It’s time to make marriage equality an American tradition

There is a scene in the film "Fiddler on the Roof" where Tevye, a devout Jew living in a small village in czarist Russia, desperately struggles with the decision of Chava, his youngest daughter, to marry outside the faith.

How can I accept them, can I deny everything I believe in?   
On the other hand, can I deny my own daughter?
On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I'll break.
On the other hand...
No! There is no other hand!

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is no Tevye. But his struggle with the Uniting American Families Act — an amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would have allowed the foreign spouses of same-sex couples to immigrate — was no less about a world that is changing faster than he can.

Graham, one of four Republicans in the bipartisan Gang of Eight, explained last week to a packed Judiciary Committee hearing room why he could not support the UAFA. "You've got me on immigration" Graham said. "You don't have me on marriage. Let's keep this about immigration".

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Graham courageously joined forces with Senate Democrats to produce the most extensive overhaul of immigration law in decades. But when it came to the UAFA he had "no other hand."

At least, not yet.

There was a palpable sense of history as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of the UAFA, gave an impassioned closing argument in support of immigration equality for same-sex couples. Other than the sound of fingers clicking keyboards, the packed hearing room was silent. Perhaps the most poignant moment was when Leahy, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act's denial of benefits to same-sex couples, wondered, "Will our grandchildren ask why this law was even on the books?"

While it didn't happen last week, marriage equality is destined to become the law of the land.

The UAFA could likely have passed along party lines. Several Democratic senators, including Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Durbin (Ill.), Franken (Minn.) and Klobuchar (Minn.) gave moving speeches in support of the amendment. They each spoke from the heart about family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who live in an America that continues to deny them equality under the law because of who they love.

But cold, harsh political reality forced the amendment's withdrawal. It was obvious those senators believed its passage would have torn apart bipartisan support for the immigration bill at the cost of comprehensive reform this year.

The Judiciary Committee’s failure to add the UAFA amendment was reminiscent of the defeat of the DREAM Act in 2010. There were the same tears, the same disbelief and the same sense of abandonment. But like the DREAMERs in 2010, the LGBT community and its allies will not take no for an answer. The fight for immigration equality will continue. America is changing, and so will those who today stubbornly oppose it.

After all, in the end, even Tevye gave his daughter his blessing.


Leopold is general counsel and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.