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Marriage Equality New York celebrates 10 years

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Wednesday Feb 13, 2008

As activists continue their push for marriage for same-sex couples in the Empire State, lesbian comedienne Julie Goodman and the Gender Offenders joined more than 60 activists, politicos and others who celebrated Marriage Equality New York's 10th anniversary at Bamboo 52 in Hell's Kitchen on Feb. 11.

MENY executive director Cathy Marino-Thomas praised the progress she feels her organization has made over the last decade.

"It's been a long, hard road but we're starting to see the fruit of our labors," she told EDGE New York. "When we started, nobody was talking about marriage for gender neutral families. Now everybody's talking about it."

Former MENY board member Michael Sabatino agreed. He and his partner of nearly 30 years, Robert Voorheis, were married in Canada in 2003 shortly after the country extended marriage to gays and lesbians. Sabatino said he feels MENY has succeeded in keeping marriage for same-sex couples in the forefront.

"This grassroots organization kept everything focused," he said. "It is not going to stop until we reach our goal."

Connie Ress, James Loney and Jes?s Lebr?n co-founded MENY in 1998 - then President Bill Clinton had signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law two years earlier and many activists in New York and elsewhere remains somewhat skeptical the issue could gain any traction.

"It’s been a long, hard road but we’re starting to see the fruit of our labors."

Since MENY's inception, however, marriage for same-sex couples has emerged as a dominant issue for a number of organizations in New York and across the country. Openly gay state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea] first introduced a bill in the Senate to extend marriage to gay and lesbian New Yorkers in 2001. Assemblyman Dick Gottfried [D-Chelsea] followed suit in the Assembly in 2002.

Governor Eliot Spitzer introduced the bill last April and the Democratic-controlled Assembly passed it by an 85 to 61 vote. The Senate, led by Majority Leader Joseph Bruno [R-Saratoga Springs], successfully blocked the bill a few weeks later.

In addition to legislative developments, various courts have ruled on the issue. State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan found New York's effective ban on marriage for same-sex couples violated the state Constitution in a Feb. 2005. The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the ban on marriage for same-sex couples in a July 2006 ruling but an appellate court in Rochester ruled earlier this month the state should recognize marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in Canada.

Loney said he remains proud of his role in co-founding MENY. He added the current debate in Albany and in the state's courts have proven initial naysayers wrong.

"We, as founders, feel everyone is a suffragette," Loney said. "We're telling the world we're here and we're not going anywhere."

Marino-Thomas added she and other MENY members and supporters will continue their efforts to secure passage of a marriage bill in the Senate next year. She predicted same-sex couples will soon be able to marry in the Empire State.

"In 10 years, I want to see MENY disbanded," Marino-Thomas said. "In 10 years, I don't want there to be a need for MENY because we will be married."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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