No Gays Allowed: Keeping Marriage Equality Out of Immigration Reform

gay immigrantsAmerican immigration policy, even at its most restrictive and nativist times, has always maintained the importance of keeping families together. Like the first laws regulating immigration at the turn of the 20th Century, the current immigration proposal still seeks to keep nuclear families together. The importance of keeping families together has not changed, but what has changed in the past 100 years is the definition of family.

The question before our legislators is why not keep to the tradition of protecting families and include gay immigrants within the scope of immigration reform?

Public opinion is on the side of both immigration reform and a more progressive definition of marriage beyond that of between and man and a woman.

In 2013, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. This support has been steadily growing over the last couple of years — less than 20 years ago only a quarter of Americans supported gay marriage with support growing to one-third by 2000. Moreover, we saw in the 2012 election one state out right reject a ban on gay marriage and three states say “I do” to gay marriage.

With last week’s Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) striking DOMA is struck down, then the public support for gay marriage becomes legally buttressed. By extension, making the case for gay immigrants even stronger.

So in theory, a provision for same-sex immigrant families could make it into the final immigration reform legislation. In reality, there is about zero chance that will happen. Evangelicals can once again take the credit for this one.

The Republican Party is torn in its support for immigration reform. However, this time around immigration reform has found an ally among one powerful segment of the GOP, Evangelicals. Leaders of Evangelical churches have publically voiced their support of immigration reform. And the rank and file also shows a leaning toward immigration reform. According to a recent Pew Research study, 62 percent of white Evangelicals support a legal pathway for immigrants. While support for immigrants is not as high as it is for public opinion in general, it is nevertheless a clear majority of this Republican heavy constituency.

Turning to gay marriage, Evangelical support looks nothing like it does for immigration reform. Three quarters of white Evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage. So while their immigration stance is progressive, it is limited to one that stays within the confines of traditional conceptions of marriage and family.

In practical political terms, there is no way a conservative Republican member of Congress would be able to sell immigration and an untraditional conception of marriage.

Specifically, how is a member of Congress back home in rural East Texas or anywhere else in the Bible Belt going to sell not just immigration, but a provision for gay immigrants? Immigration may have the support of Evangelicals, but it is luke-warm as opposed to piping hot. And if same-sex partners are thrown into the immigration mix, then all support for immigration goes cold.

A majority of Americans may support immigration reform and gay marriage. The President and the Supreme Court have also signaled their support for gay marriage. But ultimately, the survival of immigration reform comes down to a group of Conservative Republicans in the House who have to answer to a higher power — their Evangelical base.

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