The New York State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage late Friday night as four Republicans joined 29 Democrats in handing the gay rights movement one of its greatest victories to date.
The bill — which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed Friday night — makes New York the sixth and largest state to legalize gay marriage.
“[Marriage equality] secures the Empire State’s position as a place for progressive, creative people to live and work — and it makes me damn proud to be a born and bred, lifelong gay New Yorker,” said Munier Salem ’10, a former columnist for The Sun who is from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and now lives in New York City.
Nate Treffeisen ’12 agreed, saying that he hopes this “amazing day” will lead Cornell to conduct gay marriages on campus.
“This is a huge stride toward equality on our campus at all levels. While it might not immediately be in the minds of students, I strongly look forward to being able to wed by the side of my peers at Cornell and hope that Cornell will agree to do so,” Treffeisen said.
Simeon Moss ’73, deputy University spokesperson, said that he did not think the bill’s possible exemptions for religious institutions would be an issue at Cornell, since the University has “a nondiscrimination policy, and it covers everything.”
Moss added that although Cornell already offers benefits to same-sex couples, the law may allow the University to offer some state pre-tax benefits to married same-sex couples that were previously exclusive to other married couples.
Despite the potential economic gains for same-sex couples as a result of the bill’s passage, the same-sex marriage legislation may represent a broader change in thinking among New York State resident and college-age students in particular.
Surveys conducted by Cornell’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning suggest that gay marriage equality enjoys strong support from Cornell undergraduates.
More than three-quarters of the Class of 2013 said they agree that “same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status,” with 52.8 percent believing so “strongly.” By contrast, only 9.3 percent of the class strongly disagreed, according to the survey, which was conducted during the class’ freshman year.
Additionally, 78.9 percent of the Class of 2012 said they supported gay marriage when asked as incoming freshmen, according to the survey. Although the Class of 2014 was not asked for its stance on gay marriage, 86.8 percent said they believed that gays and lesbians should have the right to legally adopt a child.
These numbers are not surprising, said Tony Montgomery ‘13, president of the Cornell Democrats.
“Our generation simply sees gay people as people and, as a result, we would like to see them treated as such,” Montgomery said. “What we’re noticing is that denying these people the rights to marry and to have the same opportunities as everyone else is not based on anything.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th) said that she believed gay marriage is one of the issues that “college-age students are getting in on and are [consequently] bringing in a new view to the issue of civil rights.”
“[As a result of this debate] we're seeing a resurgence of political activity in young people in general,” Lifton said. “I think this issue in particular strikes their interest because of the values they have been handed down and because they've grown up with the idea of tolerance and freedom.”
Although the majority of Republicans in the New York State Senate voted against the bill, Raj Kannappan ’13, chair of the Cornell College Republicans, said his organization did not either oppose or support the bill.
“While I personally support marriage rights for gay couples, we as an organization do not take a position on it. Some of us support gay marriage fully, some oppose it fully, and some take position that it should be decided at the state level,” Kannappan said.
Kannappan added that he does not think the state government should be focusing on gay marriage when there “are bigger problems with the economy.”
“It’s great they’re focusing on this issue, but I don’t think we should be doing it at this time,” he said.
Montgomery responded that gay rights are not an issue “that can take the backseat.”
“When it came to integrating schools and ending the Jim Crow laws, as an African American I would have been offended if someone had said, ‘Let’s put that on the backburner,’” he said.
“The bipartisan support for same-sex marriage shows that this is not a question of Republican or Democrat, downstate or upstate, but of basic dignity for all people and a recognition that love between a man and a man, a woman and a woman, and a man and a woman are equally as powerful,” said outgoing LGBTQ Student Assembly Rep. Matt Danzer ’12. “It is my hope that this victory for civil rights resounds across the nation and breathes new life into our continued efforts to provide all people with the freedom to pursue happiness.”