New York needs same-sex marriage — now

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Publication: Long Island Herald
Publication Date: May 26th, 2011

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In March 2010, Washington, D.C., joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in allowing same-sex marriages. Imagine that: Gay and lesbian couples can wed in our nation’s capital, but not in New York, a state long known for its progressive politics. That’s shameful.

It is wrong — just plain wrong — to deny gay and lesbian couples the dignity and respect that comes with a legally sanctioned marriage, and all of the marriage rights accorded to straight couples, such as insurance and death benefits. By denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, the state is treating them like second-class citizens. New York is better than that.

In December 2009, the State Senate voted to reject a bill that would have permitted same-sex marriage. The vote was 38 to 24 against the measure, despite the fact that then Gov. David Paterson had signaled his support for the bill and the Assembly had passed a companion measure. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had supported the measure as well, and continues to support a same-sex marriage law.

Republican senators — especially Long Island Republicans — were among the most vocal opponents of the bill in 2009. At the time, they said New Yorkers were worried about how same-sex marriage might affect the state’s fragile economy.

We believe that was nonsense. If our elected officials are worried about the economic effects of same-sex marriage, they should consider that it would likely bolster the economy, as hundreds, and potentially thousands, of gay and lesbian couples would rent limousines and catering halls to publicly celebrate their unions.

Opponents argue that marriage equality poses a threat to “traditional marriage” and would force religious institutions to recognize such unions against their teachings. Neither argument has merit.

The Senate bill affects only civil marriage; no church, synagogue or mosque would be forced to recognize — let alone perform — same-sex marriages, although many already do. As for the threat to the institution of marriage, eight years of experience in Massachusetts and elsewhere fails to show any evidence that traditional families have suffered.

According to a recent Siena poll, 58 percent of New York’s registered voters support gay marriage, while only 36 percent oppose it. Even those demographic groups least likely to back gay marriage — Republicans and those over age 55 — are about evenly split on the issue, according to the poll.

Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, recently told National Public Radio, “At the end of the day, when the people of New York are on your side — as they are so solidly here — the elected official is doing the right thing and the politically smart thing by standing up for an issue like this — marriage equality.”

“A super-majority of New Yorkers support the freedom to marry and look to Albany to get the job done now,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “From Canada to Connecticut, this state’s neighbors have ended the exclusion of committed couples from marriage, and families are helped and no one is hurt. It’s time for New York’s lawmakers to pass the marriage bill that New Yorkers want and families need.”

On a national level, the Obama administration recently overturned the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military so long as they didn’t reveal their sexual orientation. The president also directed the Justice Department to stop defending Defense of Marriage Act cases. President Clinton signed that law, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, in 1996.

Throughout the country, we’re seeing slow, steady progress in according gays and lesbians the rights they deserve as productive, law-abiding members of society. Now, not later, is the time for New York to recognize their full rights as citizens and grant them the right to marry.