Marriage Equality, Now

It’s time.

It’s time to extend the joys, privileges, rights and, yes, frustrations of marriage to all New Yorkers. It’s time to acknowledge that love and a desire for commitment are not the exclusive province of heterosexuals, that the state cannot and should not extend benefits to one part of the population while denying them to another.

It’s time for New York to pass a gay marriage bill.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made it clear that ending the heterosexual monopoly on marriage is one of his top priorities. Mr. Cuomo’s commitment to gay marriage was a minor issue during last year’s campaign, with some advocates questioning whether he truly understood the importance of the issue, and, if he did, whether he was prepared to fight for marriage equality.

Mr. Cuomo has answered the skeptics. His is expending the political capital necessary to prepare public opinion for this historic and necessary extension of a basic right to all people. His public rhetoric on the topic contains no sign of equivocation.

That is how it should be. But there is, of course, opposition to this civil rights movement. Some of the opponents are sincere if misguided. Others are hateful and demagogic. Mr. Cuomo may be able to persuade the first group, but even he can do nothing with the second. 

The battle over gay marriage is taking place in the offices of New York’s State Senate, which is controlled by a Republican majority known to be hostile to marriage equality. Republicans voted down a gay marriage bill two years ago, under different leaders, under a different (although Democratic) governor.

In the years since, however, there has been a change in the conversation. Some conservative fund-raisers and power brokers–emphasis on some–have seen the light and are actively supporting gay marriage legislation. They certainly do not speak for the national Republican Party, but in many ways, they are 21st-century versions of socially liberal Rockefeller Republicans who, let the record show, passed legislation that legalized abortion in New York in 1970.

Mr. Cuomo has a tactical concern: He doesn’t want gay marriage to suffer another defeat in the state Senate. He’d rather not see it brought to a vote if the measure is destined to fail (the gay marriage bill is certain to pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly).  

“We want to pass a bill,” Cuomo said recently. “We don’t want to bring up a bill in the Senate that would fail.”

Mr. Cuomo’s concerns are understandable. It would be heartbreaking, literally, to disappoint thousands of gay couples who want only the same rights given to heterosexuals. But at this point in this historic cultural battle, shouldn’t supporters of marriage equality know who opposes their rights? Shouldn’t history have a record of those who refused to allow the state to sanction the love and commitment of other human beings?

Put gay marriage to a vote in the Senate. Perhaps the measure will fail, but the failure surely will be temporary. But perhaps decency and fairness will prevail, despite the odds and expectations.  

Mr. Cuomo deserves credit for moving the debate this far. He should let the process take its natural course, hoping that the Senate’s better angels will prevail. They will, if not now, then soon. Marriage Equality, Now