Are New Yorkers Stonewalling Their Own Progress?

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.

5 Comments for “Are New Yorkers Stonewalling Their Own Progress?”

  1. posted by Jorge on

    The Empire State Pride Agenda, the primary lobbying group behind the marriage equality bill in New York, is not very big on compromise and pragmatism in my view.

    By reputation it is much more moderate and pragmatic than the stereotypical gay political left lobbying groups. It certainly comes across to me as about as nonpartisan as you can get on a partisan issue.

    My main beef with the Pride Agenda is that their stubbornness has resulted in New York not passing a school bullying law even though there is majority support in both legislatures. The Republican bill is a down the line no bullying bill. The Democratic bill, which is theirs, includes a down the line prohibition on harassment (buried, but it’s there), but also does the laundry list of protected groups, and the Empire State Pride Agenda insists on this lists, which of course has the controversial inclusion of gender identity or expression. The Democrats will not support the Republican bill because in their view it will not protect the GLBT community. Which I think is absurd. I’d rather have an imperfect bill than no bill at all.

    It was their idea in the first place, of course, but there comes a time to cash in. There are other groups, by the way, that are even worse.

    With marriage I’m undecided overall on your argument, but I think our best chance of passing the bill passed several months ago because it was never a priority to the legislative leaders or the previous governor.

    It was, however reported that the gay groups were privately upset with Gov. Patterson for putting the marriage bill on the agenda because they believed it would not pass.

  2. posted by Mark on

    New York gays and lesbians have one important right their counterparts in Maine no longer have: the state recognizes as valid same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Maine does not.

    That’s what makes this debate so bizarre–if any New York couple can make a day trip to get married in Connecticut or Vermont, why not simply make it official in New York?

  3. posted by MadeMark on

    Thanks for this article. My partner and I are domestic partners in New York City, which is useless elsewhere in the state. Until I clicked on your link I didn’t realize how little it provides us. I’ve wondered for three years (since we met) why NY State does not have statewide domestic partnership, or even civil union. The insistence on marriage or nothing seems pig-headed to me, and now all I can do is wait and hope for the NY high court decision to see if they will uphold recognition of out of state marriages, in which case we can go to Connecticut (I don’t want a marriage license that is meaningless where I live – I have enough trophies on my wall that serve no purpose). I think it’s stubborn and stupid to hold out for something we may or may not get in another five years, or another. I’d rather having something that protects my relationship while I’m still alive. (Response to Mark – two lower courts upheld the recogntion of out of state marriages, but the appelate court agreed to hear two challenges; they screwed us once and could again, effectively divorcing within the borders of the state all those people who’ve been married since Gov Paterson issued his order to recognize them – which is why I’ll wait and see how they decide). I don’t need the word ‘marriage’, but I need to know my partner and I are protected. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  4. posted by james on

    sounds like the gays here in florida. most of there time is spent worrying about the gym, fancy cars, designer drugs , young pretty boyfriends, the next hottest club opening, the next greatest dance song. how could anyone be concerned with civil rights when you have all these other gay issues to worry with.

  5. posted by Term Papers on

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