Gillibrand’s N.Y. Marriage Fight

BY Andrew Harmon

May 17 2011 10:00 AM ET

Last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated that the administration does not intend to put a moratorium on deportations involving gay binational couples who are legally married. Yet last month you and 11 senate colleagues wrote a letter to both Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urging as much. Are you disappointed?

It’s disappointing. But this is just the beginning of the debate. The more we highlight the effect this has on real lives, on real families, families with children — people will begin to realize that this policy is the wrong policy.

Should the administration know this already?

Immigration reform has been very difficult, for this administration, the previous administration — this is a very volatile issue nationwide. And as a consequence, it may take the administration longer to get this done than I would like, because I really want comprehensive immigration reform, and I want reforms for the ability for spouses and loved ones to sponsor their partners. But that’s the nature of all these political battles. That you have to build your support, you need to make it a broad-based grassroots support, you need to create the intensity that comes with personal stories and the effects on real people — and that is work that we’re going to do over the next six months.

Has the administration responded to the letter that you and your Senate colleagues sent?

I don’t think we’ve had a response yet.

You’re in a binational relationship — your husband [Jonathan Gillibrand] is from the U.K. How has your marriage influenced your perspective in this issue?

When we got engaged, when we got married, we couldn’t go outside the country to have a honeymoon because Jonathan’s status was pending. We had to be very careful about our travel. It must be an awful feeling for any loving couple to have to worry that your spouse or your loved one is going to be deported at any moment. I can’t think of a more awful, destabilizing, unfair policy. At all. And so we have to do better. And we have to protect these marriages, and these partnerships. Because these are loving couples, and they may well have children, and we should protect those children.

President Bill Clinton has come out in support of marriage equality.

Great!

And Chelsea Clinton is working the phones to get out the message for New York marriage.

Love it.

So how hopeful are you that Secretary of State Clinton might be able to join them in that position at some point?

Well, her role is really to be nonpolitical. I think that — I think that Secretary Clinton supports marriage equality, just my personal view. But I don’t think she’ll be in a position to really engage in a political debate because of her position.

But Bill Clinton is a pretty persuasive advocate. And I think he’ll do just fine on his own.

So I’d have to pose the same question for President Obama. Do you think it’s possible that he could come out in support of marriage equality …

Yes.

…before the 2012 election?

Definitely. He put the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in his State of the Union address. So there’s no reason why he can’t lean into marriage equality in a public speech or through some action he could do through the White House. I’d be thrilled if he decided to do that. He did take the step of not [defending] DOMA through his Department of Justice, which is a fantastic step because it was one that he was unwilling to do in “don’t ask, don’t tell.” So it shows a shift in his willingness to use the power of the White House — the power of the administration — to change public perception and to change policy.

So I think we could get a very strong public statement out of him.
 
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