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Who is paying the Price? Queer Refugees and the Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships

Who is paying the Price? Queer Refugees and the Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships

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Published by LGBT Asylum News

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Published by: LGBT Asylum News on Sep 07, 2011
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05/20/2012

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Papers
 Fleeing Homophobia Conference
VU University Amsterdam, 5 and 6 September 2011
Who is paying the Price?Queer Refugees and the Legal Recognition of Same-SexPartnerships
Petra Sußner
*
 Let me start in 2001. This is when the Life Partnership Act was passed in Germany, legalizingregistered partnerships for same-sex couples, and thus turning so-called ‘gay marriage’ into legalreality. Equal rights activists celebrated. Fatima El Tayeb used this step as an opportunity for raisingthe issue of the category of 
race
within this discourse around the legal recognition of sexualoutlaws, respectively certain same-sex lifestyles. Under the title “Limited Horizons“she did notmince her words:“[The analysis of German society itself] is still dominated by the conviction that ‘race’ isa concept which – with the exception of the years between 1933 and 1945 – isirrelevant in the German context and can thus be safely disregarded. [...] A practicewhich in the case of queer identity with increasing exclusiveness is directed at theassimilation of white lesbians and gays to a European system whose practices of exclusion, in turn, are more and more clearly based on racist criteria.” (El Tayeb 2003:130) And further: “The question, to what extent lesbians and gays, who are part of theGerman majority population, benefit from the increasing racial exclusion – as they havethe right passports, skin colour and religion – is barely asked.” (El Tayeb 2003: 132)Notably Fatima El Tayeb's critique was published before Jasbir Puar broke an important ground bycoining the term
homonationalism,
thereby adressing the national inclusion of 'proper' lesbian orgay subjects contingent upon the segregation and marginalisation of racial 'others'. (Puar, 2007)Meanwhile both in academia and in activist circles the critique of normative queerness and thediscursive framing of Western LGBTQ people as persons, who are in need for protection from'homophobic migrants', has gained currency (cf Haritaworn, 2010). As a matter of fact this critiquedoes not spare LGBTQ contexts and their tendency to frame
whiteness
as the normal condition. A
*
 
PhD Fellow, IK Gender Violence and Agency in the Era of Globalization, Faculty of Social Sciences,University of Vienna.
 
 
well known example was offered by Judith Butler turning down the Berlin Pride Civil Courage Pricein 2010. Referring to the concept of homonationalism, she harshly criticised the organisers' lack of distance from racialist politics and stated that she would pass the price to queer of colourorganisations, if she were able to.Recently Christa Markom and Ines Rössl addressed an aspect of this debate that is of peculiarinterest for my contribution:“Thereby the ‘turkish woman' and the 'turkish man' are assumed to be heterosexual.There is hardly space for the picture of a 'gay or lesbian turk' within the (political,media and everyday-) discourses.“ (Markom/Rössl, 2010: 321)In my contribution I want to take up the issue of invisibility of LGBTQ people, who do not havetheir origins in the modern 'enlightened' West, and ask which legal mechanisms of segregation weimplicitly serve, if we turn to a Politics of Rights (cf Hark, 2000). In concrete terms I will turn to theintroduction of the Registered Partnership Act (RPA) in Austria and the corresponding ancillarychances within Asylum Law. The legal recognition of same-sex partnerships shall thereby serve asmy point of departure, as it is considered as one of the most evident manifestations of LGBTQ equal rights politics and thus offers an exemplary arena to untangle the mechanisms of exclusionthat are coming along with such politics.
Queer & Refugee – an Invisible Subject Position?
Returning to my point of departure let me first make plain that legal recognition of same-sexpartnerships in Austria has no distinguished or long history to look back on. The RPA has just beenlaunched in 2010 and not everybody felt like celebrating. Equal rights activists were sceptical –with good reason. For those who are not concerned with the legal recognition of a heterosexualtwo-person relationship adoption remains impossible.
1
Moreover, the law also denies them accessto the possibilities provided by reproductive medicine.
2
At the same time there has been little debate about the ancillary changes within Asylum Law thathave been coming along with the RPA – a phenomenon that suggests a relatively silenced positionof LGBTQ refugees. When Fatima El Tayeb made the Life Partnership Act in Germany a subject of discussion in 2001, she was already addressing that, according to the logic of a modern and liberalWith this bill, the legislator has not left anydoubt about who is perceived to be entitled to reproduce society, and who is not – not to mentionthe bureaucratic discriminations same-sex partners have to face.
1
cf Paragraph 179 Civil Law Code
2
cf Paragraph 2 Reproductive Medicine Act
 
constitutional state, the demand for rights does not only harbour the danger of being infiltrated byheteronormative ways of thinking, but also supports a system which currently uses the concept of race as an axis of difference to justify its increasing isolation from a constructed ‘Outside’.According to her this isolation seems to function in two different directions.Within the European borders, a hierarchical discourse produces a fault line inside the queercommunity, a fault line which separates LGBTQ persons who do not have their origins in theenlightened West and makes them invisible (cf El Tayeb 2003: 133 et seq.). As a matter of fact thisphenomenon is not only criticised within academia and activist circles, its manifestation can as wellbe noticed in public political statements. You will probably remember the Norwegian government’srecent suggestion of using films depicting lesbian and gay relationships to demonstrate to newlyarrived asylum seekers that in Europe homosexuality is ‘completely normal’. “People who want tolive in Norway and want to become part of its society have to accept this,” a refugee instructorreportedly said. In this context it is very telling that the only ones voicing their criticism inconnection with this approach were conservative Christians (Austrian Press Agency, February 2
nd
 2011). Apparently queer refugees seem to be in existent in the Norwegian government’s conceptand public demands to make them visible failed to appear. As briefly mentioned in the beginningthis issue was only recently picked up by Jin Haritaworn, who ascertained a discursivedisplacement:„The sign of diversity, in this discussion, moves from the racialized body (who becomesthe 'migrant homophobe') to the sexualized one (who becomes the 'injuredhomosexual' in need of protection from the 'migrant homophobe'). “ (Haritaworn2010: 138)The Norwegian concept corresponds to such a discursive staging of a system which wants to‘protect’ LGBTQ persons (who have silently been framed as European) as part of bourgeoisnormality by starting out with explaining to ‘homophobic migrants’ what homosexuality is about.Outside of Europe, on the other hand, this isolation manifests itself – as can easily be noticed –both in restrictive politics concerning foreigners and asylum seekers as well as in the increasinglymassive walls constructed around the Europe (cf El Tayeb 2003: 133 et seq.). In Austria alone thelaw relating to foreigners and asylum seekers has been amended 15 times in the last 10 years.Almost every single amendment has worsened the legal position of Non-EU citizens.
Queer Family Reunification under Asylum Law
As a matter of fact, the passing of the RPA also affected one of these amendments. Correspondingto EU legislation - namely directive 2003/86/EG on family reunification - persons who have been

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