The New York State senate dealt a huge blow to marriage equality on Dec 2, 2009 when it voted down a gay marriage bill which had already been passed in the Assembly.
Marriage equality was defeated 38-24. The majority vote was bi-partisan with all thirty Republicans and eight Democrats voting no. The outlook was dubious leading up to the vote. “There is never a good time for civil rights,” said Senator Tom Duane (D – Manhattan), the sponsor of the bill and an openly gay man, “But the paradox is it’s always a good time to be on the right side of history.”
New York State has on of the largest LGBT populations in the country and is considered by most to be a bastion of plurality and tolerance. It is embarrassing that this bill - which would have changed the legal definition of marriage to accommodate same sex couples, did not pass.
“History has time and time again proven” said Senator Jose Serrano (D-Bronx), “that extending civil rights further make our nation more complete,” Albany has denied countless New Yorkers their civil rights.
Senator Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) compared the legislation to when interracial marriage was legalized and rightfully stated that he was not considering any religious dogma when it came time to vote. “When I walk through these doors,” he said on the senate floor, “my Bible stays out."
Religious groups have been at the forefront of the fight against marriage equality, both in the courts and in ballot referenda. The Mormons financed a large portion of the anti-marriage Proposition 8 in California. The religious right was mobilized in Maine when it too struck down a gay marriage bill.
In Albany, just as elsewhere, churches themselves – not just their advocacy groups, were actively lobbying against the bill. The IRS would do well to look into whether this violates their tax exempt statuses.
One of the leaders against the bill in the Senate was Ruben Diaz Sr. (D - Bronx), a Pentecostal Minister. “Not only the evangelicals, not only the Jews, not only the Muslims, not only the Catholics, but also the people oppose it,” he said in his hateful speech.
Senator Adams countered the sentiment perfectly when he said: “because the numerical majority is one place doesn’t mean they’re in the right place.”
Cathy Marino-Thomas, president of Marriage Equality New York, put it best when she said about Sen. Diaz that: “If he wants to be a reverend, then let him go back to the church. If you want to be a senator, then you stand up for the rights and laws of this country!"
At the moment, New York does not even offer civil unions to same sex couples. This means that the thousands of gay couples in New York State have no tax or health benefits which a straight couple enjoys. In this state, according to Marriage Equality NY (http://www.meny.us) “Gay and lesbian partners are treated as legal strangers, often having to fight through the court to see their partner in the hospital.”
It is due time that all people are guaranteed their civil rights, regardless of their sexual orientations. Its due time that, as our nation’s constitution dictates – we keep Church and State at a healthy distance. It’s about time that we take that step forward and finally acknowledge full civil rights for all.
This fight is far from over.