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As Gay Marriage is Legalized in New York, LGBT Immigrants are Cautiously Optimistic

Christy Carnegie Fujio, JD, MA, and Sari Long on June 29, 2011

While LGBT immigrant groups celebrated the recent passage of the right for same-sex couples to marry in New York, their response was more subdued than other gay advocacy groups. Even though civil rights progress for one group often benefits the other, there are still major hurdles same-sex immigrant couples must overcome to fully participate in the victory.

Immigrants to the US face discrimination similar to LGBT individuals here – marginalization and prejudice are hallmarks of their shared experience. Each group understands oppression and may feel the necessity to hide their identities to protect themselves. However, there is a tension between these groups despite their mutual struggles.

Immigrant communities, especially their older members, may continue to harbor conservative views toward homosexuality. LGBT individuals coming to the US may not feel comfortable being open about their sexual identities if their primary affiliation is to these communities.

For those fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual identity, the US can seem like a haven. However, there are numerous challenges facing LGBT immigrants. First of all, many LGBT individuals fleeing persecution may not be aware of the possibility of applying for asylum, leading many to miss the one-year filing deadline. Second, these individuals often seek out communities composed of people from their home country, preventing them from comfortably expressing their sexual identities out of fear of rejection or persecution. Third, LGBT groups in the US may express racial, cultural, or economic prejudice against immigrants, forcing them to remain closeted within their cultural communities.

Additionally, even though gay immigrants in New York may now be able to marry their partners, there are no immigration benefits conferred as a result of that marriage. Until same-sex marriage legislation is passed at the federal level, immigrants are not able to obtain permanent residence or citizenship if they marry a US citizen. Nor may a gay “green card” holder petition to bring a same-sex partner from another country to the US on a fiancé visa. In many ways, gay immigrants’ reality changes little despite this landmark legislation.

Places: United States