Governor Cuomo: "I believe the Senate is going to pass these two bills. That's good. And that's a nice thing. But it's also irrelevant, unless the Assembly passes the bill. And there is no such thing as a celebration of one house passing a bill. Because one house passing a bill means nothing. It takes two to tango. It takes two to pass a bill. So I hope the Senate passes the bill, but we need the Assembly to pass the bill."
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, alongside Bravo TV producer and host Andy Cohen, Risa Levine of RESOLVE and Hank Greenberg of the NYS Bar Association pushed the State Legislature to pass legislation to legalize gestational surrogacy and ban the gay and trans panic defense before the end of session.
AUDIO of today's event is available here.
PHOTOS of today's event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of remarks is available below:
Governor Cuomo: Good morning to everyone. I'd like to welcome our special guests who are here today. Hank Greenberg is to my far right, who is representing the New York Bar Association, who is no stranger to this room or this office. But congratulations on being the president of the Bar Association and it is very important to have the Bar Association speak to these important issues. Risa Levine, who has done great work with RESOLVE on fertility issues that more and more women battle with every day, and she has been a tremendous advocate and I want to thank her for being here. Andy Cohen who is a surrogacy advocate, he is here doing two things. First, he is here to advocate on the surrogacy issue. Second, he is an acclaimed director, producer on the Bravo network who has done other shows. He is considering now a reality show based on Albany and the going ons of the New York State legislature, where he would moderate a discussion with the Assembly on one side and the Senate on the other side.
Andy Cohen: I can do this. I got this.
Governor Cuomo: Tears, yelling, fist fights, it will be great. Melissa DeRosa, who is the Secretary to the Governor is doing a great, great job. Alphonso David our counselor. Let me say this as a matter of opening then I will turn it over to Mr. Cohen. We talk about New York State as the progressive capital and we do progressive things. The Democrats now talk about themselves as progressives. We are down to the final days of the legislative session and we will prove to either be the progressives we talk about and the progressive capital of the nation or not.
What does it mean to be a progressive? It is a word everybody uses. Everybody calls themselves progressive, but I think it is worth taking a moment to think about what that actually means. Progressive means you are concerned with social justice issues and equality, and human dignity issues. Equality between men and women, righting wrongs of the past, that is what a progressive believes. To be a progressive, I believe you actually have to make progress. I don't believe in the academic concept of being a progressive. "I am a progressive, I believe in progressive things, but I don't get anything done." That's one of the failings of government and of Democrats and of progressive government. Great rhetoric, but nothing changed. And people need change in their lives. They need evidence, they need results. Even if it's not perfect, you know, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Accomplish what you can, right? Martin Luther King. It's a journey, the moral arc of the universe. What does it mean to be the progressive capital of the nation? It means when the nation is in a period of intolerance and so many people are preaching anger and hatred and division, the progressive capital, even more, seeks to speak to and act on inclusion and acceptance and equality. And there is no doubt that in this nation it is one of the most divisive periods that I can remember in my lifetime. And that goes back further than I would care to remember. And I think it's even more important that New York State acts in a way that furthers tolerance and understanding and love. There are several issues that we're going to be contemplating in these last few days.
We have the Women's Rights Agenda. How the legislature doesn't pass an ERA for women, Equal Rights Amendment, I have no idea. You have a president who is disrespecting women all across the nation. And now is the time for New York State to finally pass the ERA. We have a tremendous need to remedy the statute of limitations for rape that only give a woman five years on rape in the second and third degree to bring a case. Why? Makes no sense. We have no real pay equity law that's effective in the state of New York. We talk about equality between men and women. Women still make 88 cents to a man's dollar. How can you not pass a pay equity law?
And then the issues that we have today which are essential to the LGBTQ community. They have a special priority for me because no state has proven how wrong the LGBTQ was more than this state. No state has shown the discrimination that has been done and the unfairness that has been done to the LGBTQ community more than this state. We passed marriage equality, the first large state, and I said in this room that it was discriminatory and violative of the law - put aside ethics and morality and compassion - it was violative of the law not to allow LGBTQ couples to marry. Several years later the Supreme Court of the United States said, you know what, it's against the law. Right? And that's what it means to lead and we've always led.
And there are two issues that are repugnant to our leadership and our history and our ethos as the State of New York. Marriage equality says equality and it says for LGBTQ couples you don't have to decide between your sexual preference and having a family. You should never had to make that decision. Marry and have a family and give birth and give life and share love. That's what marriage equality is all about. For an LGBTQ couple to have a child, obviously you need assistance and luckily medical technology has advanced to a point where it is possible, and medical technology has raised all sort of new legal issues. Right? You can now transplant organs. You can do all sorts of things. For a female couple to have a child, they need a male donor. For a male couple, they need a surrogate.
Forty-seven states allow surrogacy. Forty-seven states allow surrogacy. Forty-seven states allow surrogacy. Did I say forty-seven states allow surrogacy? How can New York State be one of the three that doesn't allow surrogacy? It is repugnant to everything we believe and everything we are. And give me the possible rationale. You have an LGBTQ couple or you have an infertile woman. Infertile couple who can't make a child and want to bring a child into this world. They want to have a family. They want to share that love. They want to love another individual. Why wouldn't you let them do it? Why wouldn't you help them do it? What possible rationale would say no? We have the technology. We have people who want to help. I've met women who say, "you know what, I would love to bring a child into this world for a loving couple." Why wouldn't you allow it? And that's the intelligence of 47 states. What's the argument against it? "Well, women would be exploited." Why? We have a law that gives women more protection, information, counseling, legal representation than any state in the nation. If you actually cared about women being exploited, you would support this bill and use it as an example to the other states. And you would pass this bill in New York and then you would go to the other states and say, "why doesn't your state provide these protections for a woman's right?" But in this state, the woman would have an attorney, would have a counselor, it would be supervised by the Department of Health, she would be fully reprised, she would be fully represented, and she would make her own decision.
I respect my colleagues in the Assembly who have differences of opinion. We have differences of opinion all the time, but I do not understand the assembly members who oppose this. I have respect for Assembly Members Glick, and Weinstein and Didi Barrett, but I just don't see the possible rational. Pass the law that protects women and then convince the other 47 states to do it; it's not that women aren't going to be surrogates, they are, it's just is it New Jersey, or is it here, or is it California? So it makes no sense. It also makes no sense since we spent months in this room arguing for a women's right under Roe v. Wade, which said a women's body a women's choice. And we argued with many people who said, "well certain women aren't prepared to consent and certain women should have to consult with their parents first, and they have to notify their parents first." And we said no, a women's right governs.
In this case, why doesn't a women's right govern when it is fully informed and fully consulted? I don't understand it. And then the gay panic defense. I said to Andy and Risa yesterday, the gay panic defense is a law in the State of New York that says as a defense in a criminal action, assault, murder, a defense is I just found out that the person was gay. And I was so emotionally disturbed when I found out the person was gay, I was not fully responsible for my actions. And that is a legal defense in this state. Think about this in any other context. I found out that he was of Italian-American descent and I was so out of my mind, disturbed, that I killed him. I found out that she was Jewish, and I found out that she was from Haiti. I mean it's so disgusting, is the only word.
And I was talking to my daughters and their friends and explaining this situation. And they're all 23, 24. They're all smart and informed and they're on social media. I'm old so by definition I don't really know anything because they're young and I'm old. And I explained this situation and they said you can't be right that's not the law. And I said I'm the governor I'm telling you that's the law. No that can't be the law. I said that it is the law, but it's unbelievable. It is incredible. And it just it just cannot be allowed to exist. Not just as a legal defense, but what it says about us. And what it says about our values and what we believe - that we would allow that proposition to stand. We don't know allow anti-Semitism to stand. We don't allow anti-Muslim sentiment to stand. We don't allow the codification of homophobia, which is what the gay panic defense is. It is the codification of homophobia, and not in New York. I believe the Senate is going to pass these two bills. That's good and that's a nice thing, but it's also irrelevant, unless the Assembly passes the bill. And there is no such thing as a celebration of one house passing a bill, because one house passing a bill means nothing. It takes two to tango. It takes two to pass a bill. So I hope the Senate passes the bill, but we need the Assembly to pass the bill. And we need the Senate to go to their colleagues in the Assembly. They're all of the same party now. It's not like the old days where they could point fingers and we had a Republican Senate that would point fingers at the Democratic Assembly and the Democratic Assembly would point fingers at the Republican Senate, right? We played that game for a long time. That game is over. Nobody's fooling anybody. Every bill they've passed, virtually, has been both houses in unison. The Senate and the Assembly talk all the time about how they're unified. Be unified here. Be unified in supporting the LGBTQ community. Be unified in supporting couples who want to bring a child into this world and share their love, but can't for a medical reason. That's what unified progressive Democrats are all about, and do it today.
Mr. Andy Cohen, thank you for being here.
Andy Cohen: Thanks. So happy to be here today. Thank you for having me. I did come up with a couple housewives taglines for you, Governor.
Governor Cuomo: Oh for me?
Andy Cohen: Yes.
Governor Cuomo: Go through that later.
Andy Cohen: Can I give you one?
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, please, go ahead.
Andy Cohen: "The only thing fuller than my list of accomplishments is my head of hair."
Governor Cuomo: Nice. I like that.
Andy Cohen: Right? There's a reporter that tweeted me one that is too good not to say. Josefa Velasquez, "I may be from Queens, but in New York, I'm king."
Governor Cuomo: I like that.
Andy Cohen: That was hers. That wasn't mine.
Andy Cohen: Thank you for having me today. You've been such a great ally for the LGBTQ community. We couldn't have passed marriage equality without you, or GENDA, so I know that when you put your mind to something, you get it done. And I appreciate you considering this one.
It's been said that raising a child is to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body. And while my journey to parenthood is quite literally in its infancy, it's indeed a magnificent and albeit sometimes terrifying one. Sadly, having a child has not been an option for everyone. Some couples and individuals who badly want children, who want nothing more than to raise a family simply cannot conceive. When I first came out to my parents in 1988, my mom said two things. The first thing she said was, I probably would've hated your wife anyway. And she probably would. The second thing she said is, I need to mourn the loss of you ever having a child or a family. Because the idea at that point in 1988, it was so unusual the idea that a gay person could have a family. And it was incredible. I had always wanted a family, but as a gay man there in 1988 living in St. Louis, this was absolutely not a possibility. I have mourned that loss myself.
Fortunately, medical technology has evolved in ways that allow new options for those experiencing infertility as well as for LGBTQ people looking to form their own families. Unfortunately, and rather shockingly, as we've discussed, New York law has not experienced the same evolution. When I first started to research surrogacy, I was floored, shocked, amazed, gobsmacked to find out that this progressive state that I have been a proud resident of for 30 years, that this is illegal in my home state. It seemed draconian that the idea that if a woman carried a baby for a gay couple in New York, she would be committing a felony in 2019. New York is one of only three states in the nation that criminalizes this practice. This forces New Yorkers who seek to work with surrogates to leave the state.This results in greater legal challenges, added stress, less involvement with the pregnancy, increased cost for surrogates, children and intended parents. Those were some of the challenges that I faced when I decided to have a child through surrogacy, which was the option for me, the only option for me when I wanted to have a biological child of my own.
I worked with organizations that helped me find an egg donor and a surrogate, but because it's illegal here in New York I went to California, that's where my surrogate was, California. I come to New York from the mid-west so I could be free to live my life, but I have to go to California to have a child. Seems odd.
The entire experience of having my son has left me completely in awe of surrogates. My surrogate, she's absolutely incredible. We were partners from the beginning. She viewed this experience as an opportunity to give me the ultimate gift. She gave me life, she gave me my son. With all of the sacrifices that surrogates make, I kept saying to her, through the whole thing I kept saying, "How are you going to feel about me being in the delivery room next to you and you handing my child to me?" And she said, "This is what I'm here for. This is what this is all about. I can't wait to see you holding your child. That is my gift." And I've never, I've never experienced such pure-hearted consideration in my life. It just, it moves me today to think of. I will forever be indebted to her for Benjamin. This is my son and he is here to tell of. I owe him to the surrogate that I worked with in California to help make him a reality. I can't imagine the government telling this woman that she couldn't be a surrogate.
But that's exactly what happens here in New York. Does the government really know better than women what is best for their lives and their body? In 2019, no one should have to forfeit the joy of raising their child. Not in an era where modern medicine is performing new miracles every day. When we've reached a wide consensus that the only prerequisite to forming a family is love. That's it. And that's why we've got to pass the Parent-Child Security Act. I'm proud to be working with the Protecting Modern Family's Coalition, led by the Family Equality Council to get this measure passed into law. Practiced safely, ethically, and legally, surrogacy is about hope. That's what that the entire thing, if I could put it in one word, it's about hope. And it's about the freedom to form a family and that's the very thing that was fought for 50 years ago when the LGBTQ community began our pursuit of equal rights. From Seneca Falls to Stonewall to more recent laws and signing marriage equality and reproductive rights. New York has long been a leader when it comes to advancing the interest of women, children and families. I hope we can keep this tradition alive by passing the Parent-Child Security Act this year.