of the Democratic caucus support UAFA — and the votes from Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Landrieu (D-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who don’t support marriage equality, are in question — five Republicans would need to vote “yes” in addition to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the only GOP co-sponsor. The Democrats are now short one vote following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Ralls said finding the necessary 60 votes to end a filibuster on the Senate floor will be “tough,” but he expects Schumer and other Democrats in committee who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for amendments out of fear of losing Republican support for immigration reform to find support for a measure for bi-national couples on the floor.

“I think all of the Democrats on that committee who told Sen. Leahy not to offer the amendment last week owe to our families and they owe it to Sen. Leahy to find the path to 60 votes if we need them to get us there,” Ralls said.

The White House has talked about the possibility of UAFA as a floor amendment to immigration reform once it reaches the Senate floor. Under questioning from the Washington Blade on Friday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he thinks “there is an amendment process on the Senate floor where this could be considered, so I don’t want to predict the outcome at this point.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Schumer said he expects the immigration bill to see action soon on the Senate floor — meaning the question of whether UAFA will be introduced as a floor amendment will have to be answered soon.

“We’re going to put immigration on the floor starting on June 10. I predict it will pass the Senate by July 4,” Schumer said. “We’re hoping to get 70 votes — up to 70 votes, which means a lot of Republicans.”

LGBT groups continue to back reform

Even without the provision for gay couples, LGBT groups are continuing to say they support the measure because it contains other provisions that would directly impact the LGBT community and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 267,000 LGBT people who are among the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Among the provisions that directly impact the LGBT community is repeal of the one-year deadline on filing for asylum — a deadline that many LGBT asylum seekers in the United States miss because they’re unaware of it or lack the financial resource to meet it — and improvements in immigration detention facilities to benefit transgender detainees.

In a conference call with reporters, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD and GetEQUAL highlighted these aspects of immigration reform to bolster its support among LGBT people.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was among those who said the provisions related to asylum and detentions facilities are important to the work done by LGBT advocates.

“We also recognized early that the bill will impact many more LGBT people than simply would be impacted by UAFA,” Kendell said. “We have seen some of the most horrific stories of damage done, discrimination, harassment, terrorizing [involving] LGBT asylum seekers and detention facilities in this country.”

Ralls acknowledged that Immigration Equality continues to support the immigration bill despite discontent over the lack of UAFA-like language in the legislation.

“We’re very disappointed that the bill does not currently include binational families, but as the LGBT organization that speaks to more immigrants than every other group in our community combined, we support the bill, as it includes important provisions that would help many of those individuals, many of whom are our clients, too,” Ralls said.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, also said his organization still supports immigration reform even without language for bi-national gay couples.

“We are committed to immigration reform,” Sainz said. “Undocumented individuals that happen to be LGBT will immeasurably benefit from immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House has its own “Gang of Eight” working on its version of reform, although the legislation that group of lawmakers produces, as Ralls noted, isn’t expected to include a provision for bi-national gay couples.

“Our strategy all along has been we want to be in the Senate bill, that if a Senate and House bill go to conference, we can rely on our champions in both chambers to make sure that we stay in the bill that reaches the president’s desk,” Ralls said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), sponsor of UAFA in the House, would likely be the one to amend the bill to include the provision, but given the conservative nature of the House, amending the bill in either committee or the floor to include UAFA seems unlikely.

Ilan Kayatsky, a Nadler spokesperson, said plans for what will happen with the House bill after it’s unveiled by the House “Gang of Eight” are unclear.

“We still don’t know what form or process the House CIR bill will take, so it’s premature to sort out the UAFA specifics just now,” Kayatsky said.

What happens if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA?

The best hope for bi-national couples may be a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on pending litigation challenging DOMA, the federal law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Obama administration has consistently cited this law, and only this law, as the reason why married bi-national gay couples are ineligible for a visa through the marriage-based green card application process.

Moreover, UAFA would no longer be operable for these legally married couples if DOMA were struck down. Even though UAFA provides a path to residency for “permanent partners,” it would no longer provide relief for couples in these states because the law, under Section 2, subsection D, only applies to those who are ”unable to contract with that other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act.”

But the situation is murkier for bi-national couples who live in states without marriage equality. Will someone living in Texas be able to sponsor someone as a “permanent partner” or will they have to travel to a marriage equality state, wed, and then apply for a green card through a marriage-based green card application process? What if they cannot leave the state out of financial constraints?

Ralls said the way Immigration Equality interprets UAFA, the law would still have some use in non-marriage equality states even if DOMA is struck down.

“In some ways, it would make it simpler for couples in non-married states, they would not have to travel, they would be able to apply from their home state for their green card,” Ralls said. “So, in some ways, it’s broader and it applies to couples in all 50 states without forcing them to travel.”

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said he can’t say at this point under what circumstances a bi-national same-sex couple in a non-marriage equality state would be eligible to apply for a visa if UAFA were law and DOMA were struck down.

“I don’t believe there is a definition of that term in the bill and the focus has been on creating relief from DOMA, not the range of reasons that might make it impossible to travel to a state where same-sex couples can marry,” Davidson said. “Indeed, if the bill were to pass, a court might interpret ‘unable to contract’ to reference legal inability not practical inability in light of one’s personal circumstances.”

But even with the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling against DOMA that would allow at least married bi-national couples to stay in the United States, Ralls said it’s incumbent upon Congress to act.

“We think DOMA is unconstitutional, and we hope the court agrees,” Ralls said. “But when it comes to advocating for real families who are impacted by this, we’re not willing to put all of our eggs in a basket that hasn’t yet been delivered. I do not want to have to tell our couples, the day after a bad DOMA ruling, ‘I wish we had fought harder in Congress.’”


Bi-national couples in ‘surreal’ wait for DOMA decision

Heather, Mar, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Heather (left) and Maria “Mar” del Mar have already filed their I-130 applications in anticipating of a ruling against DOMA. (Photo courtesy of Immigration Equality)

After being together for five years, Heather and Maria “Mar” del Mar are making their final preparations in anticipation of a ruling from the Supreme Court that could mean they can stay together in the United States.

Heather, a U.S. citizen, and Mar, a Spanish national, have already completed their I-130 marriage-based green card application and have sent it to the LGBT group Immigration Equality with the expectation that the high court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We’re actually largely done with that,” Heather said. “Our intention on that front is, of course, to file that petition the first day it’s legally viable to do so.”

Although Mar has legal status because she’s living in the United States on a work visa, it expires in November. Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, has blocked the New York City couple, who married in 2011, from a more permanent solution.

In March of last year, U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement denied Heather and Maria a marriage-based green card based on an earlier application, citing DOMA as the reason. They’re one of the estimated 28,500 bi-national same-sex couples in danger of separation.

That could change in the coming days. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA as a result of pending litigation along with ruling in a separate case challenging California’s Proposition 8.

If the court rules DOMA is unconstitutional, blocking the U.S. government from enforcing it, USCIS will have no legal reason to withhold the marriage-based green card from Heather and Mar.

Heather, a marketing director for a global non-profit organization in New York, said the wait for the decision has been “kind of surreal” and what’s been on the couple’s minds in the days heading to the ruling.

“We look at each other every night before we go to bed I would say for the last few weeks, where it’s been kind of like a month countdown, and we’ve said, “Oh my God, what is it going to really be like the day after?” she said. “How much is our life going to change when this issue isn’t a huge weight on our relationship and even on our everyday thought process.”

Mar, who works in marketing for a Spanish-language newspaper in New York, said a ruling against DOMA would lift a considerable burden because they are unable to plan for the future as they fear separation.

“We are really nervous because this would be a big change in our life,” Mar said. “We are very excited.”

As of today, the Supreme Court calendar designates only June 20 and June 24 as days on which opinions will be handed down; But with 14 cases yet to be decided, it is widely expected that they will add another day to the calendar, either June 26 or June 27 and the decisions for the marriage will be announced at that time.

And Heather and Mar, who are among the plaintiffs in Immigration Equality’s lawsuit against DOMA, already have plans. On the last Saturday of the month, they’re inviting friends and family to come to their home to celebrate the moment when the federal government will view their relationship as legally equal to others.

“We actually already have — I guess this is probably superstitious; I shouldn’t say this out loud — but we actually already have a celebration planned for family and friends — we have to be optimistic — for Saturday night on the 29th,” Heather said. “So, we’re celebrating at our place.”

And what if the Supreme Court rules in favor of DOMA? Heather said it’s not an outcome they like to consider, but in that event, they’d pursue additional litigation, find a way to renew Mar’s work visa and push for the inclusion of gay couples in comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

“To be honest, it will just be devastating; all of those things are just technically the things that we’ll do,” Heather said. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do; we’re going to start a family anyway because we refuse to live at the effect of our circumstances. We’ve already postponed things in our life much more than is fair — and we’ll consider the option of moving to Spain where our marriage is recognized.”

But Heather and Mar are just one of many bi-national same-sex couples readying for a Supreme Court ruling that would ensure they can stay together in the United States.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said she’s expecting thousands of green card applications from bi-national same-sex couples in the months following a court ruling against DOMA.

“We think that there will be over the first year many thousands,” Tiven said. “I think in the remaining five months of the year, we’ll see something between 2,000 and 10,000 applications, but that’s a guess.”

In the meantime, Tiven said her organization is already preparing some applications for same-sex bi-national couples and making plans for others to renew applications that were previously denied.

“We’re preparing some families who will file immediately if the Supreme Court will enable them to do so,” Tiven said. “Other families who filed a long time ago — either because they were plaintiffs, or because it was a step to seeking deferred action — we are asking the administration, for those who were denied, we’re asking the administration to reopen those applications so they don’t have to file all over again, and don’t have to pay the fee again.”

In order to facilitate the expected increase in couples filing marriage-based green card applications, Immigration Equality’s legal team has conducted two trainings last week for attorneys who have signed up to assist couples with their petitions following a court ruling striking down Section 3 of DOMA.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said 150 lawyers from across the country to date have joined that network of attorneys and have taken part in one of those two trainings.

“As part of that training, our legal team discussed topics related to identifying issues that may arise for same-sex bi-national couples during implementation following the court’s ruling,” Ralls said. “A key goal is to ensure that attorneys working with LGBT families can also serve as watchdogs during that critical implementation period and report any issues they encounter with relevant government agencies in their processing of green card applications for affected families.”

Another couple making preparations in anticipation of a court ruling is Rachel Wilkins and Jennifer Blum, a New Jersey couple that married a year-and-a-half ago. Blum, a New Jersey native, is awaiting the opportunity to sponsor Wilkins, a British national, for residency in the United States.

The couple has never filed a marriage-based green card application before, but Blum, an attorney, said they’ve already hired an attorney to help them through the process in anticipation of a ruling against DOMA.

“We’ve hired an attorney to prepare our application for us,” Blum said. “So we’ve been really just trying to get all the paperwork together, and we’re excited for this decision to finally come to fruition, and we just want to move on with our lives.”

Wilkins, a curator who’s in the country on work visa, said she shares a sense of optimism that the Supreme Court will issue a decision that renders Section 3 of the the Defense of Marriage Act inoperable.

“I think we’re feeling optimistic,” Wilkins said. “We were watching the Supreme Court blog to see the orders handed down just waiting to see the right decision made.”

The couple came to D.C. when the oral arguments took place at the Supreme Court in March and had the opportunity to meet lesbian New Yorker Edith Windsor, who filed the lawsuit that’s currently before the court.

“We walked up on the steps and I lost it … because it’s just the culmination of so many people’s hard work, sweat, they’ve given so much to be able to get to this point where we could get this case in front of the Supreme Court, and for the Supreme Court to finally do the right thing, and for justice to be done,” Blum said.

Should the court strike down DOMA, Blum said they’ll celebrate by gathering at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where riots began in 1969 that were considered the start of the modern gay rights movement.

“Legally, factually, I just can’t see the Supreme Court determining any other way,” Blum said. “Like I said, there’s no other option.”

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney at Masliah & Soloway and co-founder of The DOMA Project, said his firm worked for several months on preparing to file new marriage-based green card applications — some on the day the court issues a decision against DOMA — and has several filed in 2011 and 2012 that haven’t yet been denied.

“The couples have undertaken the preparation with the understanding that that the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA is not something that we can predict in advance, but it would be fair to say that their perspective, like mine, is cautiously optimistic,” Soloway said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misattributed quotes to Jennifer Blum and Rachel Wilkins. The Blade regrets the error.


Immigration Equality chief to depart at year’s end

Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Executive Director of Immigration Equality Rachel Tiven will depart the organization at the end of this year. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, announced on Tuesday that she will depart the organization effective Dec. 31 after eight years there. The resignation comes just more than one month after the Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

During an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, Tiven said her decision to leave was independent of the Supreme Court’s ruling and something she had planned for some time.

“I felt for a long time that we were going to win this year for LGBT families and that would add to our past wins on lifting the HIV travel ban and our success at building LGBT asylum as a field,” Tiven said. “Honestly, if we had lost, I think the organization would have deserved new leadership who could bring a new vision for how to win.”

Tiven said the board of directors is launching a search to find the next executive director who has a vision for where Immigration Equality will head next, which she predicted would include expanded asylum work and ending unfair practices against LGBT immigrants in detention.

“I wanted to announce a nice, long time in advance so the board would have time to search and I’m sure they’re going to find someone great,” Tiven said. “It’s bittersweet because I really love my work, but I think it’s important to give the organization an opportunity to really think about new leadership and new vision.”

Following her departure, Tiven’s  immediate plans are personal. She plans to travel to Israel with family for a seven-month sabbatical so her kids can “have a different experience” for a while.

But in the months remaining with Immigration Equality, Tiven said she intends to focus on the work her organization has previously pursued. That includes additional interest in LGBT asylum seekers in Russia coming to the United States amid controversy over the country’s anti-gay propaganda law, especially because these applications generally face additional complications.

“We project our total inquiries from Russia to essentially double this year over last year,” Tiven said. “Interestingly, one of things that we’re seeing is that cases for LGBT asylum seekers from Russia are ‘referred’ — which is an immigration asylum law word that means not granted in the first instance, but rather referred for what is effectively an appeal in immigration court — much more often than cases in other countries. So, in a nutshell, it’s harder for Russians to win asylum in the U.S.”

Other priorities are helping to ensure Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform legislation and overseeing implementation in the post-DOMA world to ensure married bi-national same-sex couples, who were previously barred from applying for I-130 marriage-based green cards, have access to them.

“We hear every day from couples who are grappling with lots of different kinds of snafus,” Tiven said. “It’s challenging for people to navigate what is a very, very, very complicated system. There are couples who have been waiting for years, some of them for decades for their green card and they can’t get them soon enough.”

In the past year, one of Immigration Equality’s most prominent efforts was the pursuit of the inclusion of language along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act as part of comprehensive immigration reform. In May, Democrats working on the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to include the provision after Republicans voiced opposition, leaving the Supreme Court as the agency to take action on behalf of gay bi-national couples by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

After that vote, Tiven said the decision not to include gay couples as part of the larger bill is still a memory tinged with sadness.

“The Senate vote was a real low point in the immigration debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was otherwise a pretty inspiring show of support for future Americans and for the families who want to be full participants in our society,” Tiven said. “It really showed that as far as we’ve come, in a year in which we saw lots of progress, there is still a nasty anti-gay strand that is alive and well in American politics.”

Asked whether the court ruling against DOMA makes the Senate committee’s decision not to include gay couples in the immigration bill any more forgivable, Tiven replied succinctly, “No.”

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, said he’s “entirely unsurprised” that Tiven is leaving Immigration Equality and said it’s predicated on the Senate’s failure to include gay couples as part of immigration reform.

“Her stewardship of IE, and her fundraising for the organization, were premised on permanent partners,” Lane said. “So when the Senate Judiciary Committee threw us under the bus, that landed on her shores — a profound failure. My involvement in queer immigration politics is limited, but I’m very clear about the degree to which IE marginalized itself in the most important reform conversations. And then Windsor happened, which rendered the controversy — and IE’s non-asylum work — moot.”

But members of Immigration Equality’s board said upon news of Tiven’s departure they’re happy with her work. In a statement, Joseph Landau, the organization’s board chair, credited her “wisdom, leadership and expertise” as the reason for Immigration Equality’s “unparalleled track record.”

“The board couldn’t be more proud of her success, which led to a series of historic victories for LGBT immigrants,” Landau said. “In addition, her ability to grow the organization’s budget to meet our expanding profile, hire incredible staff members, and manage two offices doing ground-breaking legal aid and policy work has made Immigration Equality one of the most respected organizations in the movement.”

Prerna Lal, another Immigration Equality board member and lesbian DREAM activist, told the Washington Blade news of Tiven’s departure was a “great loss” for the organization.

“Rachel has been at the forefront of so many great efforts of LGBT immigration and our asylum work as well as bi-national couples work,” Lal said. “That means she’s really been a tour de force in the immigration rights world as well as the LGBT world. It’s a loss for the organization, I feel like. I don’t know who’ll fill her shoes, but we’ll try very hard to do it.”


Dems seeking to delay gay-inclusive immigration reform?

Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is saying nothing in response to a Politico report that one advocate calls “alarming.” (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Key players in Senate talks on immigration reform are staying mum following a media report that Democrats are working to delay a vote on making the package gay-inclusive — prompting one advocate to call for the White House to intervene.

Late Thursday, Politico reported that Democrats are asking the White House to tell Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to withhold amendments for bi-national same-sex couples until the larger measure reaches the Senate floor — where passage will likely be more difficult.

“They’re increasingly uneasy about risking Republican support but reluctant to tell gay rights advocates that an amendment allowing American citizens to seek green cards for their same-sex foreign partners may not get a vote in the Judiciary Committee,” Politico reported.

Concern over the amendments follows remarks from Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — as well as comments from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to the Washington Blade — that including the pro-gay language would kill immigration reform.

LGBT advocates involved in talks told the Washington Blade they’re unaware of any such conversations between the White House and Democrats. Spokespersons for the Human Rights Campaign and Immigration Equality said the Politico report was the first they’ve heard about any such discussion.

Steve Ralls, an Immigration Equality spokesperson, said the White House should go on the record in response to the reporting — which he called “alarming” — because the LGBT community “has a right to know which particular senators” are “scheming to throw gay families under the bus.”

“The chairman has stuck his neck out for gay families, but I fear Schumer is working to avoid confronting the issue because of Republicans’ threats and intimidation,” Ralls said. “If the president is being asked to help slow down or stop a vote, the White House owes our families an assurance that he is refusing to do so.”

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the Politico report.

Leahy has filed amendments before the committee along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States.

One measure mirrors UAFA, the other is restricted to married bi-national couples. According to LGBT advocates, Leahy has given assurances that he’ll bring up the amendments as the committee considers family unification issues for immigration reform.

One group, Immigration Equality, says all Democrats on the committee have given assurances they’d support at least one of the measures — with the exception of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). That’s just one vote short of a majority vote in committee.

The only Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who offered responses to the Blade on Friday were Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Speaking directly with Blade, Blumenthal said he supports the Leahy measures and is unaware of any talks to delay voting on them.

“I’ve heard nothing about it,” Blumenthal said. “I haven’t spoken with the White House about it; I haven’t heard of any Democrats talking to the White House.”

Ian Koski, a Coons spokesperson, said, “I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything about that other than press reports.”

Alexandra Fetissoff, a Franken spokesperson, was similarly unaware of the discussions detailed in Politico as she gave assurances on the Minnesota senator’s vote.

“We’re unaware of any conversation and Sen. Franken is definitely not making the request,” Fetissoff said. “He plans to support Sen. Leahy’s provision when it comes up for a vote.

But key players in the immigration talks didn’t push back against the Politico report to say that the assertions are untrue.

Schumer, a member of the “Gang of Eight” that produced the base bill, is the lone Democrat on the panel who hasn’t committed to voting for the amendments in the committee. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The offices of Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who are also members of the “Gang of Eight,” also didn’t respond.

In the Politico article, Durbin is quoting as saying Obama is “working behind the scenes,” but declined to give additional details. The article doesn’t quote him as saying whether the White House is involved positively or negatively in working toward a gay-inclusive bill.

The only Democratic member of the “Gang of Eight” who responded was Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). Tricia Enright, a Menendez spokesperson, said she’s “not aware” of requests made to the White House to ask Leahy to hold off on the amendments.

Additionally, the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) didn’t respond to a request for comment. According to Immigration Equality, her vote also was in question, but she’s given assurances she’d support the more restrictive amendment offered by Leahy limited to married bi-national same-sex couples.

As for what Leahy has been told, a Senate aide referred to the Politico article. The Vermont senator is quoted as saying he spoke with Obama regarding immigration reform on Wednesday, but the issue regarding gay couples didn’t come up.

“I am the most senior member of the Senate, I’m an experienced chairman. He’s happy I’m handling immigration,” Leahy reportedly said. “He hasn’t suggested whether I should or shouldn’t do it because he knows I’ll make up my own mind.”

Family unification issues for immigration reform, under which UAFA would fall, are scheduled to come up before the committee next week starting on Monday.

Ralls said he expects the amendments to come up on Tuesday, but cautioned they may not come up at all if Leahy feels he doesn’t have sufficient support in committee.

“We are concerned, given the very weak support of Democrats and ongoing threats from Republicans, that the amendments may not even be given an up or down vote in committee, despite Leahy’s leadership and passion for the issue,” Ralls said.

Blumenthal said the last he heard was that Leahy intended to offer the amendments in committee, but plans may have changed.

“The last I heard from him, he was going to proceed, but that was last week,” Blumenthal said. “I can’t speak for him. I don’t know what he intends to do, but I understood he was going to offer the amendment.”

Obama addressed the issue during a news conference as part of a visit to Costa Rica earlier this month. The president called including the provisions the “right thing to do,” but left the door open to signing a bill that lacked protections for bi-national gay couples.

“I can also tell you I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill,” Obama added. “Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill.”