Under the current immigration system, individuals cannot sponsor a same-sex partner or spouse for a family visa, effectively forcing many families into exile abroad. This is codified by the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which is now under review by the Supreme Court, and activists have been pushing lawmakers to include provisions expanding rights to gay couples in the immigration bill.
The immigration bill also allows citizens and permanent residents in America to sponsor children, parents, and spouses from abroad to come to the country as "registered provisional immigrants," the same limited legal status that would be made available to existing undocumented immigrants in the United States if it passes. But people in same-sex relationships would not be able to sponsor their spouse or partner under this provision. A recent study estimated that there are 267,000 undocumented LGBT immigrants in America today and another 637,000 who are legal immigrants.
Republican members of the group, especially Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), actively opposed including LGBT protections, fearing it would create additional political opposition. Evangelical and other religious groups have been extremely active in promoting comprehensive immigration reform and could balk at some of the provisions.
LGBT and immigration activists think they have a strong chance of adding protections later through the amendment process, however. Especially now that the majority of the Senate openly endorses gay marriage.
"We will continue to work to improve this bill through the legislative process and ensure a wide and inclusive path to citizenship that will not be endangered by border triggers, will reunite all families -- including LGBT families -- will treat workers fairly, protect rights, and end the wasteful spending in our enforcement system," Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration advocacy group America's Voice, said in a statement on Wednesday.