New York, New York, it’s a wonderful state

I was delighted and heartened by New York's state government deciding last night to recognize same-sex marriage.

The Assembly passed a revised version of the bill (with amendments reinforcing religious exemptions) in the evening, and then the Senate voted yes, 33 to 29, and then just before midnight, Governor Cuomo signed it into law. It takes effect in 30 days, assuming no successful legal challenges between now and then.

It's a huge deal. NY's population is bigger than the combined populations of all five of the other US states (plus Washington, DC) that have marriage equality, so the number of people who currently have access to legal same-sex marriage in their states (or district) of residence in this country has more than doubled overnight.

(I've seen those numbers bandied about, but figured I should check them before posting. According to Wikipedia's latest census figures: NY: 19.4M. CT: 3.5M; DC: 0.6M; IA: 3M; MA: 6.5M; NH: 1.3M; VT: 0.6M; total of all but NY: 15.5M. Total US population from 2010 census: 308.7M. Percent of US population living in places that recognize same-sex marriage, counting NY: 11%.)

(Side note: there's also the Coquille Tribe, which Wikipedia says has 576 members. But they're a sovereign nation, so I'm not counting them as part of the US.)

It's also a big deal for other reasons. Though I think Sullivan (in that linked-to piece) goes a little overboard on his praise of the religious-protections thing; religions were already protected, and I see the exemptions as a compromise rather than an integral part of marriage equality. And I also think Sullivan doesn't distribute the credit widely enough.

So I wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen.

There's an article at the NY Times today titled “Behind N.Y. Gay Marriage, an Unlikely Mix of Forces.” (Earlier today it was titled “The Road to Gay Marriage in New York,” but I guess they changed the title.) Good stuff; it makes clear that Gov. Cuomo was hugely influential, as were the prominent rich Republican donors who supported the effort. On the other hand, like Sullivan's piece, this article fails to acknowledge the groundwork. The Times article seems to suggest that before Cuomo came along, marriage equality in NY was just a bunch of squabbling groups that would never have gotten anything to happen. Whereas on the contrary, I think that we would never have gotten to the point where Cuomo could make a difference without decades of groundwork by activists, fundraisers, organizers, volunteers, cultural pioneers, and others (including people just going about their lives and thereby helping to demystify and de-Other queer folks); see a brief history of gay rights in NY for a few of the milestones along the road, dating back to the 1920s.

Then, too, we shouldn't forget the state Assembly, which has passed marriage equality bills four times since 2007. Without them, the Senate vote would've been useless. The Assembly has been leading the way in the legislature for four years; they deserve praise and thanks.

Also deserving of praise and thanks, of course, are the senators who supported marriage equality last time around in 2009, which is to say most (but not nearly all) of the Democrats in the Senate. Especially openly gay senator Tom Duane, who introduced the bills in 2009 and (I think) this year.

But I intend no disparagement of the contributions of those who've changed their votes since last time (or since an earlier public statement). That includes several Democratic senators, whom I applaud even as I frown at their No votes two years ago. It also includes four Republican senators, whose email addresses I'm including here in case you want to thank them directly:

  • Senator James Alesi, the first Republican in the NY state Senate to publicly say he was voting Yes. He recently said, “[W]hen I told [my friends and supporters that] I am committed to giving people that live in America what every American wants, they told me I was no longer their friend. [...] I think I have some new friends.”
  • Senator Roy McDonald, the second (and last) Republican to publicly support marriage equality before it came up for the vote, and who famously remarked: “Well, fuck it, I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing.”
  • Senator Stephen Saland, whose statement on the Senate floor last night made clear that he had struggled a great deal with this decision, but who concluded: “I must define doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality in the definition of law as it pertains to marriage.”
  • Senator Mark Grisanti, who went from publicly No to publicly undecided to an excellent statement on the Senate floor: “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage. [...] I believe you can be wiser today than yesterday when you do the work.”

I suppose we even owe a certain degree of thanks to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who could have prevented the bill from coming to a floor vote, but who decided to allow the vote even though he opposed the bill, and even though he knew it was likely to pass.

In short, this change is the result of a huge amount of work, time, energy, and money from an enormous number of people over the course of decades. Gov. Cuomo and his staff and allies have done a wonderful job closing the deal; but I think it's important to remember that this kind of effort is never the work of just one person.

. . . On a side note, I wanted to mention that I'm pleased to see this done in the legislature. I personally consider court decisions to be a completely valid way of upholding people's rights; but I think that court decisions on this sort of topic often foster a certain extra degree of resentment over “activist judges” “forcing” change on us. So whenever feasible, I'm glad to see legislatures and governors making these decisions instead of courts.

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