To say it’s been a busy week in politics doesn’t quite do justice to the last five days. The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation 68 to 32, the Supreme Court issued three major decisions, and a Texas State Senator helped block an anti-abortion bill through an inspiring 11-hour filibuster. And while these advances (or in the case of the Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, a massive step backward) seem unrelated, the legal, socio-economic and political implications of these policies are very much linked.
Take, for example, immigration reform and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—both federal issues. Before being struck down on Wednesday, Section 3 of DOMA limited marriage recognition on a federal level to opposite-sex couples. That meant that the estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples could not obtain any federal marriage benefit—such as qualifying for lawful permanent residence in the U.S. (also known as a green card)—even through lawful marriage. As of this week, that’s history.
Because of Wednesday’s ruling, same-sex couples’ green card applications will now receive the same consideration as their heterosexual counterparts. It doesn’t matter where the couple lives when they apply, or where they got married. As long as the marriage was legally entered into (whether in the 13 U.S. states where gay marriage is legal, or another country), it will be deemed equally valid by immigration services. (The legal classifications of civil unions and domestic partnership are less clear.)
The irony here is that the issue of same-sex benefits as they apply to immigrant couples threatened to break apart the bipartisan alliance held by the Gang of Eight—effectively dooming the bill. Remember that Republican Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Lindsay Graham (SC) said they were ready to walk if Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) same-sex amendment was adopted by the Judiciary Committee. Under pressure from his fellow Democrats in the Gang of Eight, Leahy sidestepped the certain conflict, choosing instead not to bring up the amendment for a vote at all.
While Leahy enraged the LGBT community and its allies, it looks like he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision made Leahy and the Democrats’ political calculus look brilliant. They made the tough choices to save the immigration bill, and somehow still got the same-sex benefits.
We shouldn’t be surprised: the Gang of Eight has shown exceptional political maneuvering through this entire process—from painstakingly negotiating the finer details of the bill, to Sen. Rubio successfully courting skeptical Republicans on border security—resulting in the legislation’s passage with every Senate Democrat and 14 Republican’s votes. To both the Gang of Eight and the Supreme Court (on the DOMA decision), I must say, “a job very well done.”
Richard André is a policy associate at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.