by Eric Rader
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was hailed as a hero by the large crowds at New York City’s LGBT Pride parade on June 26, just 48 hours after his successful effort to pass a marriage equality law in the state. Beginning July 24, same-sex couples will no longer be denied a basic right that exists for straight couples everywhere – the right to legally marry the person they love. Gay people across the country euphorically celebrated New York’s historic new law, even though it applies only in one state. New York’s decision to grant equal marriage rights represents a major step forward in the long evolution of LGBT rights. Now it’s up to leaders across the country to take up the cause and move the equal marriage movement to the 44 states that do not grant equal rights to gay and lesbian couples, including Michigan. As Gov. Cuomo said at the New York City Pride parade, “If New York can do it, it’s OK for every other place to do it.”
While many people have been involved in the struggle for equal marriage rights for LGBTs, it was Gov. Cuomo’s persistence and political acumen that helped to seal the deal in New York. Two years ago, the New York Senate, then under Democratic control, voted down a gay marriage bill, despite the support of then-Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat. Gov. Cuomo learned from the mistakes made during the earlier fight for gay marriage, and aggressively lobbied key Republicans who had voted no in 2009 but were considered “persuadable” this time. Though most Republicans in both the New York Assembly (House) and in the Republican Senate voted against the equal marriage legislation, there were a few courageous GOP legislators who recognized that there was no rational reason they should oppose marriage equality, thus ensuring it would become law.
Now that New York has extended equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians, much of the political focus shifts to President Obama and efforts to extend these rights nationwide. In his 1996 Illinois Senate race, Obama stated on a candidate questionnaire that he supported the right of lesbian and gay couples to legally marry. By the time he ran for president in 2008, Obama’s public position had changed, and he indicated that while same-sex couples should have legal rights, civil marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. Obama’s switch on marriage equality was obviously a political calculation at a time when a majority of Americans opposed gay marriage, though polls now show small majorities in support of marriage equality. The president has stated that his views on equal marriage rights are “evolving.” Just one night before the New York Legislature passed the equal marriage bill, President Obama spoke at an LGBT political fundraiser in New York City, and applauded the efforts of New York to legalize gay marriage, while also stating his view that states had to determine this issue. At a press conference last week, the president celebrated New York’s historic new law, but stopped short of endorsing full marriage equality. In all of his recent comments on this issue, it sounds as if the president is on the cusp of endorsing the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Many LGBTs are frustrated with President Obama for his continued reluctance to evolve further on equal marriage rights. Our community needs to work with the president and persuade him it’s time to complete his evolution. We should thank the president for his efforts on our behalf, including his decision to end the legal defense of the “Defense of Marriage Act.” As America’s first African American president, President Obama is uniquely qualified and positioned to advance equal rights for all citizens. While presidents cannot change marriage laws in the states or act alone on federal legislation, they do possess a bully pulpit that allows them to speak out forcefully on behalf of the marginalized in our society.
President Obama’s record on issues that affect our community is many times better than any of his recent predecessors. Other leaders in our history have evolved on issues of equality. Indeed, it was President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan and relative conservative on civil rights prior to his presidency, who actively lobbied for civil rights as president and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Obama now needs to go where his heart appears to be already, and endorse full and equal marriage rights for LGBTs. Genuine legal equality for all LGBT Americans cannot be stopped, and it’s up to our community to work with our leaders to make it happen. In the meantime, we all celebrate New York’s great step forward on behalf of equal rights, and look forward to the day when all citizens everywhere are treated equally.
Contact President Obama:
White House Website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
White House switchboard: 202-456-1414