Just weeks before the end of the legislative session, Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 31 put pressure on state lawmakers in the State Legislature to legalize gestational surrogacy and ban the use of so-called gay and trans panic defense.
Gay and trans panic defense law as it stands allows defendants to attempt to downgrade charges against them by using, among other reasons, a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity as an excuse for their actions. The existing ban on gestational surrogacy — which entails having a child through a surrogate who has no biological relation to the child or the parents — forces couples to travel outside of the state to have children and disproportionately affects LGBTQ parents. Cuomo unsuccessfully sought to include the measures in the budget earlier this year.
Speaking alongside advocates for both causes, the governor ripped the current state of those two laws as “the legal codification of homophobia” and said he would be “shocked” if State Legislators fail to pass the laws before leaving Albany when the session concludes on June 19.
“Both are discriminatory, stereotyping, and anti-LGBTQ,” Cuomo said from his Manhattan office. “That’s what they are.”
Cuomo and state legislators are facing opposition from the Catholic Church, which opposes the surrogacy bill that is carried in the upper chamber by out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman and in the lower chamber by Westchester County Assemblymember Amy Paulin. Some women’s groups and advocates have argued that it could negatively impact surrogates.
Cuomo defended the proposed surrogacy law, claiming it would provide ample protection for women carrying the babies. The measure would, for example, direct parents to pay for a health insurance plan covering medical treatment for the surrogate throughout the pregnancy and for several months after the baby is born.
Hoylman, who opted to have his own children through gestational surrogacy, told Gay City News in a phone interview May 31 that the bill’s strong protections also shield New Yorkers who would otherwise resort to traveling to other states where surrogacy laws are not as robust.
“I had to travel over 3,000 miles to San Diego to have my kids,” Hoylman said. “We can instead pass the best surrogacy laws in the country to protect surrogates and donors and parents.”
Hoylman, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led the first hearing on the bill in that committee on May 29.
Lawmakers are sounding confident in the possibility of passing the gay trans and panic defense bill and Hoylman expects it to clear the upper chamber. However, there are two different versions of the bill in the Assembly: One is led by out gay Manhattan Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, while Queens State Assemblymember Brian Barnwell carries the other bill.
O’Donnell’s bill bans gay and trans panic defense up to charges of second-degree murder and Barnwell’s version is extended to first-degree murder. It is not clear how successfully gay and trans panic defense could be applied in cases of first-degree murder considering that those cases often involve premeditated killings or the killing of police officers and firefighters.
A spokesperson for O’Donnell did not respond to emails seeking an update on the status of those bills. Nonetheless, Hoylman said he supports both versions and believes one will clear the Assembly.
“It’s an outrage and we need to strike it from our books. We will pass it,” Hoylman said. “I’m grateful for the governor’s support of our legislation.”