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Immigration bill without protections for gay and lesbian couples heads to full Senate

BY ERICA WERNER AND DAVID ESPO, ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- A far-reaching bill to remake the nation's immigration system is headed to the full Senate, where tough battles are brewing on gay marriage, border security and other contentious issues, with the outcome impossible to predict.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure 13-5 Tuesday night, setting up an epic showdown on the Senate floor after Congress' Memorial Day recess. The legislation is one of President Barack Obama's top domestic priorities - yet it also gives the Republican Party a chance to recast itself as more appealing to minorities.

Sen. Patrick Leahy's 11th-hour decision to hold back on an amendment to extend immigration rights to same-sex married couples that cleared the way for the bill's approval.

Until Leahy, D-Vt., began speaking on the issue to a hushed hearing room Tuesday evening, it wasn't clear how the matter, which had hovered over the three weeks of committee sessions to review the legislation, would play out.

Leahy had been under pressure from gay groups to offer the amendment, which would allow gay married Americans to sponsor their foreign-born spouses for green cards like straight married Americans can. But Republican supporters of the bill warned that including such a measure would cost their support. As the committee neared the end of its work, officials said Leahy had been informed that both the White House and Senate Democrats hoped he would not risk the destruction of months of painstaking work by putting the issue to a vote.

"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," Leahy said, adding that he wanted to hear from others on the committee.

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