New York same-sex marriage law takes giant step for civil rights

New York took a jump into the 21st century as Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill June 24 legalizing same-sex marriage.

Tens of thousands of people - gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight - poured into Lower Manhattan yesterday, bringing more excitement and joy than usual to the annual Pride Parade and celebrating this huge step forward for civil rights.

And that's what this was: Not a gay issue, not a Republican-Democratic issue and not a simple "social issue": It was a question of fundamental civil rights. The new law allows a minority section of the American population the same rights as the majority.

The people yesterday in New York weren't celebrating some sterile political ruling; they were rejoicing at their right, or their friends' or fellow New Yorkers' right, to marry the person they love, whether they are of the same or opposite sex.

Still, politics does matter. While a few Republicans crossed over and voted for the bill, and one Democratic state senator tried to deny New Yorkers their human rights, it's clear that, had New York not gone from Republican to Democratic leadership over the past few years, thousands of people would still be without the fundamental right to build a life with whomever they want.

There was compromise in the bill, and some say it may set a standard going forward. To neutralize opposition from the Catholic Church and some other religious groups, the bill's sponsors added a provision allowing churches and similar entities to decline to perform same-sex marriages. This gave wavering politicians cover to vote for the bill.

No matter what the compromises made, it's clear that the bill would not have passed wihtout the active, popular pressure put on legislators. Thousands of people from around the state called their lawmakers to demand that they do the right thing. Unlike in California, where voters came out against gay marriage, the movement in New York was organized enough to win.

But while this is a tremendous victory, no one could honestly say that LGBT rights are won. There have been big steps forward in recent years. New York was preceded by Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex marriage, as well as Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and even Iowa. And, finally, the military's discriminatory "Don't ask; don't tell" policy was ended. Still, LGBT people can't get married in most of America and the federal government won't recognize these state marriages. On top of that, LGBT people still face violence from fanatical homophobes.

There's a long way to go in this fight, and a lot of work to do. Most importantly, the Republicans have to be defeated in 2012 - can anyone imagine what would happen to LGBT rights in a nation led by tea party extremists? And we need to build unity for fundamental civil rights: Every working person in America will benefit by guaranteeing civil rights and freedoms to all.

In New York, much of the labor movement understood that the fight for LGBT rights is their own. That's why SEIU took a stand and helped to organize for them, as did the labor-backed Working Families Party and other groups.

This is the way forward.

Oh, and congratulations to all the soon-to-be newlyweds.

 

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