For Many Immigrants, Gay Marriage Is a Challenge*

A conflict of values as a working-class neighborhood changes.

04. november 2011 11.54
04. november 2011 12.50
Dan Bilefsky, NYT
Dan Bilefsky, NYT
Molly Blooms, an Irish bar in the Queens borough, recently raffled off a free same-sex wedding reception, complete with a ride in a horse-drawn carriage for the winning couple. The bar's owner thought the idea would be good for business and for the largely working-class and immigrant neighborhood of Sunnyside.

But some neighbors said they would boycott the bar. Bloggers posted reports of past health violations there.
Larry Yang, 45, the Korean-American owner of a nearby hardware store, said that he resented such a public promotion of same-sex marriage, and that many among the large number of Korean-American Christians in Queens felt simi larly.

"If that horse-drawn carriage rides by my store, I will make sure my kids do not see it," he said. The legalization of same-sex marriage in New York State has laid bare the clash between the social conservatism of
many immigrants and the values of the often wealthier, more liberal professionals who moved to Sunnyside after being priced out of Manhattan.

Many immigrants in Sunnyside are Muslims from Turkey, where the military, the guardian of the secular state regards homosexuality as a disorder. On one recent day, men hunched over Turkish newspapers next to a mosque in a neighborhood that includes kebab shops, a Jewish communi ty center, a Romanian restaurant and a Russian hairdresser.

Aliihsan Simcek, 63, from Ankara, said many Turks opposed gay marriage because Islam regards homosexuality as a sin. "I am not against gays, just gay marriage," he said. "I don't want to see two guys kissing or two men adopting a child. I'll never go to this Molly Blooms. What they do behind four walls is their business."

Dean Sirigos, 50, a Greek-American writer for The National Herald, a Greek newspaper in Queens, said that among the 450,000 Greek-Americans in the New York metropolitan region, the debate had created a culture clash. Even the younger people are struggling to reconcile secular values absorbed in America with the teachings of the Greek Or thodox Church, which opposes same-sex marriage.

In a recent poll on The National Herald's Web site, about 1,000 people responded to the quest ion "Do you approve of gay marriage?" Eighty-six percent said no. "Marriage is viewed as a sacrament of the church, not as a civi l right," Mr. Sirigos said.

Flushing, Queens, one of New York's most polyglot neighborhoods, has one of America's largest Asian communities. Dian Song Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said many Chinese-Americans did not suppor t gay mar r iage, especially those from mainland China, with its socially conservative Communist rulers.

"If someone were to open a gay club in Chinatown here, most people won't go," Mr. Yu said. "For the older generation, it would be viewed as horrible." The Reverend Joseph D. Jerome, the Haitian-American rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunnyside, said he supported gay couples' right to wed, but he was not ready to of f iciate at such marriages. "To pronounce someone ‘spouse and spouse' would be difficult for me," he said.

Sunnyside's gay ci ty counci lman, Jimmy Van Bramer, said he understood that some immigrants were uncomfortable with same-sex marriage, but he added that he had been embraced by many of them. The owner of Molly Blooms, Ciaran Staunton - a heterosexual married father and a Roman Cathol ic - said he was determined to be part of what he called "the last great civi l rights bat t le." He said most neighbors had welcomed the reception idea.

"There are always going to be some naysayers who don't like it," said Mr. Staunton, 48, who came from Ireland nearly 20 years ago. The pub was overflowing when the winners of the reception, Janice Velten, 59, a mail carrier in Queens, and her girlfriend of 24 years, Patrice Pfirman, 54, a civilian worker in the Police Department, were announced. Ms. Velten said 30 years ago, Sunnyside was largely Ir ish and Ital ian, Catholic and conservative, but since the raffle, people of all backgrounds congratulate her when she del ivers the mail.

Mr. Yang called the reception a cynical ploy. "It's a business thing, because a lot of gay people live here," he said. "I have no problem with my gay customers. But we are Korean. We are conservative. No one says ‘This gay marriage is a good thing.' What is this world coming to?"