Position Statement – 2011
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) supports legislation that would amend the Domestic Relations Law (the “DRL”) to formally recognize marriages without regard to whether the parties are of the same or opposite sex.
WBASNY firmly believes that any two mutually consenting adults should have the right to enter into a legal civil marriage, thereby allowing them to voluntarily assume the mutual obligations of same. Marriage carries a multitude of rights and duties spanning every area of law; by denying a person the right to legally marry, he or she is denied the associated rights afforded only to a legal spouse, which may include but are not limited to employment benefits, contract rights, property rights, tax benefits and inheritance rights.
The denial of marital rights also has an impact on the children and extended families of the couple. The family is the central important unit of our society, which provides emotional support, security, commitment and a sense of belonging to its members. It cannot be disputed that sexual orientation is irrelevant to the enjoyment of these fundamental human rights, and nothing about one’s sexual preference makes one more or less desirous, capable or worthy of them. For society at large, families provide stability, responsibility for others (especially children) and economic interdependence, regardless of the gender of the spouses. The state interest in a stable society is furthered when families are established and remain intact.
Currently five states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same sex couples: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. Other states have adopted civil unions or domestic partnership registrations to provide some legal rights and benefits to same sex couples. Legal alternatives to marriage fall short of providing the same legal protections and obligations, and serve to marginalize same-sex families and their relationships.
The time has come for State-based legal protections and rights to be afforded equally to same sex couples. New York Courts have recognized marriages performed in foreign countries and other states where such unions are legal and have rendered decisions supporting such recognition in the area of probate and inheritance rights, adoption, custody and child support matters.
Failure to support marriage equality results in fractured, precarious and unpredictable outcomes for New York families and their children who seek the same rights of other married couples in this state.
Existing statutes that address the benefits and obligations of marriage can be applied without regard to the gender of the spouses.
WBASNY believes that the religious concept of marriage should not be confused with the legal rights of marriage of two consenting adults. While it may be proper for a religious organization to consider the morality of a union, the same consideration has no place with the State, and it is the role of the legislature to make public policy on behalf of the people it represents. Thousands of same-sex couples currently live together in New York State as married couples without the same rights and protections afforded to opposite-sex married couples. Our state has always been, and remains, in the forefront of defining and defending fundamental rights, and it is in the interest of the state to protect same-sex couples from discrimination by conferring the permanence symbolically signified by marriage to such relationships.
We urge immediate action to enact marriage equality in New York.