Reflections on the NYS Senate Vote on Marriage Equality

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This afternoon, with little advanced notice, the New York State Senate held debate and then voted on a bill that would have amended the state’s marriage law to allow same sex couples to marry.   So short was the notice on the introduction of the bill that Sen. Tom Duane, the bill’s chief proponent, lamented how he was unable to have his partner join him in the chamber for the momentous vote.

The ad hoc-ness of the vote, unaccompanied by a well-orchestrated lobbying or media campaign, is typical for the New York State legislature which never ceases to out-do itself with its intransparency and dysfunction.

But vote on the bill they did.   Watch the reading of the votes here:

The bill did not pass.   It garnered 24 votes in favor, 38 against passage.

“With just eight senators standing in the way of marriage equality becoming New York’s law, we can see that equality is within sight, even if it is not here yet,” said Suzanne Goldberg, Director of Columbia’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law.   “At the same time, today’s vote injures not only lesbian and gay couples but also the many New Yorkers who want their home state to embrace justice for all, not selective rights for some.”

Katherine Franke, the Center’s other Director, noted: “While the Senate vote fell short of passage of the marriage equality bill, it was by no means a loss for this important civil rights cause.   It is unusual for paradigm-shifting civil rights legislation to pass the first time it is introduced, and that fact that it has the robust support of the Governor, has already passed the Assembly three times, and came before the full Senate, receiving 24 votes in favor, is itself a sign that marriage rights for same sex couples have come of age.     So too, it is worth noting how many Senators went out of their way to explain their “yes” vote as connected to other important civil rights struggles for African Americans and other racial minorities.”

One of the most moving moments during the debate was when Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson stood up to speak of her gay brother:”He had disappeared from our lives. And my father worried, but he could not ask him to come home,”she said, fighting back tears. Ms. Hassell-Thompson said she searched for her brother and eventually found him and asked him to come home. But he told her he was hesitant because he felt his family did not want to see him.”I said, ‘But your sister does.’  ”

Senator Duane later came to embrace her – both of them in tears.


Katherine Franke, cross posted from Gender & Sexuality Law Blog

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