I was as thrilled as anyone to see the legislative victory guaranteeing marriage equality for same-sex couples in New York. There have been several other states that have come to marriage equality through court interpretations of their state constitutions. While we can still count these court cases as victories and can chalk up another state for equality, the victory is always a little sweeter when the elected representatives affirmatively vote for equality.
Yes, New York is a great victory and it will probably change the nature of the national debate a little, the fact is New York has already had effective marriage equality rights for a few years now. Under the New York state constitution and its interpretation, same-gender marriages performed in other states were recognized and given credence in New York although the state was actually not allowed to perform these same marriages in its own borders. So any New Yorker could go to a state that performed same-gender marriages, get married, and then have their marriage recognized in New York, and this would carry all of the same benefits of marriage as if a heterosexual couple were married in New York. Specifically, this means that for years same-gender couples legally married outside New York but living in New York:
- Are first in line to make healthcare and financial decisions for each other
- Are first in line to inherit assets upon death from each other
- Are able to get the same tax breaks for New York state taxes as married couples
And many other rights. And so the actual, legal gains under the new marriage equality law are largely already in place.
While not publicized in the media, the fact that these rights were already available for those couples willing to travel out of state to get married may have actually lead to the legislators who held out before voting in favor of equality this time. After all, the rights were largely available anyway so voting against equality under these circumstances would just seem hateful and futile. And in the end, that’s what people trying to codify marriage inequality will be remembered for.