Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today submitted a program bill to bring marriage equality to New York state. The Marriage Equality Act permits all couples to enter into marriage in New York state, thereby removing the current barrier same-sex couples face in recognizing their relationships, protecting their families and obtaining essential benefits.
Specifically, the Act grants same-sex couples who seek to marry equal status under the law as well as hundreds of rights, benefits and protections that are currently limited to married couples of the opposite sex.
"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," Governor Cuomo said. "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."
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the freedom to marry is "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free people." Further, the state assigns hundreds of protections, benefits and mutual responsibilities in a variety of areas to couples who marry, including health care and hospital visitation rights, child custody issues and financial matters.
However, in New York, many individuals who currently seek to exercise the freedom to marry their partners may not do so solely because they are of the same sex.
The Marriage Equality Act would remove these barriers by amending New York's Domestic Relations Law to state:
- 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 shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being the same sex or a different sex
- All relevant gender-specific language set forth in or referenced by New York law shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner
- No application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same or a different sex
To ensure that the bill does not intrude into matters of religious belief, the Marriage Equality Act affirms that no member of the clergy can be compelled to solemnize any marriage. This bill grants equal access to the government-created legal institution of civil marriage while leaving the religious institution of marriage to its own separate and fully autonomous sphere. The bill also guarantees that religious institutions and benevolent organizations such as the Knights of Columbus remain free to choose who may use their facilities for marriage ceremonies and celebrations or to whom they provide religious services, consistent with their religious principles.
New York has always been at the forefront in advancing equal rights. In 1983, New York banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment. In 2002, the state extended the same principle to the private sector by enacting the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. That same year, the state recognized same-sex relationships by extending workers' compensation benefits to all those who lost a partner on 9/11. Passage of the Marriage Equality Act represents yet another significant step in granting full and equal rights to all citizens of New York state.