March 15, 2004

Ithacans Discuss Gay Marriage Last Friday

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The Ithaca Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Task Force held a meeting last Friday at the Unitarian Church on Buffalo Street in order to address the growing controversy of same-sex marriage.

“We had two primary purposes in calling this meeting. One was to share information [and] make sure people are up-to-date about what’s happening around the issue of marriage equality. … The second was to brainstorm action steps which this particular community might want to engage in and get organized for that effort,” said Pat Pryor, a spokesperson for the task force.

The organization, which aims to provide education and services to the LGBT community and the public at large in order to promote diversity awareness and curb homophobia, hosted several speakers at the meeting. Ross Levi, director of public policy and governmental affairs for the Empire State Pride Agenda, an Albany-based LGBT civil rights group, was on hand to answer questions about advocacy and litigation regarding the issue of same-sex marriage.

“We’re doing 12 of these town meetings across New York State, everywhere from Buffalo to Westchester, so that we can start changing hearts and minds,” Levi said. “We think that the more New Yorkers hear about [LGBT] families — [and] realize that we have families — that it’s only a matter of time before they start asking themselves, ‘Is our state stronger because [LGBT] families don’t have the protection of government, or is it weaker?'”

According to Levi, there are over 1,800 privileges granted by the federal and state governments exclusively to married couples, including hospital visitation, burial decisions, immigration rights and tax benefits.

Additionally, some Cornell law students have been working with the task force to answer community members’ questions about the legal issues involved in the same-sex marriage debate within New York State, and they have volunteered their time to work with the city attorney’s office to discuss Ithaca’s involvement in the issue as well.

Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson also attended the meeting. She said that the city government continues to focus on the issue, and that she is aware of the local LGBT community’s interest in marriage equality.

“The reason I held a press conference a week ago Monday was because I know my community, and I know my community is looking for a stand of support,” she said.

Mayor Peterson also outlined future steps that she plans to take.

“Certainly we have the path of working with Cornell [law] students and looking at the legal issues,” she said. “Another thing I need to consider is what role the Common Council might play. If there are any resolutions that need to be updated, if the Common Council wants to make a statement — those are things that I’ll be considering when I go back to work on Monday.”

Other figures in local government also attended the meeting to show their support.

“I have just … become a marriage officer, and one of [the] initial joys I thought I’d have was to be able to marry same-sex couples. Finding that that’s not going to be possible because its a violation of law, I’m disappointed,” said Alderperson Michelle C. Berry ’92 grad (D-2nd ward). “My primary role [regarding the issue of same-sex marriage] is to make sure that I support LGBT issues, and that I’m visible about believing that marriage is a right that everyone should have. In looking to the future, I think it’s really important that those of us in politics stand together with other cities and other states, so it doesn’t look like they’re separate movements, when it’s essentially a nationwide movement.”

The atmosphere at the meeting was one of cautious optimism, and the task force is hopeful about the future of marriage equality.

“I think we are at the cusp of a civil rights movement in the new millennium which is going to result in inclusion and celebration of diversity in a way that we haven’t seen before,” Pryor said.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith