Twenty-five years ago New York City finally passed its LGBT rights law—after 15 years of intensive lobbying, public hearings, and unsuccessful votes—and now New Yorkers may be close to marking another major milestone in pro-LGBT law, because, on the afternoon, of June 14, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo submitted a program bill, the Marriage Equality Act, to the State Assembly and Senate, which would amend the Domestic Relations Law and bring the Empire State into line, at long last, with New England states, Iowa, and the District of Columbia, in which same-sex marriage is legal.
Legislative bill 12066-04-01 would give same-sex couples equal access to civil marriage, without, however, compelling clergy and religious institutions to solemnize unions that they do not recognize.
Governor Cuomo said, “From the fight for women’s suffrage to the struggle for civil rights, New Yorkers have been on the right side of history. But on the issue of marriage equality, our state has fallen behind. For too long, same-sex couples have been denied the freedom to marry, as well as hundreds of rights that other New Yorkers take for granted. Marriage Equality is a matter of fairness and legal security for thousands of families in this state—not of religion or culture. When it comes to fighting for what’s right, New Yorkers wrote the book, and Marriage Equality is the next chapter of our civil rights story.”
Cuomo’s bill proposes amending the State Domestic Relations Law as follows:
“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, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being or having been of the same sex rather than a different sex. When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner in all such sources of law.”
“No application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same, or a different, sex.”
The religious exemption states “that no clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader shall be required to solemnize any marriage when acting in his or her capacity under this subdivision” and that “refusal by a clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader to solemnize any marriage under this subdivision shall not create a civil claim or cause of action.”
Only a week remains, at this writing, of the current legislative session. The act would take effect 30 days after it becomes law. The complete text of the Marriage Equality Act is available at http://governor.ny.gov/assets/marriageequalitybill.pdf.