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Marriage Equality Act Signed Into New York State Law

Same-Sex Marriages To Become a Legal Reality On July 24

Landmark legislation to make same-sex marriage legal in New York State was signed into law on June 24, making New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

On June 15, the New York State Assembly voted in favor of the Marriage Equality Act, 80 to 63, and on June 24, the New York State Senate voted in favor of this bill, 33 to 29. Governor Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act into law on Friday evening, June 24 and this legislation will go into effect on Sunday, July 24.

According to a press release from Governor Cuomo’s office, the Marriage Equality Act amends New York’s Domestic Relations Law to state:

• A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.

• No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being the same sex or a different sex.

• No application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same or a different sex.

Governor Cuomo’s press office also said that the Marriage Equality Act was amended to include protections for religious organizations, in that no religious entity, benevolent organization or not-for-profit corporation that is operated, supervised or controlled by a religious entity, or their employees can be required to perform marriage ceremonies or provide their facilities for marriage ceremonies, consistent with their religious principles, and religious entities will not be subject to any legal action for refusing marriage ceremonies. Additionally, the governor’s press office stated that the Act was amended to include a clause that states that if any part is deemed invalid through the judicial process and after all appeals in the courts, the entire Act would be considered invalid.

In the past, the State Assembly had made several attempts to legalize same-sex marriage while the State Senate had refrained from action on this legislation, particularly because the majority of state senators were against same-sex marriage being signed into law. The first time legislation passed in the Assembly was June 19, 2007, but the New York State Senate never brought the bill to the floor for vote. Former Governor David Paterson introduced a new bill to state legislature in 2009, and the state Assembly again voted in favor at that time to legalize same-sex marriage. In December of that year, the state Senate voted against this bill, 38 to 24, with no Republican senator voting yes and eight Democrat senators voting no.

Although Republicans currently hold the majority in the state senate, the Marriage Equality Act passed due to additional Democrat state senators and four Republican state senators voting in favor of this act. The four Republican state senators who voted for the Marriage Equality Act were James Alesi, Mark Grisanti, Roy McDonald, and Stephen Saland. Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. was the only Democrat to vote against the measure. All state senators from Nassau County – Kemp Hannon, Jack Martins, Carl Marcellino, Dean Skelos, and Charles Fuschillo, Jr. – voted against this legislation.

Before the state senate voted on the Marriage Equality Act, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced that this measure was being brought to the floor after debating the issue for several weeks. He further explained that State Senate Republicans had insisted on making amendments to the governor’s original bill in order to protect the rights of religious institutions and not-for-profits with religious affiliations. After the State Senate vote, spokesman Mark Hanson told Anton Community Newspapers that the senator had made his position clear throughout the process and had no further comments now that the vote has gone through. “He has said all along that he was personally opposed to it and that it would be a vote of conscience on the part of each senator,” Hanson said.

Senator Jack Martins commented, “Over the past few months, I have met with numerous constituents regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. My office received thousands of emails, phone calls and letters on the issue. Many constituents expressed their thoughts on both sides of the issue. With such a divided consensus, I was not prepared to redefine marriage at this point in time. I have always been clear that I supported civil unions. However, that was not a part of the bill we were voting on.”

Senator Carl Marcellino said, “Bringing the bill up for a vote was the right thing to do. My position has always been that we must treat each other with respect and dignity. I honor the prespective of same-sex marriage supporters and hope they will respect mine. Civil unions would have guaranteed the same rights without redefining the institution of marriage. That being said, now that it is law, we need to come together, put the divisive rhetoric behind us and move forward.”

Several state assembly members from Nassau County voted in favor of the Marriage Equality Act, including Charles Lavine and Michelle Schimel. Supporting the measure on the floor of the Assembly before the vote, Lavine proclaimed, “Only second class states have second class citizens,” as he urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the measure. As a strong advocate for human rights, Assemblyman Lavine had joined with Governor Cuomo to urge the senate to bring it to the floor for a vote.

“The New York State Senate’s passage of marriage equality is truly a moving achievement and a great reaffirmation of New York as a first-class state to live and do business in,” said Lavine. “I applaud the persistence, patience, and diligence of those who fought long and hard for this extraordinary moment. With democracy prevailing, we have helped usher in a great leap towards providing equity for all New Yorkers, no matter what race, creed, and finally, orientation,” he added.

Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel said, “I am proud to live in New York where all people have equal rights under the law. I have been a sponsor of this legislation since it was first introduced four years ago in the New York State Assembly, which has passed this measure each year since. I applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo for his leadership, for he was the driving force on this issue.” Schimel also said that she is excited to be working with Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Town Clerk Leslie Gross to make the Town of North Hempstead a leading destination for marriages of equality outside of New York City. North Hempstead was the first Long Island town to implement a domestic partner registry.

Looking at this issue on the personal level, in the recent past, a large group of Long Islanders assembled at the Port Jefferson Ferry for a trip to Bridgeport, CT, where gay couples could be legally married. (According to a 2008 ruling, New York State began recognizing marriages that were legally granted in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, and Washington, D.C.) Several gay couples - along with about 70 family members and friends, including their pastor and church members - got together and made an event of the ferry trip. One lesbian couple involved had been together for 22 years. Gaitley Stevenson-Matthews, one of the grooms, who has been with his partner for nine years, said that now such an undertaking is happily unnecessary.

“Beginning July 24, when the marriage equality bill takes effect, those of us who are gay or lesbian can get married in our own church, among our family and friends and in the city we love. This is huge,” said Stevenson-Mathews. “With passage of New York’s Marriage Equality bill, our legal protections are strengthened and gay and lesbians who choose to get married in the future can stay in New York for the ceremony keeping their family, friends and money here at home. Sounds like a win, win, win to me.”

Another Long Islander on the ferry ride was Joan Salt. Salt is a board member of PFLAG-LI (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and has been actively lobbying New York State for marriage equality for a long time. Because of her efforts, she was even asked by Governor Cuomo’s office to march with him in the New York City Pride parade.

“My daughter is gay,” Salt said. “She has a girlfriend and they were not being considered equal to me. My husband and I celebrated our 20-year anniversary this year. We have been afforded every right and privilege that came with our marriage certificate from this state, yet my daughter would be denied the same rights. I was fighting because we shouldn’t have been putting a label on people that they were not equal to everyone else.”

To Salt the Marriage Equality Act goes along with the original vision of American democracy. She said, “This country is about everyone being equal. People call us a melting pot, but I think of us more like a tossed salad. Everyone has their differences but we’re all here together. So, really, what we’ve been fighting for is the right to be different.”