More than two years have passed since a mayor in a small town in upstate New York took it upon himself to perform same-sex marriages; a decision that got us talking about what kind of state we are and what type of state we want to be.
I’m happy with where that discussion is taking us, but the real challenges lie ahead.
When New Paltz joined San Francisco, and later Massachusetts, in performing same-sex marriages, some elected officials who support marriage equality said it was “too fast, too soon.”
Other elected officials remained opposed based upon their personal theological beliefs—beliefs which should not influence a state’s obligation to ensure minority protections under the law.
But, I see no conflict between freedom of religion and the recognition of equal rights and benefits of marriage for LGBT couples.
Each and every religious body will continue to make their own decisions regarding the performance of marriage ceremonies, for gay or straight couples, as well as those of different religions.
Only the state is compelled to meet the legal obligation of equal treatment for all couples.
Many New Yorkers, and voters across the country, are opening their eyes to the ways in which some politicians use anti-gay legislation and other invented hysteria—flag burning!— to avoid substantive public discussion of their own colossal public policy failures. Sadly, these distractions have sometimes worked, only to come at the expense of too many New Yorkers, as our state has failed to address such growing concerns as:
Inadequate spending and accountability for public education which has left generations of New York children unprepared for today’s competitive the labor market;
A 19th century crumbling physical infrastructure;
An affordable housing crisis throughout New York City and neighboring regions;
Three million New Yorkers lacking basic health insurance coverage;
College graduates suffering the dubious distinction of having the highest student loan debts in the nation, complemented by New Yorkers paying the highest per capita tax rate in the nation.
Nevertheless, there are many reasons for New Yorkers to rejoice in 2006.
I predict that in November our state will have a Democratic governor-elect, who has already stated his support for same-sex marriage. Also, the State Senate will have picked up more Democratic seats, as incumbent majority party Republicans continue to be retired at the ballot box, and the Senate more accurately reflects the political views of our state.
As chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, I am excited to tell you that we have intelligent, qualified, progressive State Senate candidates running in districts all across our state, including heavily conservative areas.
Not all will win, but our message will be heard.
But there is more reason for encouragement besides election year excitement. Arguments regarding the legality of same-sex marriage are being made to the State’s highest court. As state courts have ruled that the banning of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, some state legislatures have wrongly tried to amend their state constitutions. While I hope for a court ruling affirming marriage quality, we in the New York State Legislature must move forward with political courage on LGBT rights regardless of the court’s ruling.
Let’s be honest—the potential for political courage regarding LGBT rights will come only with new Democratic leadership in Albany’s Executive Chamber and Senate.
This Sunday many of us will be marching in New York’s annual Gay Pride Parade. This event represents one of the great opportunities LGBT New Yorkers have to make their voice heard to elected officials. But, there will be much work to do after June 25. To win this fight we must work together, gay and straight alike, to elect candidates throughout our state who will fight for marriage equality, and for more responsive, responsible leadership in Albany so that we can meet the many needs of all New Yorkers.
I fundamentally believe that every American deserves equal treatment under our laws, and as a member of New York’s Legislature, I plan to continue working with my colleagues, straight and gay, to ensure that New York State’s responsibility to all our citizens is met.
Voters like yourself can make sure the job gets done.
So this year, let’s use the parade to celebrate how far we’ve come. But let us also remember that this election year is one in which no one can just stand along the sidelines.
Liz Krueger is the state senator for the 26th District of New York, in Manhattan.