Will There Be A Marriage Between Immigration Reform and Equality for Same Sex Couples?

by Roger Algase

The last 10 days of September, 1996 were not good ones for tolerance, equality or human rights in America. On September 21, 1996, President Clinton signed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies immigration rights, along with a host of other federal benefits, to same sex married couples.

And on September 30. 1996, President Clinton signed IIRIRA, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, with its full array of harsh penalties against unauthorized immigrants and immigrants convicted of minor crimes, as well as its imposition of additional barriers to legal status for immigrants trying to play by the rules.

The timing of these two laws was no coincidence. They were both passed by a Republican-controlled Congress barely over a month before that year's presidential election, and were designed to appeal to anti-Latino and anti-gay prejudice among significant parts of the electorate. President Clinton had good reason to worry about his reelection chances if he vetoed either of these bills.

Now, almost a generation later, America is a more diverse country ethnically and it is also more accepting of same sex marriages, which, unlike in 1996, are now legal in some states. The Constitutionality of DOMA will come up for oral argument in the Supreme Court on March 26.

At the same time, the main intention of IIRIRA, which was to slow down or reverse Latino and other minority immigration to the US, is likely to be thrown out as up to 11 million unauthorized immigrants are granted some form of legal status in one or another of the immigration reform packages now under consideration by Congress.

Not only has former president Clinton renounced his support of DOMA and come out in favor of immigration reform, but so have many leading Republicans in the wake of last November's election. But will both of these great moral issues be resolved in a final version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform that includes green cards and other immigration rights for partners in same sex marriages?

Or will the strategy of divide and conquer result in a trade-off in which increased tolerance toward non-white immigrants in the form of legalization will be achieved only at the price of perpetuation of bigotry against same sex couples (assuming that anti-gay "conservative" Justices in the Supreme Court prevail and DOMA is upheld)?

One key to answering this may be in the attitudes toward same sex marriages in the Latino communities themselves. Most Latinos, obviously, are in favor of immigrant rights. But some Latino evangelicals are more conservative on "social" issues and support "traditional family values", i.e. opposition to same sex marriages, according to a March 14 article in The Christian Post entitled: Hispanic Community Conflicted Over Gay Rights in Immigration Reform.

Ironically, even if some Latinos can be persuaded to uphold continued bigotry against GLBT people in the name of "family values", they may find their own access to family reunification visas sharply reduced in an immigration reform package which upholds this form of bigotry against Latinos in the name of the critically important goal of promoting high tech immigration.

Why does the worthy objective of attracting more skilled workers have to be achieved at the price of breaking up Latino and other minority families? And will there be a marriage between supporters of same sex equality and supporters of immigrant rights in opposition to continuation of legalized bigotry against both communities? That would be the best hope for real immigration reform, which is part of the ongoing effort to eliminate hate and prejudice against all minorities from American society.

About The Author

Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.