In a Tuesday (May 14) letter, Richard Land told Judiciary Committee leaders the "issue is a deal-breaker" for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
"On this point we seek to be 'Waterford' crystal clear: If same-sex partner reunification provision is included in an immigration reform overhaul, the would not merely hold a neutral position on the broader bill, but would instead actively oppose it," said Land, the ERLC's president.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has filed amendments supported by homosexual activist organizations to a Senate immigration reform bill. One of Leahy's amendments would recognize for immigration purposes a same-sex marriage that is legal in a state or foreign country. His other amendment would enable a same-sex partner of an American citizen to gain legal residency in the same way a husband or wife of a citizen does.
Land told Baptist Press, "We felt that it was very important for the Congress to know that as much as we support immigration reform we cannot condone same-sex partnerships and that it would be terribly unwise of Congress to confuse the issue of immigration reform with the issue of so-called gay rights."
The ERLC's opposition to same-sex provisions in immigration legislation is nothing new. Land has expressed disfavor with such proposals in recent months as the latest effort at immigration reform has built momentum and efforts to include same-sex measures have been promoted. In the letter to Leahy and lead Republican committee member Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Land spoke in stark terms about the ERLC's opposition and provided three reasons for its stance:
-- "First, we have biblical concerns. As a matter of interpretation of Scripture, Southern Baptists do not condone any sexual relationship beyond the sacred bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. Most Southern Baptists, therefore, could not in good conscience support efforts by the government to aid the reunification of same-sex partners.
-- "Second, same-sex partner reunification would violate the spirit, if not also the letter, of the law. The Defense of Marriage Act specifies that, for federal purposes, marriage is the union of one man and one woman. While its future remains uncertain, DOMA is currently the law of the land. Immigration reform is not an appropriate place to challenge it.
-- "Third, a majority of the American people is ready, even eager, for Congress to break partisan divides and find a workable solution on immigration reform that balances respect for the rule of law and care for the stranger among us. Yet support for a same-sex partner reunification provision remains mixed at best. To ignore this reality is to risk poisoning reform."
The Judiciary Committee will resume its consideration Thursday (May 16) of amendments to the immigration bill, but it has not publicized if the same-sex proposals will be acted on.
Land and other evangelical supporters of broad immigration reform said upon its mid-April introduction the Senate bill -- the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744 -- marked a solid, though imperfect, start but did not endorse it. The product of about three months of negotiations among four Democrats and four Republicans, the proposal is the first serious congressional attempt since 2007 to repair what seemingly everyone acknowledges is a broken immigration system.
The lack of enforcement of the current system has resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Land and the ERLC actively participated in efforts to reform immigration in 2006-07, and messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed a resolution in support of immigration reform with specific guidelines.
That resolution from the SBC meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country." It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
Land and other supporters of broad immigration reform had urged Leahy before the May 7 filing of his same-sex amendments not to push such measures in the bill. Among the signers with Land on the May 1 letter to Leahy were representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The 844-page Senate bill includes a universal employment verification system, as well as border security and fence plans. When the border security plans are in place, undocumented immigrants can seek temporary status. To achieve such provisional status under the bill, each immigrant must, among other requirements, pass a background check, pay taxes and $2,000 in fines, and wait at least 10 years behind legal immigrants who applied before him. He will receive no federal benefits during this provisional period.
Some conservatives have said the border security measures are inadequate, and others have criticized its cost to the government.
A Heritage Foundation study released May 6 predicted the Senate bill would cost taxpayers at least $6.3 trillion. Some advocates of immigration reform disputed that forecast.
Supporters of immigration reform have warned there is only a narrow window of opportunity for passage in this two-year, congressional session, which closes at the end of 2014. Land has predicted approval must happen by the Fourth of July or Labor Day this year.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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