12/07/2011 09:42 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

We Must Protect Human Rights in the U.S.

President Obama's and Secretary Clinton's recent decision to use foreign aid to foster gay rights abroad should be applauded, and I strongly agree with Secretary Clinton that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." I want to emphasize a point she made in her moving speech to the United Nations yesterday: we have much more work to do in the U.S. to protect human rights.

The legislature's power is great in situations like these. As the sponsor of New York's recent Marriage Equality Act, I saw how effective lawmakers can be at advancing human rights when they set out to protect all of their constituents. I hope New York's efforts, though by no means finished, will serve to inspire citizens and elected officials alike to demand equal rights for every U.S. citizen, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is true that, since 2003, all laws banning homosexuality have been deemed unconstitutional. However, same-sex marriage is legal in only six states, and only 16 states have laws that protect against discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. New York is not one of them. Like four other states, New York protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Indeed, LGBT individuals in nearly 70 percent of our nation's states -- 34, to be precise -- still face the legal threat of being fired, or not hired, based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is unacceptable.

As The New York Times notes, the new foreign relations policy to promote LGBT rights abroad is a presidential directive, a tactic that has been used in the past "to protect the rights of gays and lesbians, particularly when political sensitivities might have made legislative action impractical."

We must make legislative action practical again and ensure that the protections we are now advocating abroad are extended to all citizens in our own nation, as well. In New York State, I have worked tirelessly with my fellow legislators to ensure that these rights are guaranteed to all New Yorkers. But these are universal issues, so our focus cannot be limited to individual states. We must demand our human rights at every level of government, from local to national. We must put pressure on our elected officials to promote these essential rights, including the right to be free from discrimination in all its forms. We must all take a stand for the inalienable rights our country has long championed.