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Column: See How Easy a Landmark Move Can Be? (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — Gov. David Paterson’s decision to support same-sex couples who get married across state lines was a bold exercise in leadership that gave thousands of New Yorkers a greater capacity to protect their families. But at the same time, it was no big deal — the governor was just following the law.

Paterson’s bold move came in the form of a routine memo to lawyers at every state agency, simply asking them to ensure their departments apply the terms “husband,” “wife” and “spouse” as appropriate to same-sex couples in valid marriages. Bureaucratic, yes. But also ground-breaking.

The governor’s memo followed a unanimous upstate appellate court decision affirming that New York must recognize all valid out-of-state same-sex marriages — a decision based on the state’s century-old “marriage recognition rule” giving legal recognition to all valid out-state unions.

Critics of gay marriage claim that recognition of same-sex marriages will cause the sky to fall. That’s the same argument we heard in the 1960s when the courts took down barriers to interracial marriage. Well, Chicken Little, many state agencies have been acknow­ledging these marriages since 2004 when the first valid same-sex marriages were performed in the U.S. Since then, the state Comptroller’s office, the department of Civil Service and cities such as Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and New York City have all acknowledged these marriages and we’ve all been OK.

Clearly, this is a step in the right direction. Recognizing all valid marriages will arm more New York families with protections such as health insurance benefits, bereavement and hospital visitation rights, and even access to parent-teacher conferences.

Happily, New Yorkers think that’s a good thing. According to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll, a majority of New Yorkers support Gov. Paterson’s move.

The governor should be commended for moving New York an important step in the right direction, but the work of ensuring fair marriage policies is far from over. Thousands of New York families still lack the protections and security that marriage affords. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to leave home to get married. It’s time for our political leaders to stop huffing and puffing and pass the Marriage Fairness Bill, legislation that would allow all of New York’s families to live with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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