Collins joins Leahy, backs recognition of same-sex partners under immigration law

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will introduce legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partner for legal residency in the country.

Collins is the first Republican supporter of the bill, which Leahy has introduced in each Congress since 2003. She said it would help keep same-sex families together by giving them the opportunity to live in the United States legally.

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“More than two dozen countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes,” said Collins in a statement. “This important civil rights legislation would help prevent committed, loving families from being forced to choose between leaving their family or leaving their country.”

Leahy at a Judiciary hearing on immigration Wednesday made a hard push for the language to be included in a comprehensive reform package that Congress and President Obama are beginning to craft.

“Any legislation that comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee should recognize the rights of all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans, who have just as much right to spousal immigration benefits as anyone else,” said Leahy, who will be responsible for shepherding the comprehensive measure through his committee.

Some Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John McCain (Ariz.), have signaled their hesitancy to tackle the same-sex partner issue, however, saying that it could jeopardize other areas of bipartisan agreement by triggering opposition from conservative members.

The bipartisan Senate immigration framework proposed by its “Gang of Eight” two weeks ago did not address the same-sex couple issue.

Obama favors treating same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples, but it is unclear how hard he will push for the language to be included in a final bill.

Vice President Biden describe a “wait and see” approach on the issue.

“We’re going to wait and see what the Senate bill and the bipartisan group presents, and we’ll make our judgments,” said Biden said in a brief interview with Bloomberg last week. “We made it clear what we think should be done, and we’ll see.”