WASHINGTON - A decision by Senate Democrats not to add protections for same-sex couples to a landmark immigration overhaul has angered gay-rights advocates and put the White House on the defensive.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) agreed Tuesday to withdraw an amendment that would allow foreign, same-sex spouses and partners to apply for visas, after it became clear that fellow Democrats would vote against it to preserve GOP support for the bill.

Several gay-rights groups did not accept that, arguing the issue was a matter of principle and fairness for the estimated 30,000 same-sex, binational couples that remain unable to unite in the country. They are barred from receiving a spousal visa under the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

"Today it became clear that our so-called 'friends' don't have the courage or the spine to stand up for what's right," said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, codirector of the GetEQUAL advocacy group.

Three Republicans joined the Judiciary Committee's 10 Democrats in approving the immigration bill, 13-5, and send it on to the full Senate, where Leahy could choose to reintroduce the gay-rights protections.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama supports the provision, but he declined to say whether the president would insist on it being added to the bill.

On another front, a House chairman sharply criticized the Senate bill, underscoring more difficulties ahead.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) argued that the bill "falls far short" of what is needed to end the problem of illegal immigration, and is unlikely to secure the border.

"While I commend the Senate . . . I must observe that S. 744 repeats many of the mistakes of the past," he said at a hearing of his committee on the legislation. "We have serious concerns."

Goodlatte's critique was echoed by other Republicans on the committee.