Moving Forward on Marriage: Reflections on the Third Anniversary of New York Marriage Equality

On June 24, 2011, New York became the seventh state to pass marriage equality, more than doubling the number of gay Americans who were able to marry overnight. It is clear now that New York was a tipping point, unleashing a veritable flood of further marriage-equality victories. Nineteen states now have equal marriage, and many more have introduced bills and initiated court proceedings to promote equal marriage. On the third anniversary of New York's landmark law, it is clear that the arc of history has bent toward recognizing and legalizing loving, committed relationships between couples, regardless of their sex. But there is much more to be done; the more our success seems assured, the more our opponents seem to resist. How can we best change the hearts and minds of those most violently opposed to our equal rights?

At the root of our movement are deeply personal stories, and it is these stories that should be our motivation and our message. When Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, my partner and I were asked why we didn't get married there. My answer was simple: I wanted to get married in my home state. I was born, raised, and educated in New York. I live here. I pay taxes here. I work as an elected representative here. This is the state in which my partner and I have made our home together. This is the state in which we wanted to get married.

My partner John and I were among the plaintiffs in the New York State Court of Appeals lawsuit challenging the definition of marriage in 2006. Losing that lawsuit made me realize that my legislative priority had to be the passage of New York's Marriage Equality Act. So we took our struggle to the State Legislature.

I introduced and gained passage of New York's first Marriage Equality Bill through the State Assembly in 2007, when public support for marriage equality was under 50 percent. Between April and June of that year, in conjunction with numerous grassroots groups, including synagogues, churches, LGBTQ advocacy organizations, and statewide and national coalitions, we worked to convince 85 of the 150 assembly members from across the state to support marriage equality. For every debate and every vote, my partner (now husband!) John joined me in Albany to show my colleagues whom they were voting for. We were a couple like any other, a couple who had been together longer than most -- at that point over 30 years -- and all we were asking for was legal recognition of our commitment to one another. Slowly we won converts, as more of my colleagues and more of the residents of New York learned what same-sex marriage would mean for our state. Sometimes progress happens one individual at a time. Three governors, four years, and a continuing, massive grassroots movement later, we were able to pass this historic act through both houses of the legislature on this day in June 2011.

Now, about half of all Americans live in the 19 states in which marriage equality is enshrined in law. In about a dozen more states judges have ruled in favor of same-sex couples, although those decisions are stayed pending appeals. Our momentum continues to build.

But as encouraging as the tide of history appears to be, we cannot stand back and hope that "momentum" will do the rest of our work for us. Until all couples have the right to marry, we must continue working toward legislative, legal, and, above all, personal, individual change throughout the United States. Only then will it be time to celebrate.