The office of New York governor David Paterson has issued an order stating that gay marriages must be recognized by state agencies. Gay marriage is not legal (yet) in New York State. However, this order, which is in line with a recent state appellate court ruling, means that New York will recognize marriages performed in places where gay marriage is legal.
Some places where gay marriage is currently legal, like Massachusetts, have residency requirements that would prevent New York couples from getting married there. But this order combined with the recent legalization of gay marriage in California could mean a whole lot of bicoastal wedded bliss in the near future. Canada is an option too, but I really wanted to use the phrase 'bicoastal wedded bliss'.
State agencies, including those governing insurance and health care, must immediately change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay couples, according to a memo sent earlier this month from the governor's counsel.
Gay marriage is not legal in New York, and the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has said it can only be legalized by the Legislature. But the memo, based on a Feb. 1 New York Appellate Division court ruling, would recognize the marriages of New Yorkers who are legally wed elsewhere.
The appellate judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. The state Legislature "may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad," the ruling said. "Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York."
more California voters now support gay marriage than oppose it.]
Governor Paterson seems to fully support the legalization of gay marriage in New York, and he says that he considers the fight for gay rights to be an important part of the continuing tradition of civil rights activism in New York State.
The state Assembly approved a bill last June that would have legalized gay marriage. So with the Assembly's approval and the governor's strong support and willingness to sign the bill, what's the holdup? That would be the Republican-led state Senate, which has yet to even bring the bill up for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno opposes gay marriage, and has not yet announced whether he will challenge the governor's directive.
In a video shown Saturday at the Empire State Pride Agenda's spring dinner, the governor said he directed the move as "a strong step toward marriage equality right here in our state."
"We're aware that our advocacy is incomplete and we will keep trying until people who love each other and want to get married, regardless of who they are, have that opportunity," Paterson said in the video, which was posted on the gay rights organization's Web site.
A vote in the Senate is considered even less likely this year, a legislative election year in which the Republicans are hoping to cling to its majority by appealing in part to its more conservative base.So we could encourage the New Yorkers in the crowd to contact Bruno and the other Republican State Senators and ask them to change their minds, but it doesn't seem like that would do too much good at this point. (Although of course it doesn't hurt to keep speaking out about this issue.) Instead, we like the strategy put forth by the Empire State Pride Agenda. Since the Republicans are only "clinging" to their majority in the Senate, let's get out and vote and try to take enough seats to shift the balance of power and bring in some new leaders who are willing to give marriage equality a vote.
One of the nice things about this strategy is that it counteracts the popular (in some circles) argument that decisions like the one made in California are simply the result of a small group of "activist judges" subverting the will of the people. (We say that, "will of the people" or not, and that's debatable anyway, if gay marriage bans are unconstitutional then the courts are doing exactly what they're supposed to in striking them down, and it's up to the various state legislatures to take it from there. But that's just us.) In New York we seem to have it even worse - a conspiracy between the activist judges and an activist governor. Horrors! But it's pretty hard to make the "against the will of the people" argument fly when the people use their votes to hand power over to new leaders who are willing to make changes.
If you'd like to call, email, or write to Governor Paterson to tell him that you support his position on marriage equality, all of the contact info is on the state's website. Also, Empire State Pride Agenda has a legislative info center on their website, where you can look at key bills that affect the LGBT community, view legislators' voting records, and get contact info.
Marriage equality is definitely within reach in New York State, and we all need to do our part to make it happen. Because really, who wants to fly all the way across the country to attend a fabulous gay wedding? Get to work, people!