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Gay marriage and queer immigration: Laboring over love [28 May, 2008]

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The recent California decision on gay marriage fills me with dread—dread at the schlock I know is awaiting me during this Pride month and afterwards; dread about hearing all the triumphant rhetoric about “equality;” and dread that queers are going to speak about marriage as some kind of dream fulfilled.  Again.

Because, of course, marriage will solve all our problems.  No health care? Get married!  Laid off?  Get married!  Struggling to pay bills and survive another month?  Get married!  Don”t believe in marriage or that marriage should be the only way to gain health care and other benefits?  Suck it up and start believing!

We queers have a unique ability to forget about the after—as in: what happens after “marriage equality”?  Will our workplaces be better?  Will we be less vulnerable to layoffs?  Will our unmarried friends and neighbors have health insurance?  Will the lives of our married but uninsured friends and neighbors be any better with the legalization of gay marriage?

These questions preoccupied me as I watched the “gay movement” take up a cause in a cynical bid to further the idea that gay marriage/gay coupledom matters above all: immigration.  In this year’s Chicago May Day march, gay groups joined together to form an official queer contingent.

Watching and talking to several of the key organizers of the contingent, I was struck by the great differences between queers who claimed to fight for immigration and queers who are themselves queer immigrants.  For queer immigrants, immigration had to do with the rights of the undocumented.  Many of them have friends and families who couldn’t attend the march without consequences in their workplaces, and who faced deportation after recent raids.  This year’s march focused on the legalization of the undocumented and workers” rights.

To be fair, many non-immigrants, especially younger queers, understood the key issues.  But others were fixated on an issue that has nothing to do with the undocumented and even less with workers’ rights: binational couples.  According to them, gay couples should be able to sponsor their partners for immigration like married heterosexuals.  In fact, this does nothing for the undocumented—citizenship via marriage is only available to the documented.

Somehow, the rights of the undocumented have become conflated with the “marriage rights/gay couples matter more than others” movement.  Queer organizers insisted that their situation—as queers whose relationships aren’t recognized by the state (because, apparently, only marriage can legitimize a relationship) —was equal to that of the undocumented.  Never mind the fact that none of them faced the harrowing issues of the undocumented.

That willingness to usurp any cause in order to further a narrow agenda is typical of those who’ve militantly organized over gay marriage over the last decade or so.  We’ve allowed the loudest among us to pretend that queerness is somehow separable from the issues that affect us.  We have labored over the delusion that queer love and attachment matter more than the central issue of labor—which literally organizes our daily lives.

This blindness is apparent in the way that some of us use the issue of asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation.  This is a necessary cause—we know too much about the very real violence faced by queers in parts of the world to ignore their need to leave their home countries.

But there’s a lot that’s skewed in the discourse about anti-gay violence in “other” parts of the world.  For one thing, we’re not exactly a shining beacon of perfection.  Even more troublingly, we ignore the economic and political circumstances surrounding anti-gay violence and persecution.  For the most part, the most horrendous (reported) situations occur in countries in the global south whose economies have been wrecked by the neoliberal machinations of the developed world.

So while it’s compassionate to insist that that queers need refuge in the West on account of the persecution they face, it’s short-sighted to assume that asylum is the perfect solution.  What concerns me is that we rush to paint all those other countries as universally hostile to queers without understanding the larger contexts in which that violence is bred.  That’s not to excuse hostility and violence; it’s to ask that we consider how our ignoring of those contexts keeps alive the conditions of global inequality and horrendous labor conditions that oppress large numbers of non-queers as well.

Do we understand the lives of persecuted queers alongside the lives of non-queers who are brutalized, physically and economically, but have no recourse to asylum?  Do we understand that queers leave their non-queer families and friends behind when they apply for asylum, often unwillingly?  And that those left behind must often resort to entering the U.S as cheap and exploited labor?

Whether it’s gay marriage or queer immigration, we have to understand that queers are more than the sum of their romantic relationships.  We have no right to take on the cause of immigration without understanding the issues faced by immigrants themselves.  And we can’t delude ourselves into believing that love will conquer the problems with labor.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 28 May, 2008

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