New York to introduce same-sex marriage bill
After Iowa and Vermont legalized gay marriage, and with bills also pending in Maine and New Hampshire, are gay rights gaining momentum?
(Page 2 of 2)
Gay-marriage advocates point to the court rulings in their favor and say they are in keeping with the judiciary's historical role as the protector of minority rights that a popular vote might disallow.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Initially, gay marriage was clearly in the domain of the courts because there really was no hope that legislatures or executives would act in the area," says Kenneth Sherrill, a political scientist and gay rights advocate at Hunter College in New York. One impact of the court rulings in Connecticut and Iowa, he says, "is that legislators came to realize this is a serious issue involving real rights. It wasn't a frivolous demand by a fringe group."
Opponents of same-sex marriage bristle at framing the issue in terms of civil rights. Civil unions, same-sex registries, and an array of other legal options are available to ensure that gay and lesbian couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples, they say.
"The issue isn't access to the benefits or rights or status. The issue is the word marriage, and the redefining of the word, and the whole institution of marriage," says Carrie Gordon Earll, spokesperson for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Ms. Earll says gays and lesbians do not constitute a disadvantaged minority in the traditional sense of the word because of their generally good economic status. "They're trying to equate themselves with a disadvantaged minority, and, clearly, if you look at the demographics of the homosexual community, it's not a disadvantaged community," she says.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), who joined Paterson Thursday in supporting the marriage equality bill, disputed that. The city already has taken steps to support same-sex couples, such as allowing them the right to list both of their names on a child's birth certificate, ensuring that they have pension benefits, and legally recognizing same-sex marriages and civil unions performed in other states, he noted.
"Despite the progress that we've made, we all recognize that gay and lesbian couples are still denied many civil protections and benefits that married couples enjoy," the mayor says. "That's why marriage equality is so important."
Changing public opinion?
Though opponents have used the legislative process to fight gay marriage, they now argue that the decision on legalization is better left to a simple majority vote or ballot initiative.
"That is something that absolutely the people should have a vote on," says Ms. Earll. "It should not be decided by unelected judges or perhaps even out-of-touch elected legislatures."
While bills permitting same-sex marriage are pending in just a handful of states, more than 10 states are also considering proposals that would extend marriage-type benefits to gay and lesbian couples. Washington State has just approved a bill that grants same-sex couples all the rights of marriage, without calling it that.
Gay rights advocates say these developments indicate a shift in favor of same-sex marriage. Legislative experts, however, say it's not yet clear whether measures that would expand rights of gay couples will lead to more states legalizing same-sex marriage.
The question, says Christine Nelson of the National Conference of State Legislatures, is whether such legislation will "chip away and provide little pieces of benefits that ultimately could add up to something more significant."