Why Dropping LGBT Equality from Immigration Bill is Tragic, But Probably Also Meaningless

No one who believes in equality should be happy that the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill has dropped immigration equality as a cornerstone policy. Thanks to Republican homophobia and threats to pull support should gay people be treated the same as straight people under our immigration laws, Democrats have agreed to drop that language in the interest of broader reform. And that has some gay groups fuming.
“Today it became clear that our so-called ‘friends’ don’t have the courage or the spine to stand up for what’s right,” Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of the social-justice organization GetEQUAL, said.

Sousa-Rodriguez said Democratic lawmakers “are content to buy into the false choice that Republicans created — holding a sorely-needed immigration bill hostage in order to cement inequality into law.”
While I am not happy either that the president's proposal to create immigration equality is not included as part of the immigration reform bill, I have never cared for the extremist tactics of groups like GetEQUAL (think chaining yourself to the fence of the friendliest White House in history). They are trying to create another public option pony demand, when it is pretty clear that the entire immigration bill would likely fail should provisions for same sex couples be included. It's not a good thing, but it is fact. Unfortunately, there is nothing false about this choice, as disheartening as the choice may be.

As a gay American and as an immigrant, this hurts. But I am not about to derail comprehensive immigration reform based on one issue - one issue that may, ultimately, be meaningless. Instead of channeling our outrage to something destructive, let's channel it to understand something: marriage equality is on a fast track, and it is going to happen. Immigration equality will automatically follow marriage equality.

Let's consider the Supreme Court cases under consideration now. The Supreme Court will rule on the Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. If the Court strikes down DOMA, as seems likely, the federal government will have no choice but to recognize all legal marriages performed in all states, including same sex marriages performed in states where it is already legal. Better yet, if the Supreme Court decides on the Constitutionality of marriage in our favor in invalidating Prop 8, marriage equality will be the law of the land instantly. In either of those scenarios, immigration equality - at least for marriages performed in certain states - may become law well before comprehensive immigration reform.

Even in the worst case scenario where the Supreme Court upheld both DOMA and Prop 8 - and I really doubt that would happen - the state of gay rights in this country is moving forward rapidly. If the Supreme Court refuses to enforce equal protection of the Constitution, we need to engage ourselves in the electoral process to elect more Democrats and turn out the Republicans in 2014, so that once and for all, Congress can repeal DOMA, just as a Democratic Congress repealed DADT. If DOMA is repealed, once again, the federal government will have to honor all legal marriages performed in states that allow same sex marriages, thereby also automating immigration equality. Those who claim to represent our movement or a significant portion of it have the responsibility to organize to that end instead of lashing out Democrats for Republican petulance.

It is always a bad idea to block progress because it isn't enough. No movement for social justice or economic justice has ever succeeded by insisting on opposing imperfect legislation. We would not even be talking about either marriage or immigration equality today if our fore-bearers did not sacrifice to fight for rights as basic as housing non-discrimination, state-by-state employment nondiscrimination, and health care parity. Heck, what is today the gay rights movement got its modern start from a group of people standing up for our right to be free from police brutality just because we dared to get a drink.

Legislating is an imperfect art, but it is the art of the possible. Instead of screaming and moaning about how those who are fighting for us and with us "caved," we need to fight those that forced the stripping of immigration equality from immigration reform. Lashing out at Sens. Leahy, Schumer, Feinstein and Durbin may make some of the reactionaries feel good, but it will not help advance the cause of equality even one single step. Demanding rigidity from your allies instead of targeting the real enemies of our cause is the surest way to lose effectiveness.

So at least speaking for myself as a gay, immigrant American, I want to thank the Democrats in the gang of eight for making this compromise in the interest of moving immigration reform forward. I want to thank the Democratic members of Congress and President Obama for being steadfast advocates for us. And I want to remind my community that it is our job to give the president more allies in Congress in these fights of social justice. Let's get to work.