Gabriel Arana is a senior editor at The American Prospect. His articles on gay rights, immigration, and media have appeared in publications including The New Republic, The Nation, Salon, The Advocate, and The Daily Beast.
Since he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry, which he says would kill “good union jobs”; spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion; and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending.
He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on the Pennsylvania state House floor in which he was blocked from speaking about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, which a Republican colleague said would violate “God’s law.” The Prospect recently sat down with Sims to talk about where things are headed in Pennsylvania.
When Marcia Hickman and Sue Spirit first started talking retirement 20 years ago, they mostly worried about the location and the weather. In Ohio, where they met and ran a women’s retreat together, Marcia missed the mountains of her upstate New York youth. Sue wanted a place “with seasons.” The pair, who will celebrate 30 years together in August, describe themselves as “mostly out”—Marcia hasn’t told her three children she and Sue are a couple, but she figures they’ve put it together by now. She and Sue hadn’t thought about settling down with other gay people until they learned about Carefree Cove. “Around 2000 we heard about ‘lesbian land’ being started in North Carolina,” Sue says. A planned residential community for older gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people, “the Cove” was then an empty 165-acre plot 20 miles outside of Boone, a small university town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The backers had an opening bargain: For $2,000, you could come down and pick your lot. “We put down the money, and six months later we were building,” Sue says.
It was like watching the Grinch's heart grow three sizes on Christmas. Representative Bob Goodlatte was talking about giving citizenship to "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. "These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States," the Virginia Republican said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing shortly before August recess. It was a sharp about-face: Three weeks earlier, Goodlatte and other Republicans on the committee had voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama administration’s initiative to stop the steady deportation of Dreamers. Now he and his colleagues were talking about making these youngsters, people who had known no country but the United States, citizens.
House Republicans' justification for opposing comprehensive immigration reform just got a lot weaker. While conservatives in the chamber have expressed support for most provisions included in the Senate Gang of Eight bill passed last month—increasing the number of visas for high-skilled workers, instituting a temporary-worker program, and dedicating more money to enforcement—the mass legalization program has been the sticking point. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee like Virginia's Bob Goodlatte and Iowa's Steve King have decried any attempt to provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented as "amnesty" that encourages lawbreaking. But the conventional political explanation for Republicans' opposition is that they fear primary challenges from the Tea Party, which strongly opposes granting citizenship to the undocumented.
Yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing was supposed to focus on the plight of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—referred to as "DREAMers." But it inevitably turned to the question at the heart of the immigration-reform battle: what to do with their parents. While members of the committee expressed support across the board for granting citizenship to DREAMers—at least those, in the words of Representative Steve King, who aren't gang members or drug-runners—its more conservative members expressed reservations about where this would lead. "Is this being set up as background amnesty?” asked King. “Who do you enforce the law against if everyone who hasn’t committed a felony is legalized?" The Iowa Republican, following the "secure the border" drumbeat that's become a fixed feature at such hearings, also assailed the Obama administration for failing to enforce immigration law. "Parents bringing their young children to the U.S. illegally is not something we would want to encourage," said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and the committee chairman.