The new immigration reform bill passed through a Senate panel on Tuesday left behind an amendment that would have allowed gay and lesbian Americans with foreign-born partners to petition for their legal status.
"I don't want to be the senator who asks people to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country," Senate Judiciary Chairman Pratrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the committee.
The purpose of the amendment read as follows:
To recognize, for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, any marriage entered into in full compliance with the laws of the State or foreign country within which such marriage was performed.
Under this amendment, the Defense of Marriage Act would be swept aside and the U.S. would recognize marriages from other countries if the union “could have been entered into” in a U.S. state. Leahy’s Vermont is one of 12 states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Same-sex marriage, which passed in Britain’s House of Commons on Tuesday, is legal in 13 countries - including Spain, France, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium and South Africa. As of August, same-sex marriage will be legal in New Zealand and Uruguay.
Pressured by other Democrats, Sen. Leahy withdrew the amendment.
"I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system," Leahy said. "So, with a heavy heart, and as a result of my conclusion that Republicans will kill this vital legislation if this anti-discrimination amendment is added, I will withhold calling for a vote on it. But I will continue to fight for equality."
The decision leaves thousands of couples out in the cold. Many are forced to live separately for months or years, while others leave the U.S. to be reunited with partners.
While President Obama stated he would support the bill containing the amendment, the White House also said he would sign the bill without it.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would have voted against the legislation if Leahy had forced the provision further. Democrat Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Calif., and Al Franken, Minn., also raised concerns.
"I believe in my heart of hearts that what you're doing is the right and just thing," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, told Leahy. "But I believe this is the wrong moment, that this is the wrong bill."
“None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I,” Obama said, “but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line.”