New York Gov. Calls for Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday February 10, 2011

Newly elected New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been an advocate for marriage equality for gay and lesbian families from the start. Now Cuomo has issued a call to get the job done on his watch, the New York Times reported on Feb. 9.

Cuomo's predecessor, David Paterson, pressed hard for marriage, finally seeing legislation that the state Assembly had approved numerous times come to a vote in the state Senate during a special session near the end of 2009. The Senate killed the measure with a vote of 38-24, prompting marriage equality organizations to create ads encouraging voters to "get even" with state senators who had previously pledged their support, only to stand against family parity when faced with a vote.

Cuomo defeated Tea Party-endorsed Republican opponent Carl Paladino, who had offended GLBTs with an address in which he referred to gays as embracing a "lifestyle" that he said was not "an equally valid and successful option," in last November's midterm elections. Cuomo's victory was met with immediate speculation that the issue of family parity would soon come before the state's lawmakers once more, because his campaign had included vocal support for family parity.

The New York Times noted that the December, 2009, defeat of marriage equality came at the hands of a Democratically dominated state Senate. The current state Senate is controlled by Republicans, raising questions as to whether a push to provide legal marriage for same-sex couples in New York is realistic at this time.

But family parity advocates are optimistic, citing increasing public acceptance of sexual minorities and support for their right to legally recognized families.

"This is legislation whose time has come," the head of Empire State Pride Agenda, Ross D. Levi, told the New York Times.

The state senate's Republican leadership said that economic priorities would have to come first.

"At this point, we're focused on the budget, we're focused on passing a property-tax cap, dealing with the economic issues facing New York," said a spokesperson for Dean G. Skelos, the Senate Majority Leader.

Marriage equality is under consideration in Maryland and in Rhode Island. A House committee in Rhode Island heard public testimony on the issue on Feb. 9. Under former Republican Gov. Don Carcieri, similar bills in the past suffered defeat by state lawmakers, but newly elected Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee is a supporter of marriage equality. The bill's sponsor is openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox.

Maryland's state Senate also heard testimony on a marriage equality bill. Proponents and foes of family parity alike spoke to a committee into the evening on Feb. 8. As in Rhode Island, Maryland lawmakers have considered such legislation before, though to no avail. The bill currently before the Senate committee is co-sponsored by openly gay Sen. Rich Madaleno.

Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage, which was a key player in the bitterly divisive campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California, also spoke against the measure, with the group's former president (now Board Chair) Maggie Gallagher telling the committee, "The reason that marriage is a virtually universal human social institution that reoccurs again and again in different cultures, and different religious backgrounds, is that humanity recognizes that we need a special institution to bring together a male and female to make and raise the next generation." Gallagher went on to claim, "To get to gay marriage requires that we repudiate this as a public purpose of marriage."

If marriage equality is granted to same-sex couples in Maryland, Gallagher told the Associated Press, she anticipates that a voter referendum will kill the new law, as happened in Maine in 2009, when voters repealed a family parity measure before it could take effect.

The prospects for marriage equality's passage in the state are good. A bill similar to that being considered by the Maryland Senate is already before the House. "We know it's going to be a contentious issue in the Senate," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "If a bill passes in the Senate, we're going to have to take it up in that form. If it doesn't, that ends the debate."

But Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller--who does not support marriage equality himself--predicted that the measure would clear the chamber. Miller also pointed to recent gains made by GLBT Americans, including greater acceptance overall and a Congressional vote late last year to rescind the ban on openly gay and lesbian patriots serving in the Armed Forces. "This is a national trend, this is not a state of Maryland trend," said Miller, who also reckoned that the question is "a generational issue." Younger voters tend to favor GLBT legal and social equality.

Five states currently permit gays and lesbians to marry. So does the District of Columbia. A few states, including New York, honor marriages granted to same-sex families elsewhere, though they do not provide marriage equality themselves. Six states extend an array of rights and protections to same-sex families in the form of civil unions or similar legally recognized relationships.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.