When Patricia Martinez took a trip to Ontario, Canada to get married in 2004, she came back to Monroe County with a marriage license that was completely meaningless under the law. Her new wife, Lisa Golden, was unable to receive healthcare benefits under the insurance plan at Monroe Community College, where Martinez worked. Because the women were a same-sex couple, they were denied recognition of their perfectly legal marriage.
So they sued Monroe County in the State Supreme Court for the acknowledgement they felt they deserved. On Feb. 1, they won. The court ruled unanimously that all counties in New York must recognize same-sex marriages made in other states and countries. This legitimizes hundreds of marriage and civil-union certificates from Canada, Massachusetts, Vermont and elsewhere.
The news of this decision is extremely exciting. There is no reason why people who wish to marry members of the same sex should be denied equal rights under the current marriage laws. Although marriage is tied in many ways to religion, the state is bound to protect the rights and equality of all its citizens, regardless of their religion or sexual orientation. An atheist man who wants to marry another man should not be stopped from doing so because it is considered immoral in the Bible, Torah or the Koran.
Of course, not everybody feels this way. It’s not all good news for gay marriage in Monroe County. County executive Maggie Brooks has just announced that the county will be appealing the decision in the highest court in the state. Brooks claims it is an issue of economy and taxes, that providing benefits to queer marriages would be too much of a financial drain on the county. She doesn’t want to allow Canada to define marriage here, she says.
You can accept Brooks’s claim that her decision is not politically motivated, but I don’t believe it for a second. Most businesses and even local municipalities in Monroe County already recognize same sex domestic partners. Brooks is a conservative official in a relatively conservative county. She simply does not want to see gays being able to enjoy legal marriages. It is not an issue of having to pay more taxes or shell out more benefits. It’s an issue of prejudice.
This saddens me greatly. I found out about the court decision while I was on my way to a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender student conference in early February. Right there on the front page of the Democrat and Chronicle, alongside the coffee and bagels I’d stopped for, was a headline that announced “Gay marriage ruled valid.”
When I arrived at the conference, one of the student leaders got up and made an announcement about the decision. The keynote speaker of the conference informed us that she had woken up that morning officially married to her partner of many years. It was a topic of discussion throughout the day as approximately 90 students considered the fact that they could now possibly get married someday and have it actually count. There were smiles all around and a feeling of triumph and relief. I can’t see why there’s anything wrong with that. I can understand to a certain extent that people have very strong feelings about their religious beliefs. They don’t want to have those feelings challenged, and they don’t want to feel that something holy has been disgraced. I think, though, that those feelings get mixed up with the homophobia that is a part of our culture. You can’t disgrace an institution like marriage unless you are disgraceful. The suggestion is that love, if it’s between two men or two women, is disgusting and wrong.
Of course, not everybody wants to jump in bed with the next person of his or her sex that they see – nothing is for everyone. I would hope, though, that we can be tolerant enough to accept and nurture all kinds of love. It’s love that runs through so many religions, and I hope it’s love that will prevail in the end. Everybody deserves to love whom they will, marry whom they love and live equally together as happily as they can. It’s in our constitution and it should be in our way of life.
Waddill is a member of the class of 2009.