Friday, June 20, 2008
In this month’s edition of The Capitol, Alan Van Capelle penned a timely op-ed about the current political climate and the need to fully legalize marriage for same-sex couples in New York State. He urges the State Senate to take a cue from what the Assembly and Gov. Paterson have already done and extend the 1,324 rights and responsibilities of marriage to all New Yorkers:
Now, Time to Fully Legalize Gay Marriage
by Alan Van Capelle
Almost two years after the Court of Appeals stated that marriage equality was “the Legislature’s problem,” it’s now boiled down to just being a problem with the State Senate.
Much has changed in the last two years on this issue, not only here in New York but across the country. Licenses are about to start flowing in California to same-sex couples, neighboring states like New Jersey seem poised to legalize marriage for same-sex couples as early as next year and public opinion continues to shift in our direction on whether same-sex couples should have equal access to marriage and the protections and securities it provides to families.
New York is like a number of states in the northeast in that a majority of voters favor marriage for same-sex couples (53 percent in favor to just 38 percent against, according to our polling). We also have a governor, an attorney general and a comptroller who support marriage for our families and an Assembly that has approved in a bi-partisan fashion legislation making it so.
Other powerful forces in the state have also been moving to affirm their support for same-sex marriage. Labor unions representing over a million working men and woman across the state have passed resolutions supporting marriage equality for their members. Hundreds of clergy and laypeople from mainstream Christian and Jewish congregations have also stepped forward to state their support for marriage for all New Yorkers.
Even with all this forward movement, the State Senate continues to be mired in the past when it comes to this important human rights issue, and the result is that tens of thousands of New York families are prevented from having access to the literally 1,324 rights and responsibilities New York provides to committed couples when they marry.
Despite the Senate’s intransigence, however, it has not been successful in totally walling off our families from marriage or muting our desire to obtain the security and legal protection marriage provides so we can protect the ones we love.
In 2004, then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) issued a legal opinion saying that New York’s marriage recognition, or comity, law has always treated out-of-state marriages as legal in New York, even if those marriages cannot take place here. So when hundreds of couples went to Canada to get married, government on a variety of levels as well as businesses and labor unions followed the law of New York and said, “Yes, you’re married.”
In the instance of Monroe County, which refused to follow the law, a couple with a Canadian marriage license took the county to court, resulting in an appellate court decision unanimously confirming that New York’s marriage recognition law applies equally to same-sex couples. To avoid the lengthy, costly and ultimately wasteful litigation that now looms on the horizon as more and more couples go out of state to get married (or out-of-state couples move to New York) and ask that their marriages be respected, Governor Paterson’s legal counsel advised him to get ahead of the issue by making sure all state agencies begin treating these marriages the same way they treat any other marriage.
So the governor did. He had an advisory memo sent to state agencies asking them to do what the Department of Civil Service did last year and implement the state’s already existing policy of respecting out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.
While it is still unclear how many of the state’s 1,324 marriage rights and responsibilities are wholly under the jurisdiction of executive branch state agencies, as opposed to other arms of state government which may or may not be bound by anything the governor does, we do know what Governor Paterson has done is a big step forward for our families.
Ultimately the only way our families will have all the protections the state provides through marriage is for us to be able to get married right here in New York. But so far, the State Senate has chosen to turn on us and the tens of thousands of children that many same-sex couples are raising.
Clearly the Senate is out of step on this issue and becoming more so with every passing day.
Marriage equality is no longer a question of “if” in New York, it’s only a question of “when.” Whether the current leadership in the Senate chooses to acknowledge the inevitable and do something about it is up to them.