A Personal Statement on Marriage Equality
Like many New Yorkers, I was extremely disappointed with the defeat of marriage equality legislation in the State Senate on November 25. I have supported this legislation (A. 7732) as an important step in treating New Yorkers fairly, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to marriage.
In one my first acts as a newly-elected member of the Assembly in 2003, I signed on as one of the ten original co-sponsors of first marriage equality bill ever introduced. Since then, the Assembly has passed and I have co-sponsored and voted for this legislation three times; the measure first passed in 2007 and then twice this year. In 2007, I hosted a forum on same-sex marriage with a panel that included the Senate sponsor of the bill, Tom Duane, and representatives from the Empire State Pride Agenda and Lambda Legal Defense. I also co-sponsored the law (Ch. 768 of 2005) that gave domestic partners the same rights as spouses in the disposition of a loved one’s remains.
As the United States Supreme Court has held, the freedom to marry is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free people,” This bill would finally allow the countless couples and families wishing to express this basic right the opportunity to share such an important bond. Although the New York State Domestic Relations Law contains no specific prohibition against — or allowance for — marriages between individuals of the same sex, the New York State Court of Appeals has held that New York law does not allow for same-sex marriages. The bar against same-sex marriages exists regardless of how long the individuals have lived together or whether they are raising children through legally recognized joint-custody arrangements.
This bill would remove the barriers in New York law that deprive individuals of the equal right to marry the person of their choice. For too long, the same-sex couples who want to be married have lacked basic legal protections taken for granted by married couples. In many areas, including property ownership, inheritance, health care, hospital visitation, taxation, insurance coverage, child custody and pension benefits, married couples receive important safeguards against the loss or injury of a spouse and assurances their marital privacy will be respected.
What’s next in the battle for marriage equality? I will work with the sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, Danny O’Donnell, to ensure that the Assembly passes marriage equality legislation again in 2010 to keep the issue moving forward. I will support State Senators who did the right thing and cast their votes in the affirmative even though a negative vote might have been easier for them. Finally, I will consider supporting challengers to incumbents who stand in the way of progress on this issue. The right to marry is a civil right that all deserve, and now is the time to stand up for the issues we believe in.
In the wake of last week’s defeat of marriage equality legislation in the Senate, I take small comfort in knowing that when my two-and-a-half year old daughter is a teenager, marriage equality will be the law of the land. I believe that she and her generation will grow up in a world where people are respected regardless of their sexual orientation. She will wonder why there was such an effort to stop this from moving forward, in the same way that my generation cannot comprehend how people tried through the law to prevent marriages between those of different races. Achieving marriage equality is not a question of “if” but of “when,” and we must work to ensure that the “when” is sooner rather than later.