Saturday, June 25, 2011

Passage of the Marriage Equality Act: A Milestone in the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) lauds the historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act by the New York State Legislature as a historic step towards ensuring equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers. 

"On June 24, New York demonstrated leadership in the fight for equality and justice.  Allowing same-sex couples to marry represents a monumental achievement in the fight for equality, both for the LGBT community and New York State," said Marjorie Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC.

According to the U.S. Supreme court, the freedom to marry is "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free people."  For far too long, marriage equality and its protections and benefits have been denied to same-sex couples.

New York now joins five other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.  The other states include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  New York is the largest state, however, to do so legislatively.  "This is an enormous victory as the legislative branch most closely represents the interests and values of NY's citizens," said Hill.       

Passage of the Marriage Equality Act will protect same-sex couples and their families in their daily lives.  The physical, mental, and financial well-being of same-sex couples and families will be greatly strengthened with passage of this legislation. The privileges, protections, and responsibilities previously afforded to heterosexual couples will finally be available to all New Yorkers without being filtered by institutionalized prejudice.

Marriage equality will also extend critical protections to same-sex couples and their families in the healthcare system.  These include the ability to make healthcare decisions for one's partner and children in a time of crisis.  Marriage equality also improves economic security and provides legal protections to parents and children.  According to the Empire State Pride Agenda and New York City Bar Association, passage of the Marriage Equality Act extends 1,324 benefits and rights to same-sex couples, which were previously limited to married couples of the opposite sex.

Part of GMHC's mission is to fight homophobia and affirm the individual dignity of all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.  Two-thirds of GMHC's clients self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual; many are in committed relationships and/or have domestic partners.  These relationships are meaningful families in every sense. GMHC has long supported, in both our public policy work and in the manner in which GMHC's services are provided to our clients, the rights of all persons in familial relationships, traditional or otherwise, to obtain equitable treatment and respect.  Historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act extends to same-sex couples the same basic human rights available to their heterosexual peers.

GMHC is grateful for the leadership of all of the Senators and Assembly Members who made history today by voting for justice and equality. The historic achievement would have been impossible without the undying support and activism of Senator Duane and Assembly Members O'Donnell and Gottfried, as well as Governor Cuomo for their commitment to marriage equality.  The extension of marriage to same-sex couples is a matter of civil rights and as Governor Cuomo highlighted, "marriage equality is a matter of fairness and legal security for thousands of families in this state - not of religion or culture." After much delay, GMHC commends passage of this historic piece of legislation in the New York State Legislature.

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