WASHINGTON - Frustrated at being left out of an immigration overhaul, gay-rights groups are pushing to adjust a bipartisan Senate bill to include gay couples. But Democrats are wary of losing Republican support and jeopardizing the entire bill.
Both parties want the bill to succeed. Merely getting to agreement on the basic framework for the immigration overhaul, which would create a long and costly path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, was no small feat. Getting it through a divided Congress is still far from a done deal.
Even so, gay-rights groups, their lobbyists and grass-roots supporters are insisting the deal shouldn't exclude binational, same-sex couples - about 28,500 of them, according to a 2011 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law.
They're ramping up a campaign to change the bill to allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for green cards, the same way straight Americans can.
"Opponents will be proposing amendments that, if passed, could collapse this very fragile coalition that we've been able to achieve," Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said last week at the unveiling of the bill. He said the eight senators from both parties who crafted the legislation are committed to voting against changes that could kill it.
For Democrats, it's a precarious position to be in. Democratic senators overwhelmingly support gay marriage - all but three are now on the record voicing their support - and two dozen of them this year backed a separate bill called the Uniting American Families Act to let gays sponsor their partners.
But few seem eager to inject divisive issues that might sink their best prospects for a major legislative victory this year and a potential keystone of President Obama's legacy.
"Any amendment which might sink the immigration bill, I would worry about," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said, adding that he had yet to decide whether an amendment for gays and lesbians would do that.
Support from both Hispanics and gays was critical to Obama's re-election, and his overwhelming advantage among Hispanics was a major factor prompting Republicans to warm to immigration overhaul. But now, one community's gain on the immigration front could be to the other's detriment.
"Opponents will be proposing amendments that, if passed, could collapse this very fragile coalition that we've been able to achieve."
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.