Volume 73, Number 44 | March 3 - 9, 2004

Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson

A gay couple of many years showed their devotion.

Gays demand right to marry in New York

By Lincoln Anderson

Deciding it was time to “force the issue” of gay marriage in New York City, three hundred gays and lesbians joined Council Speaker Gifford Miller and local elected officials in a rally on City Hall’s steps last Sunday, calling on Mayor Bloomberg to authorize the city clerk to start immediately issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

“It is time that this fundamental civil right be granted,” said Miller to wild cheers from the crowd. The city should start issuing marriage licenses right away to gays and lesbians and keep going “until someone says it’s wrong,” he said.

The rally came five days after President Bush called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. His action followed San Francisco and then New Paltz, NY, having married gay couples.

“Just married in New Paltz. Thanks Mayor West,” read one cardboard sign proudly held by a woman behind the speakers.

“Let my people marry,” read another sign.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried said the state law governing marriage has no basis to deny gay marriage.

“Where does it say that a Jew and a non-Jew can’t get married, or a black and a white, or if you’re divorced? Nowhere in the law does it say you can’t marry the same sex,” he said.

Gottfried said he and State Senator Tom Duane have issued a bill that will make the law “crystal clear” — though he added it shouldn’t be needed, since gay marriage is technically already legal.

“I want to know if Mayor Bloomberg is going to stand with the Dred Scott decision or Brown vs. Board of Education,” said Duane. “We can’t be afraid of what the right wing is going to do…. You better step up to the plate,” Duane said, urging the mayor to let the clerk start issuing licenses.

“C’mon Victor Robles, let’s do the right thing,” Duane said of the city clerk, whom he called a friend.

“No more couples should have to go to Amsterdam or Brussels or Toronto to get married,” said gay activist Brendan Fay. He brandished a marriage license from Toronto from where he and his partner had just returned.

Also speaking at the rally were Councilmembers Chris Quinn and Phil

Reed, State Committeeman Larry Moss and State Senator Liz Krueger, as well as a lesbian couple with a child and a member of PFLAG — a group of parents of gays and lesbians.

On Thursday, starting at 8 a.m., from 20 to 50 gay and lesbian couples will go to the clerk’s office in the Municipal Building and request marriage licenses. If refused, some plan to get arrested.

No elected officials interviewed, including Duane and Quinn, said they planned to join the action; however, Brad Hoylman, president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats said he might, but had to discuss it with his partner first.

Noticeably absent from the rally were two openly lesbian Downtown politicians, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Councilmember Margarita Lopez.

Glick said she had previous plans to be out of town.

“Obviously, I support the goals, but was not available to be there,” she said.

Lopez said she felt the event was organized very quickly, but that her more serious issue with the rally was that she feels the Council can make the clerk issue marriage licenses, because the Council — not the mayor — appoints the clerk.

“The council has absolute power over the clerk,” Lopez contended. “If we want this to happen, all we have to do is order the clerk to do this by a resolution. And if the clerk doesn’t follow our resolution, we have the power to remove him.

“To ask the mayor to order the clerk to do this is disingenuous because it is us who have the power,” Lopez said.

Lopez said she supports gay marriage but is herself not ready to make the commitment.

According to one source, however, neither the mayor nor Council controls the clerk, who is essentially independent of both.

Ed Skyler, a spokesperson for the mayor, said: “The city clerk is following New York State law, which does not permit gay marriages. Advocates for it should spend their time persuading Albany to change the law, rather than calling on the city clerk to break it. If the law is changed, the mayor will make sure it is followed.”

Patrick Synmoie, general counsel for the city clerk, said that as of now the clerk will not be issuing licenses to gay couples.

“We believe we’re in compliance with the law in issuing licenses as we always have. As we read the law, we see nothing in there that allows gay marriage,” Synmoie said of the New York State Domestic Relations Law. “The decision should be with the Legislature, when the Legislature says it’s legal.”

However, a report recently reissued by the Association of the Bar of New York finds the law to be gender neutral.

Synmoie said they’re aware of that report. However, he said, “The law specifically speaks of ‘bride and groom’ and ‘husband and wife,’ which as traditionally known, are man and woman. If you look that up in the dictionary, I think ‘bride’ would mean ‘woman’ and ‘groom’ would mean ‘man.’ ”

At the end of Sunday’s press conference, Miller admitted the issue would be settled in the courts.


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