Links between Same-Sex Marriage and Immigration

Two major debates in the US today are immigration reform and marriage equality. Cisneros, Somerville and Lubheid have all discussed the role of sexuality and ‘family’ in shaping immigrant discourse and Lubheid discusses the implication for same-sex couples specifically.

by Julio Salgado

As we saw in class today, immigrant and lgbt rights are not separate issues- queer undocumented activists like those involved in UndocuQueer, for example, propose intersectional apporaches.

NBC Latino: UndocuQueer Movement Rises to Push for a DREAM Act

In a blog piece called DOMA and the DREAM Act: How the LGBT and immigration reform movements intersect, Carlos Gomar writes:

For many undocumented youth, “coming out” is a familiar process. Similar to how LGBT people reveal their sexuality or gender identity to their friends and family members, undocumented youth across the country are using “coming out” as a tactic to find self-empowerment, change public opinion and alleviate fear within themselves and their communities.

What are some of the pros and cons of this strategy? For example, what are queer critiques of coming out narratives?

Prerna Lal, by Julio Salgado

Prerna Lal highlights similarities between the two movements in Gays and Undocumented Immigrants – Nativists and Homophobes Two Sides of the Same Coin. According to her, both nativists and homophobes:

1. withhold a construct with power from an Other

In the case of immigrants, that would be ‘citizen.’ For the LGBTQ community right now, that would be ‘marriage’ –

2. insist on stubborn binaries

Insistence that the lines cannot be crossed.
“You can have your civil unions” (directly implying that marriage is off-limits)
“Illegal is illegal” (falsely implying that citizenship is an immutable concept)

3. engage in twisted, corny logic

“You have the same right to get married as I do – marry the person of an opposite sex”

“If you want to become a citizen, get in the line” without realizing there is no line for most undocumented immigrants.

4. use similar distancing tactics

“I don’t have a problem with immigrants, just the ones who come here illegally.”

“I don’t have a problem with gay people as long as they don’t do IT in public” or “I don’t have a problem with equal rights for gay people, but marriage should not be redefined”

5. repeat the rule of law mantra

Keep up the shadowy pretense that ‘mob rule’ and the tyranny of the majority is somehow part of the founding principles of this country and there is no such concept as civic rights.

“Prop 8 restores the rule of law as dictated by the people, not by activist judges.”

80% of Americans are against illegal immigration” but pro-enforcement candidates somehow keep losing elections.

6. distort numbers

Both groups also swarm articles and online discussions and litter their trashy hateful discourse to appear as the ‘moral majority.’ Offline though, neither nativists nor homophobescan usually draw more than a few dozen to their rallies for hate.

7. tout baseless chain effects

“When you reward someone for doing something, you encourage others to engage in similar behavior. That’s why amnesty programs are the wrong way to address illegal immigration.”
Heritage Foundation

“Gays are recruiting young children into becoming gay.”

Because when we hang out with tall people, we get taller.

8. invoke an alien status

“Why don’t you gays just get your own planet; and leave the rest of us alone?” (If there was life on another planet, I would seriously consider it)

“Illegal aliens are just that: ILLEGAL ALIENS. Go back to Mexico.” And this is said even for immigrant youth who have been here since they were toddlers, speak perfect English, and as American as apple pie.

9. employ discourse of hate


Notice the capitalization? Notice the dehumanizing words? Nativists and homophobes usually do not have warrants for any claims they make, hence reduce themselves down to adhoms and slurs.

Lal points out that both lgbt and undocument folks can describe their positions interchangeably.

“We are here. We work alongside you, raise our kids alongside your kids, walk the same path, shop at the same stores, drive on the same highways, breath from the same air supply and drink from the same water source. The only difference is that we are treated as second-class in our own country, because we are __________ (gay/without papers).”

What are the benefits and drawbacks of this strategy? How can this be successful in pursuing change? How is it problematic?

A note on images: The images above are by Julio Salgado, an artist and activist. Check out more of his work below and on his tumblr page.

For an interview with Salgado, see: 


2 thoughts on “Links between Same-Sex Marriage and Immigration

  1. I think that comparing the struggle for immigration reform and gay marriage has the potential for allowing progressive LGBT folk and progressive folks who want immigration reform to see each other reasons for wanting these changes. On the opposite hand I don’t think these ways of approaching both issues will win over anyone who already isn’t for gay marriage and/or immigration reform.

    Also I think its interesting that both the gay marriage movement and the Undocuqueer movement both focus on specific people. For instance gay marriage, as we have all seen, is mainly depicted as a marriage between a nice gay/lesbian couple who is white/wealthy and wants to adopt kids that no one else wants. On the other hand the Undocuqueer movement usually shows queer undocumented folks who are from the Americas.

    Both movements oftentimes ignore other people, like people of color in the gay marriage movement, and undocumented API folks in the United States who make up roughly 10 percent of the undocumented population within the United States. (the 10 percent includes the countries of China, the Philippines, India, Korea, and Vietnam) In an Asian American Studies class I took last Spring we discussed undocumented API folks and their lack of representation. One of my friends who is API and undocumented tells me a lot of times that there are specific issues that undocumented folks in API communities face that are different from the issues folks who are undocumented and come from the Americas might face. For instance she talked to me a lot about how the stereotype that surrounds API folks and them being perpetual foreigners is very different than Latinos who could use the counter-discourse of “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Often times we discuss how gay marriage is problematic, but what about the problematic notion that all undocumented folk are Latino and not API? And also by posing that question I want to clarify that I don’t mean to say that its bad that there is a lot of focus on undocumented Latino folks, but rather to point out that a sizable chunk of folks who belong to a different racial/national background that aren’t getting representation within different movements, like the Undocuqueer movement.

    Also here is an interesting powerpoint presentation a friend sent to me about undocumented API folks.

  2. I think that the strategy of linking same-sex marriage and immigration rights could help to bring about change in both areas. In the example of Felipe Matos (from the blog article above) I think that the UndocuQueer movement can help bring an end to the exclusion of same-sex partners from immigration sponsorship. However, like Aaron, I have some doubts about the extent of this reform.

    I wonder if the UndocuQueer movement would stop if DOMA was repealed. I don’t know if linking immigration status to marriage is the best way to go about immigration reform because there are always going to be unmarried undocumented people. I think that some people will be excluded from citizenship if immigrant rights become closely entwined with marital status.

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