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Marriage Equality

New York Governor
Repeats Pledge to Sign Marriage Bill

New York Governor
Repeats Pledge to Sign Marriage Bill


Gov. David Paterson addressed a packed Empire State Pride Agenda fund-raiser Monday night and said fighting for the equal rights of LGBT people was "as American as the signing of the Constitution."

New York governor David Paterson addressed an adoring crowd of more than 1,100 people at the annual Empire State Pride Agenda fall fund-raiser, raising a record $1.1 million, according to Pride Agenda staff.

The fund-raising numbers were particularly significant because Democrats are two seats away from taking control of the New York State senate and most LGBT activists believe that would clear the way to send a same-sex marriage bill to the desk of the governor. The Democrat-controlled assembly passed a marriage bill last year by a vote of 85 to 61.

Paterson, who has supported marriage equality since 1995, endeared himself further to LGBT citizens earlier this year when he became the first governor to declare that his state would recognize gay marriages performed in California following that state's supreme court's decision to legalize same-sex nuptials.

"I know the senate has a lot of different issues that they need to work out," Paterson said of the Republican-controlled chamber, which has failed to take up marriage legislation. "I knew they were busy, so on May 14 of 2008, I thought I would sign the memorandum that would respect marriage equality in any states that permit it right here in New York State," he said to a thunderous standing ovation. "I thought you would like that," he added as people settled back into their seats.

Paterson, who is African-American, drew a correlation between the black civil rights movement and the experience of gays and lesbians. When he was 10, he recalled, he saw images of people who were beaten during the civil rights march in Selma, Ala. Unfortunately, he continued, when his daughter was 10, she saw the clips of a gay man who was bound and beaten with the barrel of a gun and left for dead on a fence in Laramie, Wyo.

"What we hope is that the next generation only knows about these tragedies by reading about them in history books because there will be no such bias and hateful incidents," he said. "But if we're going to be able to get past the violence, we're going to have to deal with the issues of legal inequalities that are experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people right here in New York State every day."

Paterson was the lieutenant governor when the New York State assembly passed its marriage bill in 2007, and as acting president of the senate, he broke with tradition by lobbying for the legislation on the floor of the assembly the day of the vote.

"I am most pleased that a number of African-American and Hispanic legislators who at first were unable to see the congruent connection between the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our struggle waged throughout the centuries were able to see it that night and voted for that legislation," he said.

Paterson warned against characterizing the battle for equal rights as the promotion of an agenda. "The fight for people who are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender to have the same rights as any other Americans is as American as the signing of the Constitution," he said.

He capped his speech by reiterating his commitment to passing a marriage bill and signing it into law: "We're going to persevere, and we're going to do it with a new sheriff in town who's going to sign marriage equality legislation."

In a press conference following his speech, Paterson downplayed the notion that passage of California's marriage ban, Proposition 8, would have much impact on passing a marriage bill in New York.

"I think it would probably make some people who had been antagonistic to the idea think that they could remain that way," he said. "But I think in New York there are enough senators in the senate as it's comprised right now to pass this legislation."

Paterson described how taking a vote on what he called "meaningful legislation" challenges people to seriously assess the implications of their vote.

"It's the moment when people really have to gauge whether or not they want to deny people who care about each other the right to formalize it," he said, adding that he believes a number of assembly members who originally intended to oppose the marriage bill actually voted to pass it in the end.

"That's the reason why I've always been in favor of meaningful legislation getting to the floor of the house and the senate, even if it loses," he said.

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