Approve gay marriage
But there is a gift that members of the New York Senate could bestow upon many of their fellow citizens, one that has the rare political benefit of not costing their taxpayers, their interest groups — even their long-suffering constituents — a single thing.
The Senate should approve the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. The Assembly already has passed it. Gov. David A. Paterson is primed to sign it. Justice demands it. And no single person in the state of New York will, despite what many fervently believe, be any the worse for it.
When the state performs any function of civil authority, it must do so in a way that plays no favorites. Clearly, for the state to officially recognize an opposite-sex marriage between two consenting adults while refusing that same recognition to two same-sex partners is an act of discrimination that serves no legitimate state purpose.
The government's proper role in marriage is to register and, if necessary, enforce the contract entered into by two self-aware adults. If the couple lives happily ever after, the state's role is limited to that of dutiful file clerk. If not, the state may be required to step in to settle disputes involving property, support and custody of minor children.
The role of the state in settling such problems, though far from perfect in practice, does help non-working spouses or dependent children survive a dissolution, financially if not emotionally. Sexuality has no bearing on that function.
Opponents of same-sex marriage make much of the fact that, when the question was put to voters in liberal California and libertarian Maine, both states rejected it. But those votes, driven in no small part by scare tactics, are not good examples for an elected Legislature to follow.
In California, opponents falsely argued that churches would be forced to give their support to same-sex marriage if the state did. In Maine, the largely out-of-state campaign focused on the shibboleth, futilely refuted by the state's attorney general, that schools would be forced to "teach" same-sex marriage if such a thing existed in the Pine Tree State.
A state law recognizing gay marriage would govern only the actions of the state. No church would be required to sanctify a union it objected to. No school would be forced to sing its praises by that law.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in several nations, including Canada and the United Kingdom, and in five U.S. states, from New England to Iowa. Harm to opposite-sex couples, their children and their households, there or anywhere: Non-existent.
A gift that costs the giver nothing. Sounds tailor-made for New York politics.