Rubio: Same-sex rights not a ‘central issue’ for immigration reform

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says he hopes extending equal immigration rights to same-sex couples does not become a “central issue” as lawmakers weigh measures to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

"I think if that issue becomes a central issue in the debate it's going to become harder to get it done because there will be strong feelings on both sides,” said Rubio in an interview with Buzzfeed on Tuesday.

Rubio is part of a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers that last month unveiled an immigration reform framework. Their proposal would create a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s illegal immigrants, tighten border security and implement guest-worker and employer-verification programs.

But President Obama, who has offered his own blueprint for immigration and will share more specifics during his State of the Union address, has called for any agreement to apply to same-sex couples, allowing them to also apply for citizenship and sponsor partners.

The Senate framework released last week does not include that proposal, and Rubio said that his colleagues “haven’t really discussed the pros and cons of it” thus far, but predicted that the issue would “eventually be confronted.”

Such a measure, though, would likely invite opposition from GOP lawmakers and could slow momentum to pass immigration reform, which Obama has said is a second-term priority.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who signed on to the Senate proposal, said that including that provision would sink Republican support.

On Tuesday, a group of Democratic lawmakers reintroduced a bill in the House that would allow immigrants in same-sex marriages the right to sponsor their partners for legal residency, a right currently granted only to those in heterosexual marriages. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has said he hopes to introduce similar legislation in the upper chamber.