Twenty years ago, New York's highest court ruled, in Braschi v. Stahl Associates that a same-sex couple could be treated as a "family" under New York's rent control law. This was a landmark decision because at the time same-sex couples had virtually no legal recognition of any kind in New York - or any other state's - law.
I know about this because I helped Tom Coleman do legal research for a brief in Braschi that helped situate gay couples in the broad term "family" as we had just done the prior year in passing the first domestic partnership ordinance in Los Angeles. After the 1989 decision, we had every reason to believe New York would beat California in enacting statewide domestic partnership, and ultimately to marriage.
Two decades later, New York state not only does not offer domestic partnership to its homosexual citizens, it seems to have rejected any compromise other than full marriage rights, and doesn't seem interested in any political middle ground.
I hope they know what they're doing. Perhaps all the news reports are wrong, and they really do have the votes this time for full marriage equality. That would be terrific. Or perhaps they don't want to dilute the issue, keeping the arguments clearly focused on what really matters in the long-term.
But if they can't get marriage, how much longer will they leave New York state's same-sex couples with legal protections not that much different from their counterparts in Mississippi? Even New York City's same-sex couples can only claim domestic partnership rights that that include vendors licenses and visitation in NYC's prisons. One of the most vibrant gay communities in the entire world seems content, in 2009, with fewer legal rights than couples in Hawaii. Or Vermont. Or Maine.
If they pull this off, it'll be a tremendous, and long-overdue victory. But if they don't, they're making it look like the legacy of Stonewall is to do nothing but stonewall.