New York, Marriage Equality and Immigrants

Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda walking in Queens

Mixed-status LGBT couples in New York still face immigration challenges despite the state's new Marriage Equality law. (Photo: Maria Watts)

When Governor Andrew Cuomo called for “justice for all” through the passage of a marriage equality bill earlier this year, I asked whether gay marriage was a priority for New York immigrants. Some queer activists did not think so, arguing that many immigrants, gay or straight, are far more concerned about bread and butter issues.

The momentous passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act  late Friday night is nonetheless being celebrated by the LGBT community, its advocates and allies, including those who might have expressed skepticism. The law expands civil rights within the state and codifies the fundamental dignity of LGBT individuals and their families, some of whom are immigrants.

The Marriage Equality Act will not help lesbian and gay immigrants who hope to gain permanent residency by wedding their American partners, since immigration is under federal purview and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars the U.S. government from recognizing gay marriages. Among permanent residents and naturalized citizens however, the new law establishes one more jurisdiction where lesbian and gay couples will be treated equally within its boundaries. All couples have the freedom to marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and now, New York.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, one of the organizations that led the effort to pass gay marriage in the state, told Fi2W back in January that “the denial of the freedom to marry with all its tangible and intangible protections, consequences, and meaning hurts everyone—not least because it is state-sponsored discrimination based on who we are and who we love, which is intolerable.”

New Yorkers – gay or straight, immigrant or native-born – have great cause to celebrate. They have taken a big step in the long of arc justice and freedom for all.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.