Tuesday saw New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduce the Marriage Equality Act into the state Assembly. A bill must be passed by both the Assembly and the Senate by the end of the legislative session on June 20. As proposed, the bill contains explicit exceptions for religious groups, however this has not prevented one Republican senator seeking further concessions.
First, Cuomo’s press release:
“From the fight for women’s suffrage to the struggle for civil rights, New Yorkers have been on the right side of history. But on the issue of marriage equality, our state has fallen behind,” Governor Cuomo said. “For too long, same-sex couples have been denied the freedom to marry, as well as hundreds of rights that other New Yorkers take for granted. Marriage Equality is a matter of fairness and legal security for thousands of families in this state – not of religion or culture. When it comes to fighting for what’s right, New Yorkers wrote the book, and Marriage Equality is the next chapter of our civil rights story.”
The Marriage Equality Act would remove these barriers by amending New York’s Domestic Relations Law to state:
To ensure that the bill does not intrude into matters of religious belief, the Marriage Equality Act affirms that no member of the clergy can be compelled to solemnize any marriage. This bill grants equal access to the government-created legal institution of civil marriage while leaving the religious institution of marriage to its own separate and fully autonomous sphere. The bill also guarantees that religious institutions and benevolent organizations such as the Knights of Columbus remain free to choose who may use their facilities for marriage ceremonies and celebrations or to whom they provide religious services, consistent with their religious principles.
New York has always been at the forefront in advancing equal rights. In 1983, New York banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment. In 2002, the state extended the same principle to the private sector by enacting the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. That same year, the state recognized same-sex relationships by extending workers’ compensation benefits to all those who lost a partner on 9/11. Passage of the Marriage Equality Act represents yet another significant step in granting full and equal rights to all citizens of New York state.
The aforementioned religious exemptions are not enough for Republican senator Greg Ball however. Ball, who has gone on record saying that he would support a civil unions bill, reiterated yesterday that the bill must have broader religious exemptions in order to gain broader Republican support.
LGBT rights groups have said that this is unnecessary. Constitutional freedoms guarantee religious rights to freedom of expression and any mention of exemptions in marriage equality legislation, they say, is simply to reinforce the point that, for instance, churches can not be required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Yet, Senate freshman Ball is quoted by the AP as saying that if broader exemptions are not made, he believes Republicans will not support the bill.
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