Couples not just California dreamin’, but marryin’
By Joy Wiltermuth
Following on the heels of Governor David Paterson’s order for state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages, some New York couples are rushing to head down the aisle in California, where they can legally wed.
Paterson’s May 15 directive came just weeks after California’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages. California has no residency requirement for marriage and, on Mon., June 16, it opened its doors to couples from other states.
“It is wonderful to know that our marriage will be respected in New York,” said Inga Sarda-Sorenson, 43. She and her partner, Jennie Tally, 54, plan to marry in September in a church in Malibu, Cal.
Sarda-Sorenson, who is from New York, was working as a journalist in Portland, Ore., when she met Talley, who was selling pharmaceuticals. That was ten years ago.
“We never thought we were going to be able to get married,” said Talley, a southern California native.
They talked about a holy union ceremony. But they were opposed to getting married in Canada, since same-sex marriage was still barred in their home states. “So it was kind of put away and we didn’t really think about it.”
In 2000, Sarda-Sorenson was offered a job in New York City. Talley put in for a job transfer. The move brought Sarda-Sorenson back home and work in a gay-rights organization. Now, she handles press relations at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
In the uncertainty following Sept. 11, 2001, however, the couple decided it was important to pursue “their most basic legal rights.” They picked up a money order for $37 and paid at the City Clerk’s Office for a domestic partnership license.
“A lot fewer rights and a dollar more than a marriage license,” Sarda-Sorenson noted.
“When you tell people you are domestic partners, they say, ‘That’s nice,’ ” Sarda-Sorenson said. “But when you tell them you are going to get married, and going to have a wedding, the reaction is totally different.”
“They understand what the commitment means,” Talley said.
They said family and friends were “jubilant” at the news of their plans to wed.
“Same-sex spouses have realized a very important advance in their legal status as married couples in New York,” said Allen A. Drexel, a family law attorney and a co-chairperson of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights Committee of the New York City Bar Association.
But, Drexel said, couples tying the knot in California, or other jurisdictions, should weigh the legal ambiguities they face.
“Governor Paterson’s directive will not extend to them all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, upon their return to New York,” he noted.
The Martinez v. County of Monroe case, which serves as the foundation of Paterson’s executive order, could be challenged at the appellate level. In the Martinez case, an employee at Monroe Community College married her lesbian partner in Canada in 2004, but the college refused to provide the partner health benefits.
Currently, a comprehensive review of how New York State’s many government agencies would incorporate the same-sex ruling is underway.
Drexel co-edited “1324 Reasons for Marriage Equality,” a New York City Bar Association report that is cited in the governor’s executive order. The bar report identifies more than 1,000 state policies and regulations that could change under the agency-spanning directive.
“It will be a statute by statute, regulation by regulation, inquiry,” Drexel said.
Among some of the major “hot issues” involving gay marriage, according to Drexel, are death benefits, filing taxes, estates, adoption rights, damages in wrongful death suits and alimony.
Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom To Marry, said Paterson’s announcement rightly recognizes the equality under the law of gay marriages.
“When same-sex couples get married in California or Canada, they are as married as any couple on the planet,” he said.
A longtime advocate for marriage equality, Wolfson is optimistic about how the issue will now play out in New York. He called Paterson’s announcement “a strong display of leadership.”
“Paterson didn’t go under the radar,” he noted of how the governor candidly explained his feelings on same-sex marriage. “That made it seem much more bold.”
A few weeks ago, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a Christian lobbying group, mounted the first legal challenge against Paterson’s directive.
“We feel the governor violated the separation of powers in the Constitution,” said Reverend Duane Motley, N.Y.C.F.’s executive director.
Motley said taxpayers lacked a voice in the decision.
“It would result in more medical claims,” Motley warned. When asked to elaborate, he told The Villager, “They [homosexuals] have a lot more S.T.D.’s and other things than the general population.”
The plaintiffs firmly expect to beat back gay marriage in New York State.
“We are confident that the law is going to prevail,” said Brian Raum, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious advocacy group and co-plaintiff. “The law has clearly defined marriage as between one man and one woman.”
But gay-marriage advocates dismiss the suit as a mere bump on the road to full marriage equality.
“It’s a frivolous lawsuit by a knee-jerk, anti-gay organization that opposes any measure of protection for gay people,” Wolfson said. “If we were asking for oxygen, they would be against it.”