“Ten years ago, NYS Senate passed #MarriageEquality & Gov. Cuomo signed the bill. We were together 31 years but wanted to make it official. We proposed to each other over Twitter, even though we were on one knee across from each other. Smiling face with smiling eyes. Of course we both said yes.”
That’s how a friend described the moment when New York became just the sixth state in the union to legalize marriage between same-sex couples.
The law went into effect a month later.
Stories like that abound on social media, as couples relive the joy, relief and perhaps a little surprise that their dream of marrying the one they love was finally allowed to come true.
Marriage between same-sex couples might be commonplace and have widespread support now – about 70% of Americans are in favor.
But that surely was not the case a decade ago.
Given the legal precedent set five years earlier by New York’s highest court declaring that same-sex marriage was not guaranteed under the state constitution, the disappointment of several failed attempts to pass it in the Legislature, and the waning but still strong public opposition – only 46% of Americans supported it at the time – the vote by New York legislators to legalize same-sex marriage was nothing less than a profile in political courage.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle had to overcome generations of discrimination and bigotry toward the LGBTQ community – in their own minds and in those of their voters – in order to be convinced to vote their conscience.
And some, including former state Sen. Roy McDonald of Wilton, who was one of just four Republican senators to vote for the bill, paid a political price by losing his seat.
After the vote, someone wrote to their local newspaper that the decision to allow marriage equality in New York would result in “anarchy.”
Each year after that, on the anniversary of the vote, a reporter who was legally allowed to marry his partner under the legislation, would look out the window and declare with a smile, “Nope, still no anarchy.”
No anarchy. Just justice, long overdue.
The passage of the Marriage Equality Act on June 24, 2011, was not just a victory for LGBTQ rights, however.
It was a victory for human rights, in that it removed one layer of inequality that had persisted for so long.
And while the vote paved the way for more legal changes and helped break down public opposition over time, discrimination based on one’s sexual preference or gender identification is still pervasive in this country.
Only earlier this week did Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders become the first openly gay active player in the NFL.
Despite the progress that’s been made, states continue to pass laws discriminating against transgender individuals, and LGBTQ individuals, including children, continue to face discrimination and to suffer more prominently from depression and other related issues.
The 10-year anniversary of the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act is a milestone that should be celebrated, not just by couples who were able to legally marry under the act, but by every citizen who supports equal rights for all.
It also should serve as a reminder how far we have to go.