Theirs are familiar faces. They are our friends, family members, neighbors, teachers and employers. They can be found in our congregations, shopping at the IGA, eating in local restaurants and they are an intrinsic part of our community. Their children go to school with our children, attend the same birthday parties, play Little League and march in the same parades.
Yet across New York State, they are denied the basic civil rights that many of us take for granted all because they do not have the right to marry. They are same-sex couples and for these individuals, marriage is the ultimate expression of love and commitment, as it is for heterosexual couples. But marriage also represents a contract with society in this country. The act of marrying another individual elevates the relationship to the level of kinship — vital when it comes to things like children, property, taxes, health and death.
While it’s easy to avoid the moral and religious arguments inherent in the issue by maintaining that the civil rights of same-sex couples are adequately protected when they register as domestic partners, the fact is, domestic partnership does not equal marriage.
We believe that committed couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, who have spent years building a life together, raising children together and taking an active role in the betterment of the community also have the right to marry and thereby receive the protection, privileges and responsibilities that come along with such a union.
Apparently we’re not alone in this thinking. Last week, the New York State Assembly approved the marriage equality bill, a law that, if adopted by the state senate and signed by the governor, will allow same-sex couples to marry in New York.
That our own assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a Republican from Sag Harbor, co-sponsored this bill speaks volumes to his commitment in protecting the civil rights of all of his constituents. Thiele wasn’t always on this side of the issue. He voted the measure down the last time the bill came before the assembly. But after carefully considering the alternatives, Thiele has come to realize that only marriage provides same-sex couples with the civil protection necessary to ensure they won’t be penalized by tax codes, rejected by insurance companies, shut out of emergency rooms or lose their children. Sometimes, when basic rights are so ingrained, it’s easy to forget about those for whom these rights are still not a given. For being so politically brave, but more importantly, thoughtful in his decision on this issue, we tip our hats to Fred Thiele. Once again, Thiele has shown that playing politics does not have to be the game in Albany and we thank him for that.