Friday, September 19, 2008

New York's Recognition Of Other States' Gay Marriages: A Positive Step Toward Full Equality

I was heartened back in May when New York Governor David A. Paterson directed state agencies to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. The governor called it "a strong step toward marriage equality."

The move was opposed by some lawmakers and other opponents, including the Alliance Defense Fund, whose legal counsel, Brian Raum, said, “It’s a perfect example of a governor overstepping his authority and sidestepping the democratic process. It’s an issue of public policy that should be decided by the voters.”

Should it really? The sign to the left asks an excellent question: "Did we vote on your marriage?" Indeed, what right do voters have to decide whether gay people are entitled to marry and enjoy the personal commitment and legal advantages that come with marriage? This is instead a question of equal protection under the law. As long as gays are denied the right to marry in just one state, they are legally disenfranchised.

I was therefore further pleased to learn that Justice Lucy A. Billings of State Supreme Court in the Bronx rejected a lawsuit against the governor's ruling brought by the Alliance Defense Fund and its allies. The judge ruled that the order followed state laws on recognizing marriages from other jurisdictions. She wisely wrote, "...when partners manifest the commitment to their relationship and family, by solemnizing that commitment elsewhere, through one of life’s most significant events, and come to New York, whether returning home or setting down roots, to carry on that commitment, nothing is more antithetical to family stability than requiring them to abandon that solemnized commitment.”

In an editorial appropriately entitled "Family Values" (9/15/08), The New York Times points out, "While opponents of gay marriage charged that the governor was usurping the Legislature’s role, Mr. Paterson was prudently exercising his authority and protecting the state from litigation by gay couples married in places like Canada, Massachusetts or California.

"For more than a century, New York has recognized marriage contracts from other states, even if those couples could not legally marry here. Unlike many other states, New York has not enshrined bigotry by prohibiting the state from recognizing same-sex marriages."

The editorial closes with a call for equality and justice: "New York’s Democratic-controlled Assembly has passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry here. New York’s Senate, which has long been under Republican control, must also do the right thing."

Since Governor Patterson issued his directive, I've thought about the warnings of gay marriage opponents that exclusive heterosexual marriage is one of the pillars of Western civilization. I've therefore been checking whether the sky is falling.

It hasn't been.

I'm happy to report that, as far as I know, the sky is also intact in Canada, Massachusetts, California and Spain. In their recognition of gay marriage, these places are true outposts of civilization.

In addition to the "pillar of Western civilization" argument, I also don't buy the "defending marriage" argument. Personally, I don't see how my marriage is threatened if two men or two women down the block get married. By that argument, the existence of my marriage must also threaten theirs. Not that I can see how. Everyone would be better off if they "defended" their own marriage by keeping it healthy from within and stopped worrying about the sexual orientation of other couples.

Justice Billings is right when she equates gay marriage as a source of family stability. Part of that must be the recognition that there are plenty of children waiting to be adopted who need a stable home regardless of whether the adopting parents are straight or gay.

So kudos to Governor Patterson for his recent decision. Bringing the New York Senate under Democratic control will go a long way toward the worthy, ultimate goal of full marriage equality for gay couples in the state.

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