Friday, June 24, 2011

New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law

NYTimes: ALBANY — Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the sixth and largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed. Just five states currently permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.
The NY State Senate approval was the final hurdle for the same-sex marriage legislation, which was approved last week by the Democrat-led NY State Assembly. The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the bill by a 33-29 vote. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the measure at 11:55 p.m., and the law will go into effect in 30 days, meaning that same-sex couples could begin marrying in New York by late July.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

Passage of the NY bill reflects rapidly evolving sentiment about same-sex unions. In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of NY state’s residents supported allowing same-sex couples to wed. This year, 58 percent supported same-sex marriage.

Supporters of the measure described the victory in New York as especially symbolic — and poignant — because NY is considered the home of the "Stonewall movement’s" foundational moment in June 1969. A riot erupted outside the Stonewall Inn, a bar in the West Village, on June 28, 1969 after police raided the tavern frequented by gay patrons. (see history of movement below.)

A huge street party erupted outside the Stonewall Inn Friday night, with celebrants waving rainbow flags and dancing after the historic vote.

Read the rest of the story @ The NYTimes.

History of the Stonewall Movement

The Stonewall Inn was a seedy, mob-owned bar on Christopher Street in New York City's Greenwich Village, a place where gay men and lesbians could drink and dance among themselves at a time when the city was cracking down hard on gay bars and homosexual life. There had been little protest against the harassment, but a bust at the Stonewall in the early hours of June 28, 1969 — and reports that customers were being beaten by cops — provoked a sympathetic crowd into two days of rioting. The movement was born.

A month after Stonewall, the first gay-pride march was held. The riots had galvanized an outsider culture into out-in-the-open activism. There had been previous attempts to persuade heterosexual society to assimilate gays and lesbians (notably by the Mattachine Society, founded in 1951). But those were almost cordial affairs. Stonewall began a series of uprisings and mass action, often fueled by martyrdom, that would become a pattern for American gay politics in the decades ahead. As one provocative mantra put it: "We're here. We're queer. Get used to it.

The rise of gay politics and activism, however, was met by a massive counter reaction. The embodiment of that opposition in the 1970s was pop singer and ex–beauty queen Anita Bryant, a runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant. In 1977 she was instrumental in repealing a Miami–Dade County ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Leading a group called Save Our Children, she declared, "What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life." She promised to "lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before."

Harvey Milk, while not the first openly gay person to be elected to office in the U.S., was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1977 proving that the gay community could be organized into an electoral constituency. Milk's political acumen and provocative style made him a hero. But it also earned him enmity — and made him the gay-liberation movement's first great martyr when he was shot and killed in city offices.

The seven-year sentence for ex-cop Dan White, the fellow supervisor who shot and killed both Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978, infuriated the city's gay community. A jury acquitted White of first-degree murder, buying the defense's argument of "diminished capacity" — what has gone down in history as the "Twinkie defense." The day the news broke, May 21, 1979, saw the start of the city's White Night riots, as thousands of San Franciscans marched through the Castro district to city hall, disrupting traffic and setting fires.

Whatever advances were made toward greater acceptance of gays was swept away by the hysteria surrounding AIDS. The disease was first reported in the U.S. in 1981 and very quickly became shorthand for a gay plague, stigmatizing a community already in mourning. The ostracism and lack of both scientific and government responses to AIDS led the playwright Larry Kramer, above, to found ACT-UP, a group whose guerrilla protests and disruptive tactics helped dramatize the plight of all AIDS patients and in no small part provided the impetus toward the creation of drugs that have apparently turned the disease in the U.S. into a chronic illness rather than an automatic death sentence.

A generation was lost to AIDS, but the tragedies did help rebuild sympathy for gays and lesbians. The very public coming-out of comedian Ellen DeGeneres in 1997 was the epitome of the trend. However, the 1990s also saw large roadblocks and severe defeats inflicted by powerful forces. The community's political support set the stage for President Bill Clinton to make good on a campaign promise to allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces. But heated opposition watered it down to a cowardly "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The October 1998 lynching of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., gave the gay community a new rallying point — and an icon on which to attach the community's sense of siege and hope for change. Shepard's death inspired demonstrations across the U.S. His story became the subject of an influential and widely performed play, The Laramie Project, and his name is popularly attached to a bill that seeks to expand the 1969 hate-crimes law to include crimes motivated by the victim's gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. The House passed the bill in April 2009; Ted Kennedy introduced it into the Senate with 39 co-sponsors.

The pitched battle for American gays in the 21st century was for marriage equality. Massachusetts led the U.S. in recognizing same-sex marriages, in 2004. California followed in 2008, after a lawsuit brought on in part by the decision of Mayor Gavin Newsom to wed same-sex partners in San Francisco's city hall, an act that challenged the state's referendum-based definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The California Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional and allowed same-sex marriages to take place. That sent opponents on a crusade to undo the decision.

As Massachusetts and California set the social and political debate, popular culture too began to reflect more gay themes. The movie Brokeback Mountain, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as illicit and tortured lovers in the American West, won director Ang Lee an Oscar and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2005. That same year, Felicity Huffman was nominated for Best Actress for her role as a transsexual in Transamerica. TV had increasingly visible gay roles: the sitcom Will and Grace, about a gay man and his straight-woman best friend, ran for eight years on NBC.

Meanwhile, opponents of gay marriage rallied against what seemed to be a popular tide in its favor. In November 2008, they won enough electoral support in California to roll back the state supreme court decision with Proposition 8. Vociferous protests broke out, with demonstrators targeting perceived supporters of Prop 8, including African-American Christians, the Catholic Church and Mormons. Prop 8 was then challenged in court. But other states then began to recognize the legality of same-sex marriage: Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. In May, the New York legislature began debate on a law recognizing same-sex marriage.

The California supreme court that had declared an earlier ban on same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional ruled on May 26, 2009 to uphold Prop 8, the voter initiative that successfully reinstated the ban. The judges, however, declared that the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before the referendum passed would remain legal and valid. New battles loomed as gay activists coordinated legal maneuvers and sought to challenge Prop 8 in Federal Court.

In an unusual move, the official defendants of Proposition 8, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, refused to defend it, leaving that legal responsibility to the group Protect Marriage, which had helped raise funds for its passage as a ballot measure in November 2008. Judge Vaughn Walker, 9th Circuit District Court, offered a 136-page decision on Aug. 4, 2010 in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, firmly rejecting Proposition 8.

"Although Proposition 8 fails to possess even a rational basis, the evidence presented at trial shows that gays and lesbians are the type of minority strict scrutiny was designed to protect," Walker ruled.

The arguments for gay marriage in the California case were made by an unusual duo: Ted Olson and David Boies, two of the most prominent trial attorneys in the country who had been on opposite sides during the Supreme Court battle over the contentious 2000 presidential election.

The judge concluded that Proposition 8 "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. … Because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. ...California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it already has issued 18,000 [such documents] and has not suffered demonstrable harm as a result."

On April 25, 2011 Proposition 8 supporters filed the motion to vacate Walkers’s Proposition 8 decision on the grounds that now-retired District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who in August, 2010, ruled that the ban against same-sex marriages should be overturned, later publicly stated that he is gay and was in a same-sex relationship during the trial. Proposition 8 supporters argued that Walker should have been disqualified from presiding over the case because his 10-year same-sex relationship gave him an interest in the outcome of the trial. Because Walker should have been disqualified, the motion argued, his judgment should also be vacated.

On June 14, 2011, Judge Ware, who replaced Walker after his retirement, rejected this argument, writing: “The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification. … It is not reasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings.”

In his ruling, Ware wrote that Proposition 8 supporters had based their motion not on concerns that Walker might be biased because of his sexual orientation, but because his involvement in a long-term same-sex relationship gave him an interest in the outcome of the trial — namely, a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage would have given him the ability to marry his partner if he so chose.

But ultimately, Ware dismissed this reasoning, writing: ”The presumption that ‘all people in same-sex relationships think alike’ is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning. The presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief.”

Ware further wrote that Walker had no obligation to disclose his relationship status, or to recuse himself from the trial.

The case undoubtedly will move on up the appellate route, heading perhaps to the Supreme Court.

On June 24, 2011, a historic vote by the New York state legislature legalized gay marriage in that state. The state’s Republican-majority Senate passed the bill with a vote of 33-to-29 making New York the 6th and most populous state to allow same-sex marriage.

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