Gay Marriage Hits NY Senate Floor, Today

UPDATE: marriage bill passes NY Senate Rules Committee, which contains 21 of the body’s 62 members. Next stop, floor.

It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.

Senate Democrats, having pledged not to bring a gay marriage bill to the floor unless they had the votes (32), say they’re now ready. The bill is A40003, sponsored by Assemblyman O’Donnell and cosponsored by almost the entire Assembly. Updates as they come, but for a spot of sunshine in a predominantly dim political landscape, read the preambulatory clause of the bill:

Section 1. Legislative intent. Marriage is a fundamental human right. Same-sex couples and their children should have the same access as others to the protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations, and benefits of civil marriage. Stable family relationships help build a stronger society. For the welfare of the community and in fairness to all New Yorkers, this act formally recognizes otherwise-valid marriages without regard to whether the parties are of the same or different sex. It is the intent of the legislature that the marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples be treated equally in all respects under the law. The omission from this act of changes to other provisions of law shall not be construed as a legislative intent to preserve any legal distinction between same-sex couples and different-sex couples with respect to marriage. The legislature intends that all provisions of law which utilize gender-specific terms in reference to the parties to a marriage, or which in any other way may be inconsistent with this act, be construed in a gender-neutral manner or in any way necessary to effectuate the intent of this act.

Congratulations and a heartfelt thanks to the New York Assembly for carrying the banner for equality to this point. Now it’s up the Senate. The sponsor’s memo for the legislation follows, below the line:

The “freedom to marry” is, in the words of the United States Supreme Court, “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free people.

(1) In New York, however, certain couples who seek to exercise this freedom, and partake of its rights and responsibilities by mutual consent, may not do so solely because they are of the same sex. 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 removes the barriers in New York law that deprive individuals of the equal right to marry the person of their choice, by granting the same legal recognition to all civil marriages regardless of whether those who enter into them are of the same, or of a different, sex.

Partners unable to enter into a civil marriage – and their children – lack basic legal protections taken for granted by married couples. In such areas as property ownership, inheritance, health care, hospital visitation, taxation, insurance coverage, child custody, pension benefits and testimonial privileges, married couples receive important safeguards against the loss or injury of a spouse, and crucial assurances against legal intrusion into their marital privacy. As important, unions lacking the State’s recognition are denoted, by force of law, as somehow not equal to other comparable relationships. Civil marriage is the means by which the State defines a couple’s place in society. Those who are excluded from its rubric are told by the institutions of the State, in essence, that their solemn commitment to one another has no legal weight.

Just as the right to marry confers important benefits on individuals, the institution of marriage produces incalculable benefits for society, by fostering stable familial relationships. Same-sex couples who wish to marry are not simply looking to obtain additional rights, they are seeking out substantial responsibilities as well: to undertake significant and binding obligations to one another, and to lives of “shared intimacy and mutual financial and emotional support.

(2) Granting legal recognition to these relationships can only strengthen New York’s families, by extending the ability to participate in this crucial social institution to all New Yorkers.

The history of this country for more than two centuries has been the story of once excluded individuals and groups gaining gradual access to equal rights under law. New York State, in particular, has played a proud and honorable part in that history, from hosting the foundational women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, to breaking baseball’s color barrier, to witnessing the seminal event of the modern gay rights movement in New York City four decades ago. New York legislators and other political leaders, of both parties and of all viewpoints, have had an important role in this process, and in the gradual extension of equal treatment to gays and lesbians in particular. In 1983, Governor Mario Cuomo first banned discrimination in state employment by Executive Order. In 2002, Governor Pataki extended the same principle to the private sector by signing into law the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. That year, the State gave its first legal recognition to same-sex relationships when the Legislature unanimously passed – and the Governor signed – a bill extending workers’ compensation benefits to all those who lost a partner on 9/11. Yet the institution of marriage remains closed to loving same-sex couples who seek only to be able to show their mutual commitment as other individuals do. Passage of this bill would remedy that flaw, and represent yet another important and historic step in the process by which all citizens of New York State are granted full and equal rights.

Individuals on both sides of the questions raised by this bill hold deep-seated views that arise from a host of ethical and religious considerations. To ensure that the bill does not improperly intrude into matters of conscience or religious belief, the bill affirms that no member of the clergy can be compelled to solemnize any marriage. In short, this bill grants equal access to the government-created legal institution of civil marriage, while leaving the religious institution of marriage to its own separate, and fully autonomous, sphere.

Yes, the “conscience” clause is silly, and useless.

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One comment

  1. Marco Satyro · ·

    I’m gay and proud! I became an open gay 3 years ago, and have never felt so free! There is no shame in being gay. I currently run the gay & lesbian club at the university of Calgary. You can contact me at: msatyro@ucalgary.ca

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