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On a Roll — Marriage in New York!

James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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June 27, 2011

I’m sure you’ve heard the fabulous news that the New York State Senate passed the marriage bill and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has championed the measure with gusto, signed it into law Friday night, which will make New York the sixth state, plus D.C., to give same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

That’s momentous news, both for New Yorkers and for the LGBT rights movement nationally. In New York, it means that many thousands of same-sex couples no longer need to go out of state to marry (thanks to an New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) case, New York already recognizes those out-of-state marriages).

For the marriage movement nationally, New York is a huge step forward that accelerates important trends. New York isn’t just the sixth marriage state, it more than doubles the number of people living amidst the freedom to marry (from 15.7 million without New York to 35 million with it). That by itself gives a transformative boost to our efforts to secure marriage fairness across the country. And New York’s new law also follows three new civil union bills that were signed into law just in 2011 — in Illinois, Hawaii, and Delaware. And all of this legislative progress comes against a background of five national polls showing majority support for the freedom to marry for lesbian and gay couples.

The current marriage and relationships landscape is strikingly different from what it was just ten years ago. In 2001, there were no states with marriage, one state (Vermont) with civil unions, and two (California and Hawaii) that had limited state-level domestic partner registries. Today, six states plus D.C. allow same-sex couples to marry, three more respect marriages of same-sex couples validly performed in other states, eight provide civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships, and three more have more limited domestic partnership systems. That’s 20 states plus D.C. that provide some significant state-level relationship protections, and those states are home to 130 million people.

That progress has come at a price, of course — 29 state constitutional amendments that keep us out of marriage or, in 17 of those states, from some other relationship protections as well. But the trend is clearly moving our way — in terms of growing state protections and swelling public support. We are, indeed, on a roll.

Marriage in New York didn’t just happen on its own. It’s the result of courageous and persistent work by legislators, Gov. Cuomo, and lobbyists from across the movement (including herculean efforts by the NYCLU, which arranged in-district constituent meetings, brought New Yorkers from around the state to Albany to lobby, focused attention on targeted Senators, and mobilized our membership). It happened because New Yorkers’ opinions on marriage moved over time — a 2011 poll shows that 58 percent of New Yorkers support marriage for gay couples. All of that advocacy and evolution in popular opinion build on years of prior work, both in New York and across the country, to change policy and change minds.

Thanks for your support, which helped move the issue forward.

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