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Eric T. Schneiderman

Eric T. Schneiderman

Posted: December 5, 2009 10:12 AM

Fighting For Marriage Equality In New York

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I delivered the following speech on the New York Senate floor on December 2 in support of marriage equality:

Thank you Madam President. Senator Diaz just said this is a vote many people didn't want to come. For many of us, this is a vote that we have been waiting for; this is a vote that we came here to take.

I believe that this is not like every other vote we take because I think this is a vote that is not about morality and is not about religion because this doesn't affect any religious institution as I'll discuss, and this is not about morality because you can't legislate morality, ladies and gentlemen, but you can legislate justice.

And this vote today, in my view, is about whether or not the members of the New York Senate, here today, are going to participate in and step up to the challenge of being representatives of the American people because to me this is very much about the essence of the United States of America. What made us different from every other country that existed before was a commitment to an ideal that had never been advanced before. These are the words that launched us.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Great words. But all of us know that the facts on the ground...as we now say...did not support these words; when the Declaration of Independence was written, slavery was widespread. Women couldn't vote; in many places, could not own property. Jews and other non-Christians suffered under a whole array of discriminatory laws.

So some people say the Declaration of Independence was a lie; that the words were a sham. But I know that offends many of my most conservative colleagues, to say the Declaration of Independence wasn't true, and I have to say here today unequivocally, I agree with you that is offensive because for me all of American history supports the notion that our mission as a nation is to make those words ever more true, to expand the vision of a nation in which all are created equal.

It took until 1848 in the great town of Seneca Falls for a group of women to issue a declaration declaring that "all men and women are created equal." It took until 1865 for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to outlaw slavery. And every generation is called to step up to this challenge of participating in the quintessentially American work of making Thomas Jefferson's words ever more true.

And today we are challenged to join this great tradition.

This is not a matter of religion. This is a matter of equality. Same-sex couples can already get married...Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Canada are right next door. There are same-sex couples living in New York State now who are married, but gay New Yorkers cannot get the same treatment in the secular government offices authorized by us, authorized by the government of the state of New York, that they can get in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada.

Senator Duane is treated equally to the rest of us in those states, but he is not treated equally in the county clerks offices, and the courts and the administrative agencies of the state of New York. This bill does nothing to take anything away from heterosexuals. For better or worse, our rights to marry stay the same. And we know because they've had marriage equality for five years in Massachusetts and we know what happens when we pass it.

No religious institution is affected. Churches, mosques synagogues, temples, continue to perform only those ceremonies that comport with their beliefs and traditions.

Our discrimination laws stay the same; our human rights laws stay the same. In Massachusetts in five years, there has not been one challenge to a religiously affiliated organization for denying rights to a same sex couple. It just doesn't happen. This myth that this is going to affect religious institutions is a myth. The facts do not support it.

All this bill says is that in the county clerk's offices of our state, and the courts of our state, in the administrative agencies that we authorize, that we create, that enforce the thirteen hundred and twenty-four (1,324) laws and rules that define the scope of their reach with the term marriage ...for the first time...all men and women will be created equal. That is all this bill does. It recognizes that we're not better than Senator Duane; he is our equal. We're not better than any of our gay brothers or sister.

So my colleagues, we know what this law will do. It will expand the essential American idea of equality, and we know what this law won't do. It does not affect religious institutions. It doesn't take anything away from anybody. This bill hurts no one, but gives the American ideal of equality to many, many people. So I urge you my colleagues; don't get distracted, keep your eye on what this is about. Vote for justice. Vote for equality. Vote your affirmation for the proposition that all men and women are created equal.

Vote yes.

Please, this is our moment, vote yes. Thank you madam president.